Golfers (and indeed non-golfers) flock to this corner of Fife from all over the World to savour the delights of the ‘Grey Auld Toun’ and for most it is mainly to play, or at least see and walk, The Old Course; the spiritual home of golf and where it all began for our beloved game.
However, from a golfing perspective there is much more to the town than the famous Old Course but, for the first time visitor especially, heading to St. Andrews can be a confusing proposition with so many courses.
What other courses you say? Well, this can be the perplexing matter and the purpose of this article is really to give a quick summary of all the courses in St. Andrews including the main attraction.
I headed to Fife in June 2015 a few weeks before The Open Championship was due to be played. The Old Course - host of The Open 29 times - had in fact just closed for play and this meant that the town was less busy than usual, the hotels weren’t as booked up and importantly the other courses were a little quieter. Although this scenario only comes around every five years or so it’s a great time to visit.
The shoulder season (early April and late October) is another fine time and later in the year I returned to St. Andrews to play The Old Course. My most recent visit came in the peak season of July 2017 when I did the daily walk up (see below for more information about this).
There are essentially seven courses at St. Andrews which are all public and managed by the St. Andrews Links Trust. They are the Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum, Balgove and Castle courses.
However, in addition to this you also have the Duke’s course, which is a semi-heathland layout owned by The Old Course Hotel, located three miles out of town plus 15 minutes or so away there are two courses at the Fairmont St. Andrews Resort; the Torrance and Kittocks (originally called Devlin).
For this review we focus on the courses managed by the Trust which are littered with good golf holes.
Whilst the Old Course tees-off virtually in the town itself both the New and Jubilee links can be found right outside the St. Andrews Links Clubhouse which is just a 10 minute walk from the first tee on the Old. These two courses don’t quite share the same Starters Hut but they are located within 50 paces of each other and both start and end in the shadow of the clubhouse.
Meanwhile, the Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove share a separate clubhouse which is about a 10 minute drive (or 20 minute walk across the linksland) from the New and Jubilee courses. There is adequate parking at both locations. You then also have the new Castle course which is located out of town and is approximately a 10 minute drive from the centre of St. Andrews.
You really want to base yourself in the town of St. Andrews and there are numerous options to do this. Outside of term time you can reserve a room in one of the University dorms for as little as £40 per night. These rooms aren’t usually en-suite (shared bathroom facilities) but I can vouch that the breakfast at the McIntosh Halls is particularly good.
You then have everything in-between right up to the iconic five-star Old Course Hotel which is adjacent to the 17th hole on the Old course. I chose to stay at The Macdonald Rusacks Hotel in June 2015 which overlooks the famous 18th green and is pretty much as central as you can get – a fine hotel and the perfect location; you are yards away from the first tee on the Old course and within walking distance (if you want) of all the other St. Andrews Links Trust courses (except the Castle). You are also only a few minutes away from the restaurants and bars on North, South and Market streets, as well as the other main non-golfing attractions.
As a solo golfer I purchased a 3-day ticket for £200 in the summer (2015) which entitled me to unlimited golf on all of the courses (except the Old). I simply bought this from the starter on my day of arrival (cards accepted) and could then just turn up at any course and would be fitted in as soon as the tee was free. I rarely had to wait and whilst I could have been paired up with other golfers I was quite happy to play on my own. I was invited to hit from yellow or white tees and pace of play was good, although I mostly chose to start early mornings and late afternoons. A 7-day ticket is also available on a similar basis.
Officially the first tee-time of the day is 7 o’clock in the morning at this time of year but the starters are usually there from 6am and as you might expect it is fairly quiet at that time. They were happy to let me start early each day and the only traffic I ran into was the greenkeepers! It is worth asking the helpful starters to check which courses appear to be quiet at any given time so you can plan your golf. Remember there are members’ matches and competitions as well as various other block bookings you will want to avoid. If there are two of you or more you can purchase an advance ticket which allows you to pre-book one tee-time per day. As a single golfer this wasn’t possible but didn’t prove to be a problem.
For my October 2015 visit myself and a colleague entered the Old Course ballot (you need a minimum of two people to do this) and got lucky first time! Your chances are increased if you state that you are available to play at any time of day and are willing to be partnered up into a 4-ball. If unsuccessful in the ballot we would have queued up outside the starters hut as single golfers but even in October this would likely have meant a 4am alarm call to get to the front of the line. This is what I did in July 2017 (see below).
So, which courses should you play? The answer to that question really depends on what type of golfer you are, how long you are staying for and what type of golf you a seeking to play. There is an entire constellation of quality golf holes at St. Andrews.
The Old Course is many things to many people. For me it represents ground zero for golf, the embryo for the game that I love so much today.
In some way or another it has provided the inspiration for every other golf course in existence. There is no hole in golf that doesn’t have the Old Course in its DNA to some degree or another.
It’s impossible to separate the course from the experience of playing and being at St. Andrews. Both are truly amazing and inspiring. There is nowhere better.
I don’t really feel qualified to comment on the Old Course. I won’t do that until I’ve played it multiple times in multiple conditions. All I will say is that the uniqueness of the holes, the individuality of them all, the quality of turf, the natural undulations and the seemingly random – but perfectly located - bunkering gives the course a strategy that sets it apart from all others.
Everything I love about golf is represented in the Old Course. No more words are needed.
Daily Walk Up at St. Andrews
If you have not been able to book a tee-time in advance at St. Andrews and have also been unsuccessful in the ballot please do not despair because you still have one final shot at playing The Old Course.
The daily walk-up simply means arriving at the Old Course Pavilion in good time, waiting in line for the starter to arrive and so long as you are close to the front of the queue you are virtually guaranteed a game.
When I say ‘good time’ let me explain further because this is the method I used when I played my most recent round on the eighth wonder of the world. On this occasion it was a last minute decision.
I’d pretty much driven through the night – a five hour trek from Huddersfield – arriving in St. Andrews in the early hours of the morning. Staying in one of the University Halls of Residence I set my alarm for 4am and after about an hour of sleep I hastily made the three-minute walk down to the first tee.
Rocking up bleary eyed at 4.05am I didn’t expect to be first in line, however, I wasn’t anticipating being the 17th person either!! As it transpired the first person got there at 12.20am, a 2am arrival would have got you 5th spot and 3am would have netted you be 11th. This can obviously change from day to day but this is the scenario that greeted me on 27th July 2017 to give you a rough guide.
Chatting to the other people until the starter arrives at 6am makes the time go quickly and on a beautiful summer morning the sunrise over the beach is inspiring as darkness dissipates and the sun lights up the links.
When the starter arrived he promptly announced that he had a guaranteed tee-time for the first 15 people in the queue, these were dotted throughout the day and meant you could choose your time and then come back when ready to play.
He explained that the rest of us (about another 10 golfers) would probably get a time but it would mean just hanging around and hoping a group of two or three would allow us to join them. Since I was effectively second in this ‘wait and see’ list I managed to get a time at 7.40am.
Once you’ve got your name down you don’t lose your place in line so you could go back to your hotel and come back at any point during the day but you must be around when the group you are partnered with check in. It’s also possible to turn up at any point in the day and speak to the starter to see what’s available. It’s highly unlikely but you never know you may just get a game that evening if there is a remaining space.
If you’re desperate to play The Old Course the early morning walk up is an almost certain way to secure a tee-time. In fact, it’s one of those things you should do at least once in your golfing life. Just make sure you have an early night.
Read the review of St. Andrews (New) here.
Read the review of St. Andrews (Jubilee) here.
Read the review of St. Andrews (Eden) here.
Read the review of St. Andrews (Strathtyrum) here.
Read the review of St. Andrews (Balgove) here.
Read the review of St. Andrews (Castle) here.
The game of golf has the ability to take you on amazing journeys to the most wondrous places where you meet such interesting people.
It was an impulsive, crazy… and some would say utterly ridiculous… decision that took me to The Machrie in the Spring of 2018.