So you want to visit The Home of Golf? Do you know where to stay? How to get on the Old Course and book other tee times? How to get around the town? While I don’t have all the answers, hopefully, my experiences can help you as you and your buddies plan your trip.
Where to stay
For our journey, we decided to stay in Anstruther, a cool little seaside town about 20 minutes from St. Andrews. While it’s not “yards from the Old Course” as many lodging options in St. Andrews claim to be, it’s a quick car ride away and chock full of solid lodging options. We stayed in a little house that slept four, paid £589 for a week, and it had just about everything you’d need for a visit. If money was no object, the next time I go back I’m staying at the Old Course Hotel.
Booking Golf in St. Andrews
First off, most aren’t even aware of how many courses are part of the St. Andrews Links Trust. Currently, there is a total of seven courses; The Old Course, New, Jubilee, Eden, Castle. Strathtyrum, and Balgrove. Here is what I know about each of the courses:
Old: The granddaddy of them all. Unfortunately, it’s fairly challenging to get a tee time here. You can:
- Book a year in advance. As I write this in October of 2015, my understanding is that all the advance times for 2016 are booked.
- Enter the ballot two days before your date of play. The day before you’ll find out if you’ve been chosen. My understanding is that you can’t sign up as a single and preference is given to foursomes. I have heard a wide range of odds of securing a tee time via the ballot, anywhere from 25-50% Naturally it probably depends on how many others sign up.
- As a single golfer, show up early, very early, and put your name in with the starter. While the starter doesn’t arrive until 6 am, I’m told golfers start lining up in the middle of the night for spots in line. After the starter arrives everyone is assigned a number, and then it’s first-come, first-served when there are groups with openings.
Full disclosure, I didn’t actually play the Old Course during my time in St. Andrews due to failing at #1, my group not being interested in #2, and me enjoying sleep too much for #3.
New and Jubilee: Our group did play both of these courses, and they were excellent. While they don’t have the history or cache of the Old, they sit right next to the Old and play over similar topography. They are also championship length courses that will challenge any golfer. A review of the New can be found here, and a review of the Jubilee is on the same website.
Castle: It’s the newest of the St. Andrews courses (built in 2008) and also sits a couple of miles outside of town, making it a little more convenient to get to for those staying outside of St. Andrews. The Castle Course has been skewered by many critics for a couple of reasons:
- The greens have some crazy slopes to them. I’ve heard they’ve been redone three different times and are still in some cases extreme.
- While the course was built on flat farmland, tons of earth was moved to create the rolling hills that you’ll see today. This is a far cry from the natural (relatively) flat land where the other courses are situated.
What’s good about the Castle Course, however, are the views. They are spectacular. Our group raved about them from start to finish. Yes it’s a tough course, the greens can be tough, and it’s a strenuous walk, but I highly recommend you play it while in St. Andrews.
Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgrove – I didn’t play any of these, but the Eden is supposed to be a notch below the championship layouts at St. Andrews (but still fun), while the Strathtyrum and Balgrove (9 holes) are designed for juniors and beginning golfers. Again, this is what I’ve read and heard only.
If you are the type to play a lot of golf, as in 36+ per day, I highly recommend looking into one of the unlimited packages that St. Andrews offers. Our group used the three-day advanced booking ticket, and it works as follows:
For £225 (as of 2015) you’re allowed to book three tee times on three of the courses (excluding the Old Course) and then additional rounds can be booked free of charge the day before. We played the New, Castle, and Jubilee courses and those would have cost us £270 if they had been booked individually. The Castle Course alone is £120 so with 36 on the Castle Course in a day it’s paid for itself.
The most convenient airport to fly into is Edinburgh. It’s about an hour and a half to St. Andrews depending on traffic and is a relatively easy drive. If your plan is to stay in St. Andrews as well as play all your golf there then a car probably isn’t even necessary. Just hire a shuttle from the airport and enjoy your time in St. Andrews. While I didn’t use it, there is a shuttle that runs between all the St. Andrews courses (sans Castle) that is available. For the Castle, it’s a quick taxi away. One of the many cool things about St. Andrews (the town) is its walkability. There are a ton of places to eat, drink, shop, and play golf in walking distance.
Strangely enough, our group didn’t eat out in St. Andrews outside of a post-round snack at the Links Clubhouse. It was excellent with fantastic views of the New and Jubilee courses. If you do stay in Anstruther I’d recommend a couple of spots:
- The Boathouse. It’s a very casual pub with nice people, good service, and excellent food. The fish and chips were some of the best we had in the UK, and we tried a lot of fried fish. The seafood chowder was also exceptional. You won’t walk in and think it’s a place to do much else beside drink, but believe me, the seafood was fantastic. The fish and chips were better (in our opinion at least) than the much more famous Anstruther Fish Bar.
- The Cellar. If you consider yourself a foodie, eat here. If you want big portions, quick meal, and traditional fare, do not eat here.
- Eastern Touch Indian Restaurant. If you like Indian you won’t be disappointed, if you don’t like Indian you probably won’t stop in.
Our group went in early September, and the weather was fantastic; at least by Scottish standards. While many days were a bit chilly, most days were around 55-60 degrees with varying amounts of sunshine. Rain was practically nonexistent but the mornings especially were a bit cold and damp. To try and stay as warm and dry as possible I used (and would recommend) these three items:
- Nike Lunar Bandon Golf Shoes – While a little different looking, they are a godsend under wet conditions. And wet conditions don’t just come in the form of rain. They come in the form of walking through knee-deep rough looking for your partners’ errant drives. They come in the form of early morning dew. And if it does rain you’ll be glad you have them.
- Any good base layer. I used a mock turtleneck by Under Armor, and I was toasty every day. This layer, plus a golf shirt, and a jacket will have you ready for about anything during the summer months in Scotland.
- A good rain suit. Like a fire extinguisher, hopefully, you never have to use it, but it’s good to be prepared. And if you’re going to the Home of Golf, you might as well buy the best in Galvin Green. Why do I think it’s the best? Who spends more time in more rough weather on golf courses than tourists? Caddies. And all their suits are Galvin Green. That’s enough to sway me.
There is a lot to be said for the “planting a flag” strategy for planning a golf trip. Often what happens is you book tickets to Scotland that give you a solid seven days of golf. The natural tendency is to think “well…I can play three days in St. Andrews, then drive up to Cruden Bay, play a quick 18 at Dornoch, then drive back down south and play North Berwick on the way out of town”. And this is without trying to play Gleneagles on the way back through the Highlands. While this trip might sound fun and be completely doable, my suggestion is to stay in one spot, “plant your flag”, and hit all the courses in that area. Besides the seven St. Andrews courses, there are a slew of excellent courses around Fife all ranked and reviewed here. Trust me, while it’s tempting to run all over the country and try to play its highest-ranked courses, it’s better to spend the time playing more of the “local” courses, enjoying the country, and eating well than spending the time driving all around.
And above all, have fun. It’s almost impossible not to in Scotland.