Standing on the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews

Golfing at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

The Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews
The Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews

Golfing at St. Andrews is one of those pilgrimages that every serious golfer needs to make. For more than six centuries, the “home of golf” has hosted players from around the world. In 1764, the 22-hole Old Course was reduced to 18 holes, which, of course, became the standard for today’s courses.

When we talk about St. Andrews we are really talking about seven courses, four shops, three clubhouses and a Golf Academy with a world-class practice putting green dauntingly called “the Himalayas” – all open to the public and dogs! Traditionally, the Old Course closes this golfing green space next to the sea, but on Sundays it’s turned into a park for all of the community to enjoy.

How to Reserve Your Tee Time at St. Andrews

As you would expect, the Old Course is difficult to get on. If you can plan a year in advance, make the reservation. If you can’t plan that far in advance, you can be invited by a member (and every local resident is a member of the course – it comes with residency) or you can take your chances by entering a lottery where the ballot grants you a tee time 48 hours in advance. The final way to access play for single golfers is to stand in a queue at the Old Pavilion. An hour before sunrise the staff will make every effort to get you with a group. Be advised that I was the first in line at 12:30 a.m. standing in the queue through the night where I met a great group of international hard-core players willing to stay up all night for the opportunity to play. It was about 10 minutes after my arrival that “number two” showed up. I took my putter (to practice with old ghosts) and have contests with others before daybreak.  

Luckily I was matched up in the second group of the day. Sprinting to our hotel just up the street at One Golf Place (turns into One Nike Place during the Open) to get my clubs, I got back in time to tee off with a friendly threesome from Sweden and their caddies.

Despite the wide open vistas, some of the fairways are narrow
Despite the wide open vistas, some of the fairways are narrow

Teeing off on the Old Course is a little intimidating when you think about where you are, but a deep breath and little focus gets the game off to a good start. Ball placement is important on the Old Course and I think it would be very interesting to play the course backwards (a notion Tiger Woods brought up) so you could see the huge bunkers hidden from normal view of play. You truly can feel the ghosts while playing the spectacular links course and memories of every open when approaching holes 16, 17, 18. It is an epic finish and even our group had a gallery coming into the final strokes of play. It would be epic to feel the energy when a major event is taking place.

If you can’t get on the Old Course, definitely play any of the others located there: The New Course, Balgrove, Eden, Jubilee, Strathtyrum, and the Castle Course located a couple of kilometres to the east.

The Old Course is the most expensive of the seven courses. In high season (April – October) green fees are £195 ($350 CAD). It’s less expensive for other times, and often there are packages available. The famous R&A (Royal and Ancient) clubhouse is definitely for members only and can’t be accessed unless invited and dressed appropriately. Next to the clubhouse is the British Golf Museum.

About the Town of St. Andrews

Ancient cemetery at St. Andrews castle
Ancient cemetery at St. Andrews castle

The town of St. Andrews is bordered by three beaches, one of which, the West Sands Beach backs onto the Old Course. Remember the movie, Chariots of Fire? The opening beach running scene was filmed here. Off in the distance you can see the remains of St. Andrews Castle dating from the 13th century. While here, be sure to explore the ruins. Spooky, but the history is interesting. Check out the bottle dungeon, an infamous castle prison cut from solid rock.

St Andrews is a University town where in 1668 James Gregory published his fundamental Theorem of Calculus. There are many fun pubs to hang out in with lots of golf memorabilia and golf stories.

Have you golfed at St. Andrews?

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