St. Andrews’ Old Course in Scotland: Story of a Golfer’s Dream Getaway
Being one of the best courses in Scotland, a country known as the ‘home of golf’, there’s obviously a lot to say about St. Andrews’ Old Course, or often referred as just ‘The Old’.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Old earlier this year in February. This article is my story of the day there. The St. Andrews’ Old Course is truly a special course unlike any other in the world – let me take you through the journey of what makes it so unique.
The Progressive Old Course That Never Gets Old
One of the most important qualities of the Old is its golf-appeal: it is accessible even for beginners, if not quite bland, for your first, second, or even third round. More advanced players will find countless opportunities to challenge themselves, through one-in-a-lifetime holes in epic scenery. For this matter, there are rather divisive opinions on St. Andrews’ Old Course, with many golfers calling it boring or too easy. This is especially true for golfers who are already familiar with other world-class courses and especially these in Scotland.
Yet, as you put more rounds on the Old course and start to get used to the course, one realizes that the course has this unique ability to offer a new challenge with even the subtlest change in wind, different pins, or other course conditions. Every single time you visit the Old, you will need to think about how this affects your experience on the green this particular day.
Pair this fact with the enormous fairways, some of them hundreds of yards wide, with some of the double greens that are extremely large (over 25,000 square feet), and you get virtually unlimited strategic options. You can get endless different options of angles and pin placements, and two rounds on the Old Course will never be alike.
This being said, it’s admittedly hard to truly understand the Old with only one round on it. Some days, the Old can be incredibly brutal even for Tour players, and some days, it can be rather easy and you can have fun. Some of my friends love the downwind on the back, while some others love the hard wind on the front (like me). Great opportunity to stay a couple of days in Scotland and explore the country.
The Best Public Course In the World
When I say ‘the best’, it is not merely an overstatement. The St. Andrews’ Old Course ranked number 3 on Golf.com’s list for the best courses in the world, the highest for a public golf course. So, if you are looking for the absolute best course to play on without needing to pay astronomic membership fee, this is it. As long as you meet the requisite handicap, you can play on the Old. The required handicap is not that low either, 24 for male golfers, and 36 for women. Accessibility is definitely one of the key qualities of the St. Andrews’ Old Course.
Although it is indeed the most accessible, high-end course in the world I should warn in advance that getting a tee time still requires some effort. There are several methods to secure a tee time on the old, and here, let me break them down to you:
- Booking In Advance
You can book advanced tee times during late August to early September. Back in 2017, it was August 23 to September 6 to book for this year. This is the most reliable method, so make sure not to miss the window if you are planning to visit the Old next year.
- The Daily Ballot
The first method to get a tee time is to enter the daily ballot before 2PM two days before your desired day to play. It is obviously random, so if you are visiting Scotland from abroad, this method is not recommended. You can either give St. Andrews Links a call, enter the ballot online, or visit the club in person.
- Single Golfer
If you are a single golfer, you cannot enter the daily ballot (although you can book in advance since 2017). So, you can register yourself to join other groups, where typically there are 10-15 openings every day during the summer.
- Dark Times
After normal tee times, locals are allowed to play on the Old course on a time known as the ‘Dark Time’. Sometimes, locals haven’t taken all of the time slots available, and it might be available to you if you missed the daily ballot.
- Golf Tour
You can join a golf tour package to get a guaranteed tee times. Obviously this will be rather expensive, sometimes can reach more than $1,000 in package. Although playing on the Old is definitely worth it, in my opinion this should be your last option.
There is another interesting fact regarding the Old’s accessibility. On Sundays, the Old course is closed to golfers, but is open as a public park! Even if you missed all the above options to get a tee time, definitely come on Sunday and enjoy the amazing view of the Old.
The All-In-One Hospitality
Another key highlight of the Old Course, and St. Andrews in general is how it is so connected with the local vicinity. I have mentioned how in Sundays the course becomes a public park, or how it dedicates time everyday for the locals, but the connection doesn’t stop there. In fact, the town itself is a part of the course, and is not separated by any wall. The 18th fairways is connected to a public road, and the 18th green is most of the time, lined by locals and golf fans, all of them are absolutely friendly, by the way.
The town itself is really beautiful, and there are even parts on the course where you can, or maybe should, use rooflines or buildings as your aiming point. Of course, there is no shortage of great culinary options or accomodation spots to choose from.
The Old, The Home of Golf
The Old Course might not be the oldest course in the world, and not even the most beautiful, yet, there is a reason why it is often called ‘the home’ in a country known as the home of golf. Most of the bumps and curves you will find on the old are all-natural, and there are only slight touches from the likes of Old Tom Morris, Allan Robertson, and several others since its establishment in 1552 to the early 2000s. There are, obviously, some major changes in the modern era to fit the more modern nature of the game, most prominently in recent years in 2012 to 2014 to prepare it for the Open. Yet, we can still feel the natural, untouched feel on the Old.
The accessibility of the Old will appeal to beginners and aspiring golfers, while the progressiveness and natural qualities of the course will keep even the most experienced players challenged with every changes of wind. This is a very unique quality no other course can offer, much more for a public course.
My favorite hole? Thanks to the always-changing nature of the course, it’s really hard to make a pick. Probably I’ll pick two here: first is the sixth hole, a par 4, 412 yards long hole that is normally very, very tight of a tee shot, with bunkers on both sides, especially when the wind is bursting out from the west, which is normally what happens. When the wind is from the south, the green might be drivable to some extent. This is one of the most challenging holes in almost every condition for the course, and the view -especially nearing sunset-, is absolutely breathtaking. Perfect for seniors golfers looking for an experience of a lifetime.
My second pick is actually the home hole. The 18th is a par 4, 357-yards hole that is actually pretty gentle. Yet, the appeal to this hole is not the challenge, but how it represents one of the unique qualities of the Old: the down-to-earth connection with the town. The green is sitting literally in the middle of the town, and there are usually plenty of locals of golf folks sitting around it. This hole, albeit pretty easy, is very emotional and filled with tradition. It’s hard to find a hole as memorable as this in any courses in the whole globe.
While a lot of golf courses can offer more dramatic, in-your-face impressions with amazing architectures or landscapes, I truly believe the Old is one of a kind, and one of the best courses in the world.
I’ve probably spent close to a hundred of rounds on the old, and while other courses can be really nice summer flings, we can liken the Old as a truly, loving wife that gets better every time you visit. The ever-changing nature of the Old offers very deep strategic options, endless challenge, and I just absolutely love the humble hospitality of the town. If you haven’t been to the Old or to St. Andrews, it will definitely be worth it.
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