Golfing in Scotland

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My husband on the Swilcan Bridge on The Old Course at St. Andrews. It is customary for golf champions to have their photo taken on the bridge. For non-golfers or those who couldn’t get a tee time, The Old Course is closed for golf on Sundays and turned into a free, public park, so my husband and I took a lovely Sunday walk and stopped for this photo.

Let me preface this post with I am not a golfer. I have golfed. I can golf OK. I’ve even run golf tournaments, but it’s not my cup of tea. That being said, I was traveling to Scotland with my husband who tries to get in 18 holes at least weekly and who really wanted to golf in Scotland. Since I am the travel planner, that meant I learned a lot about golfing in Scotland including ways to get a coveted tee time at The Old Course at St. Andrews.Let’s start out with something simpler. First, there are tons of great courses in Scotland. So far, everyone I spoke with said we pretty much can’t go wrong with any of them. With limited time, I decided to check on the more well-known ones. I started with Gleneagles with it’s three courses, Scotland’s PGA National Golf Academy, and host of the 2014 Ryder Cup. In one phone call to the course, I was able to secure a tee time for my husband and get all of my questions answered. I did find out that as a single golfer, my husband was likely to be paired up with other golfers. While the norm at courses in the U.S., I discovered that is not the norm in at least many courses in Scotland.

My husband loved Gleneagles. He did end up golfing by himself and had a great chat with the starter learning about the area and the course. He did mention it was very hilly, which is worth a mention since like many golf courses in Scotland, Gleneagles does not generally allow buggies (carts) and trolleys (push carts) are also few and far between. Caddies are available for a fee, but my husband lugged his own clubs. Fortunately, we had purchased a “backpack style” golf bag for him before leaving home so it was easier to carry than his typical cart bag that he uses in the U.S.

One of the hilly holes at Gleneagles' King's Course.

One of the hilly holes at Gleneagles’ King’s Course.

Now to the coveted Old Course at St. Andrews. There are a number of ways to get a tee time at “The Home of Golf” for those with a handicap low enough to golf there. It should be noted that one must have a handicap of 24 or lower for men or 36 or lower for women and a valid handicap card must be presented to the starter in order to play. My husband actually got two so that he knew one would be accepted and we found once there, both were good. One was from USGA, which he received through an application at a course near our home. The other was through The International Golfers Club and he applied via email and received his card in the mail.

Anyway, there is an expensive, but guaranteed way to get a tee time. Many companies offer golf tours that guarantee one. One of the more well-known is The Old Course Experience, which has packages starting at $3,597 per golfer for three nights. We already had a hotel and did not want to pay that much so we did not go this route.

The next way is to try your luck in the lottery. Last year, applications were accepted for a couple of weeks in late August and early September for the 2015 tee times. Those applications are drawn at random and those selected are given the opportunity to book and prepay for their tee time. We did not have luck that way. In January, we were given a second opportunity, but again, my husband’s application was not accepted.

If there is more than one golfer in the group, another way is through the Old Course Ballot. Before 2pm two days before one wants to play, there is an online form that can be completed to enter the ballot. One can also call the course to enter at +44 (0)1334 466666. After 4:30pm on the day the form is due (so still two days before one wants to play), the results will be available either online or by calling the course.

If all that fails or if one is a single golfer like my husband was, there is one last way to try. On the morning you wish to golf, go to the starters box to see about being added to a twosome or threesome or in case of a cancellation. Since we were there in mid-April, which is busier than winter, but still not quite as busy as the full summer season, my husband arrived at the starters box at 6am (the first tee time was 7am). He was second in line. We have heard that the line can start an hour or two earlier than that during the busy season so if there in June, plan for very early morning. Once the starter arrives, he will add your name to the list in order of arrival and let you know if something becomes available throughout the day. Personally, I would bring a book or something to do while waiting. As it turns out, my husband had almost no wait. The first foursome of the day had cancelled so the starter took the first four golfers (remember my husband was number two in line) and they were the first out. Finally, a lucky break!!!

Now that my husband had his tee time, the starter recommended that he get a caddie, which he did and after the day out, my husband also recommended that people get a caddie. His was tremendously helpful giving him tips on where to aim and maybe more importantly, where to avoid, especially with some really bad rough. The caddies also really know the greens, which are extremely large. Seven of the greens are even shared by two holes. In addition, his caddie was nice enough to take photos of him, which is something we noticed that many people who golfed there failed to get.

One of the photos my husband's caddie took of him golfing The Old Course at St. Andrews.

One of the photos my husband’s caddie took of him golfing The Old Course at St. Andrews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you don’t get on The Old Course and still want to play, there are options. St. Andrews Links has six other courses. In addition, many of the nearby courses also allow last-minute or walk on tee times as they are used to accommodating those unsuccessful Old Course candidates. For my husband, we also added a lesson at the St. Andrews Golf Academy. I went with him to his lesson and I’d recommend it whether golfing at The Old Course or not. After watching what instructor Fintan Bonner was able to do for my husband’s shots, I was almost wishing I’d booked a lesson for myself!

If you do decide to golf in Scotland, plan ahead, especially if you’re going during high tourist season in the summer. Tee times do book well in advance. In that planning, you’ll also want to take a look at your bag making sure it’s one that can easily be carried as opposed to a typical cart bag. Be sure you also dress appropriately. Even on nice days, expect cool temperatures and high winds, especially at coastal courses like St. Andrews. I also checked a couple of sources and “nice days” can be few and far between. Many months see rain 21-22 days out of 30 at St. Andrews so some waterproof or at least water resistant clothing is a must. With all that planning, all that will be left is for you to have a great round and enjoy yourself!!! I know my husband did.

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