Every golfer yearns to play the Old Course at St. Andrews. However, as Gordon Dalgleish of PerryGolf points out, "The Old Course is arguably the most sought-after golf course in the world that permits public access … and the demand to play it far outstrips supply."
Hey, we're here to help. Here's your complete guide to booking a tee time at the birthplace of golf.
Direct Application/Advanced Reservations
Start the process by applying directly to the St. Andrews Links Trust. Contact them by phone (011-44-1334-466718) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) during a two- to three-week window that begins each year in late August and ends in mid-September. The tee times are allocated lottery-style, and winners are notified in early to mid-October. Note that some months have severe availability restrictions, and reservations are for Monday through Friday only. You can book up to two foursomes, or as few as two players. There are limited advanced times for single players as well. Prepare to give the Links Trust the other names in your group, their handicaps and home clubs as well as a second course to play at St. Andrews. If you're lucky enough to grab an Old Course time ($120– $248) you'll be required to pay for a second round at another Links Trust course, such as the New, Eden, Jubilee, Strathtyrum or Castle ($21–$170). More advanced booking dates open up in early January, when any unassigned or cancelled tee times are resold.
Roughly half the Old Course tee times allotted are via the Daily Ballot, a lottery system that's drawn 48 hours in advance, for play two days hence. Until 2015, the ballot provided only 24 hours advance notice. Golfers enter by phone or by applying in person at one of the Links Trust clubhouses before 2 p.m., 48 hours before the intended day of play. Winners are posted at 4 p.m. online, or at various spots around town if you happen to be offline. A minimum of two golfers, maximum of four, is required to apply via the ballot. There is no Friday ballot, as the Old Course is closed to Sunday play. PerryGolf's Gordon Dalgleish puts the Daily Ballot into proper context: "The Daily Ballot may be a reasonable alternative for golfers who are staying in St. Andrews for a number of days—increasing chances of success—or who do not have an absolute requirement to play the Old Course…. A challenge with the Ballot is also how to manage the rest of your golf schedule, given that you will have tee times reserved elsewhere that would need to be changed if your good fortune in accessing the Old Course time creates a conflict with your planned schedule. Further, if there are more than four players in your party, there is a strong possibility that even if you have success with the Ballot, some members may get to play and some not, and at the very least your group's play would almost certainly be entirely split up, and may be on different days, causing disarray to your group's schedule."
Finally, understand that all of the above applies to the Daily Visitor Ballot. There's also a Daily Local Ballot, which accommodates play from local ticketholders. Competition for these spots is less fierce. You'll need to be (or make) friends with a local who has playing privileges, and have that person enter your name—and play with you as well.
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Single Golfer Walk-up
Since single golfers are not permitted to apply via the Daily Ballot, the way aboard is to walk up—or rather, check in—at the Old Pavilion, a starter's hut positioned next to the first tee of the Old Course. Arrive as early as 5:30 a.m. in summer's high season, provide proof that you're a max handicap of 24 for men and 36 for women, then wait your turn to be paired with a two-ball or three-ball game. Some days you'll be paired within an hour. You might also check in all day, all week, and never tee it up. Your best bet are foul-weather days, when locals might bail at the last minute.
January, February, March, April, October, November and December all offer the prospect of a guaranteed tee time on the Old Course. Requirements are that you stay in a local participating hotel and sign up for rounds on two other Links Trust courses. Be aware, though, that you'll be required to use fairway mats during five of those months. The rate to play your trio of St. Andrews courses ranges from $177–$326. Hotels are extra.
Guaranteed Premium Trade Times
If you must scratch the Old Course itch and aren't willing to leave anything to random lotteries, book through a reputable tour operator that has purchased an inventory of guaranteed tee times. For instance, PerryGolf offers clients—including groups of 40 or more—Old Course tee times on a first-come-first-served basis. These tee times can be purchased from 18 months in advance up to a week before travel. Yes, you'll pay a premium for the privilege and you'll pay for a supplement round as well—just as you would if you won the lottery via advance booking. But subject to availability, you'll have your dreamed-of guaranteed Old Course tee time within 24 business hours after your deposited reservation has been received.
The Old Course Experience
You'll pay maximum dollars with the Old Course Experience, the exclusive broker with St. Andrews Links, which offers a variety of stay-and-play packages. But if you can handle the tariffs, this route could be for you. The OCE features three-, four- and five-night packages that include luxury lodging (Old Course Hotel, Fairmont St. Andrews, Macdonald Rusacks), clubhouse lunches, course transfers and guaranteed Old Course access for one round. Prices range from $3,627 for three nights and three rounds, to $4,995 for five nights and five rounds.
Hotel/Guest House Package
The Links Trust also allocates a limited number of Old Course tee times to local hotels and guest houses in St. Andrews (stayinstandrews.com). Ocasionally, these properties will farm out their tee times to tour operators that bring them business, but most of the time this is a perfectly legitimate option for folks seeking an Old Course time. Still, Gordon Dalgleish cautions that this arrangement requires one to stay at a particular property with a specific tee time. "Consequently," he says, "guests may find themselves staying in a property [and paying a premium for it] which may not be in keeping with their particular accommodation expectations. This route is clearly not without its potential negatives."