European Golf Vacations

How to Get the Best Rates on Guaranteed Old Course Tee Times at St. Andrews

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The ancient charm and appeal of The Old Course is almost mystical. (Larry Gavrich)

The ancient charm and appeal of The Old Course is almost mystical. (Larry Gavrich)

Regular readers of Golf Vacation Insider know I often send reminders of critical dates and deadlines.

Well, one of these critical deadlines is not a deadline anymore. Even still, if you’re thinking about playing the Old Course at St. Andrews next year, you’d better act before September 14, 2015 (less than a week away!).

Miss this opportunity, and you’ll likely have to pay about $1,000 for an advanced, Old Course tee time you could have obtained for about $250.

What’s so important about September 14, 2015?

That’s the end date for entry into the lottery system that will dole out advanced tee times for the Old Course next year. It used to be the case that anyone wishing to play had to have their fingers poised over their mouses at a precise moment (usually early in September) and hope their Internet connection was just a little faster than everyone else’s in order to get a coveted foursome at the Home of Golf.

Now, the Links Trust has instead opened a window–August 26 through September 14, 2014–during which golfers can put their names in the proverbial hat for Old Course tee times. Now, your chance at securing a spot is as good as everyone else’s, and you don’t have to try and game the system in the middle of the night to get the upper hand.

Without an Advanced (i.e. “Guaranteed”) Reservation for the Old Course through SALT, you have to:

1. Take your chances on the Daily Ballot, which is drawn 48 hours in advance of the intended date of play…

2. Try to play “standby – “walk on” as a single the day you want to play (this usually works for 10 to 20 players per day)…

3. Play on a Winter package, offered between mid-October and mid-April. Just keep in mind that the weather can be pretty dicey, and that you’ll have to play off fairway mats on The Old Course, as well as other St. Andrews layouts.

4. Use a travel outfit that has contract tee times with the Old Course.

Using this last method, you’ll likely have to pay what works out to be about $1,000 for a guaranteed tee time you could have purchased for about $245 (at the current exchange rate).

So, if you already know you’re taking a Scotland golf vacation next year, and the Old Course is on your list of courses to play, do yourself a favor and put in for an Advanced Reservation.

The application forms are posted on the St. Andrews Links Trust website (standrews.org.uk).

Read them very carefully, fill them out and submit them by September 14, 2015 at or before 2 pm Eastern Time.

Also, when selecting the date you want to play, keep in mind that…

– since the Old Course hosted the 2015 Open Championship this July and fewer visitors than normal were able to play the course, demand for 2016 tee times will be higher than usual

– the Old Course is closed on Sundays

– August an is an extremely busy month (your chances aren’t great)

– Advanced reservations won’t be accepted for September (play is available via a limited daily ballot only)

– The course is unavailable for public play on several other “busy dates,” which you should review before submitting your application because you will not be contacted if you choose bad dates.

However, it is perfectly acceptable to submit a range of dates that you can play. In fact, this may increase your chances of success.

There are dozens more Old Course application rules (player minimums, two-round minimums, group requirements, handicap requirements, changes, refunds) and insider tips for scoring a coveted, guaranteed tee time.

And, equally important, there’s a lot more to know about taking a St. Andrews golf vacation than getting an Old Course tee time.

To these ends, if you’d like the best advice on, “how to do St. Andrews right,” simply send me an email (editor [at] golfvacationinsider [dot] com) with your specific dates and questions.

I’ll then share your inquiry with my colleages at Golf Odyssey, who can offer expert advice and even recommend a travel provider — if you’re looking for one — that will likely fit best with your plans, travel style, and budget.

Nope, there’s no cost involved. This is just free advice from those in the know.

Any other insights on getting Old Course tee times you’d like to share? As always, let us know in the comments!

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32 Comments

  1. Rodney Pillman

    August 21, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Amazing – I first played the Old Course in 1972 @5 pounds sterling – now its 130 pounds and up?
    An amazing course but so changed since I first played it – they have made it into a tourist destination. For hundreds of years it was the same course year in and year out. Now the $$$$ has become king and the Old Course has been transormed. Unless you played it before the changes, you would not know the radical transormation. By the way, St. James in Perth has 3 holes that predate the Old Course. Its also an interesting venue.

  2. Craig Better

    August 21, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Musselburgh claims to predate both as it’s, “the oldest golf course in the world.” We wrote about it here.

  3. Joe Ramsey

    August 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I submitted an email at 5:01 EDT on the opening day last year, requesting Old Course tee times for my group of eight golfers. And even though I put a range of acceptable dates in my request (which was for 23 May 2011) we were successful in our request and played from 1500 hours this past May 23rd. Everything worked perfectly except for the 30-35 mph wind and temperature in the 50’s on the day of our play.
    Your estimate of $1,000 for one round if you book a package with a guaranteed Old Course tee time may be low — I’ve deconstructed some of them and the fee was more like $1500 — $1800. Our first play in 1991 cost 30 pounds.

  4. Cal Kelso

    August 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I played the Old Course for the third time last March. Having previously been fortunate enought to get a tee time with a group, this time I “walked on” as a single at 6:30 am. After a short frost delay, I teed off at 8 am in the company of two R&A memebrs. It was was a gloriously sunny day, about 50 degrees and a bit of wind. I’ve never enjoyed a round of golf more, though my round at Turnberry the following day was close (yes, that’s bragging). The same trip from San Diego took me to Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Royal Dornoch, Royal Aberdeen, and Prestwick. A great trip during the low season. Nearly vacant golf courses and low prices for golf and lodging.

  5. Gareth

    August 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Maybe one day I will get too play the old course. Its something the serious golfer has to do me thinks. Would love to play the course up in Aberdeen the Trump International Links. I have been keeping up to date with the progress they have been making and it looks great definitely a Major course for the future. It just has to be.

  6. Chris

    September 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Gareth — instead of the Trump course — seriously consider Royal Aberdeen. The front 9 is stunning.

  7. Doug Ducate

    September 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Not sure what point you are trying to make with the time conversion but as written it is incorrect.
    The four time zones in the U.S. are 5,6,7 and 8 hours east to west respectively off GMT or BST when we are both on or off our daylight time. So 10 AM BST is 5 AM EDT, 4 AM CDT etc.

  8. Tim Gavrich

    September 2, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Doug–
    Thanks for the comment. We meant to put 2 pm BST for that second mention, to match up with the US time zone times. Just made the change so it should read properly now.
    Cheers.
    –Tim

  9. illona mclay

    September 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I live in Scotland and can play just about any course (being female stops me getting on some even though its 2014!!!)
    ive never played the Old course but just cant bring myself to pay so much.
    May I suggest Spey valley in Aviemore (summer offer £100 for a fourball) and Kingussie (fourball £90 )which is 15 mins south of Aviemore..Real golf courses ,in fabulous condition ,exciting scenery which is truly Scottish and a great test of golf.
    The friendliness of everybody is amazing …

  10. Morgan

    September 2, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Played this past June…stayed at McDonald’s Rusacks on 18th fairway. Got up at 3:00 AM (traveled 2000+ miles so what the heck) was first in line got off at 6:40 AM and was done by 10:40 AM. Make sure you line up at the building next to the tee and not the starters both behind it.

    Simply an amazing day!

    Do try Balcomie down the road in Criel too where the Firth of Fourth meets the North Sea. You will not be disappointed!

  11. paul and rosthema kastin

    September 2, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    1st time on a perry golf cruise of scotland
    3rd time on a lottery. worked out perfect and the castle course was easy to work with in rescheduling what had been a conflicting time.

  12. Jim

    September 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Check out Kingsbarn.

  13. SJ Khalsa

    September 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    The first time I played the old course was in August of 2008 as a single. My travel agent could not get me a tee time in advance and the lottery doesn’t allow for a single. She told me to just get there early. I arrived at 4:30 AM and because it had rained the day before and was scheduled to be a sunny day a lot of the R&A members played that morning but I still got out at 10:30 AM. It was a fantastic round.

    The 2nd time I played was in August of 2012, again as a single and I got there at 6:30 AM and teed off at 9:30 AM. The old course is fantastic. By the greatest of good fortune both of my rounds there were on calm and sunny days. A funny aside, I parked my car in the lot next to the golf Museum (make sure you visit this when you are in St Andrews) across from the old course and forgot to put any money in the meter. It was a 15 pound ticket and when I went to pay it I argued “temporary insanity” brought on by the possibility of playing the old course. She laughed, said that was the best excuse she’d ever heard and then said “That will be15 pounds.”

    My 2012 trip took me as well to Carnoustie, Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Trump Scotland, Castle Stewart, Royal Dornock, Nairn and Gleneagles. Each round was special and the courses were great. My travel agent was able to get me tee times at each of these courses in advance. My favorites were Trump Scotland and Castle Stewart, both brand-new venues that are destined to be classics, although it’s hard not to really love Cruden Bay and Royal Dornock. There is a reason all of these courses are mentioned in the same breath when discussing the best courses in Scotland. Incredible rounds of golf on hallowed ground.

  14. Ed

    September 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I’ve played the Old Course a few times and the “best” was on the last day of our trip, no golf planned, and the “men” went shopping of all things in St. Andrews. It had been raining all day and then unexpectedly cleared late in the afternoon. My brother said “Let’s stop by the starter’s shed and see if they have any openings”. The rest of us say “Yeah, good luck with that” or something similar. We stopped by and sure enough the starter said that the afternoon was basically open. Many “tourists” had cancelled their rounds because of the rain!

    We made record time to Elie and back to get get our clubs and then walked on as a foursome with plenty of time to complete a totally unexpected round at the Old.

  15. Ron Masterson

    September 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    I have played the Old Course. Got guaranteed tee times through a company called Perry Golf.

  16. Mark Rosenberg

    September 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I entered the Lottery for the first time last year (at 10:00 & 3 seconds EDT) and was able to get a tee time for July ’14. I just entered again for next year. All of August & September are blacked out and, beacuse the Open Championship will be played there in ’15, there are only 8 days in July available. Your best bet is to wait until ’16 when the Open Championship will be at Royal Troon. FYI, skip Trump Int’l and play Royal Aberdeen & Cruden Bay or Royal Dornoch & Nairn. You’ll get 2 for the price of 1! I played Dornoch, Nairn, AND Cruden Bay this year! FANTASTIC!!!

  17. Harrison Hine

    September 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    In 2012 after failing to get a tee time during the September 15th window we ended up using the Old Course Experience for our entire trip. The trip (in early October) couldn’t have been better. Not only did we play the Old Course we started out at the wonderful Greywalls hotel next to Muirfield and played Gullane, Nort Berwick, Muirfield. Then we transferred to the Old Course Hotel and played the Old Course, New Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. The weather was spectacular and the people at the Old Course Experience made the trip one to remember.

  18. Ken Meyers

    September 2, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    First time to play the Old Course was in July 1974 (5.00 sterling). Walked up as a single (starter said ,”Are you kidding?” Walked around with a long face (21 yrs old) Jack’s son (about 14 yrs old) got me on. Later watched The Open at Carnoustie. Later met the rest of the Nicklaus family in the New York airport waiting for bags. Was able to play St Andrews again, this time, using advanced reservations in 2007 with my son. We had a great time and were also able to play Carnoustie (off mats; Open was two weeks later), Turnberry, Royal Troon, & Prestwick. Each had their own personalities and it was a real blessing to be able to share the experience with my son.

  19. Karen

    September 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Craig,

    My husband and I played St Andrews Old Course and Jubilee in July 2006. I sent a letter to St Andrews Trust before September, but I’m sure I didn’t have to wait for a specific day or time to send the letter. The only requirement I remember is that we had to play at least one other course in addition to the Old Course. The Trust met my requested time frame perfectly. As a result, we had a wonderful experience. St Andrews is a quaint town that is easy to walk from anywhere you can park your car.
    Thanks for your report on the new procedure. We may want to go back!

  20. Larry Illion

    September 2, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I participated in the lottery last Sept, and was able to obtain a tee time for a two ball on the Old Course in June. I gave a whole week of alternate dates, and was awarded an early morning tee time during the requested period. When applying for the Old Course, I was required to also request a round on one of the other courses, and we chose the New Course, which we enjoyed the day before we played the Old. All in all it was a pretty painless experience, although I will say we submitted our request on the exact moment the bidding opened.

  21. Randy

    September 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    After an unsuccessful attempt in 2013, I was fortunate to get a 2 ball confirmed at the Old Course in late May of this year. As the 3pm tee time approached, the clouds gathered and the wind began to blow, and by the time we stood on the first tee it was raining so hard even the caddies decided to stay indoors.
    The next 4 hours was survival, with little resembling the game of golf. After the round I checked my mobile phone to find out we had successfully got a time via the ballot
    48 hours later, and would up playing again in brilliant sunshine, and finished the round with an up and down par on 17, then rolling in a birdie putt from the valley of sin on 18, while the gathered crowd cheered as my putt dropped.

    I’ll be telling that story until they bury me in a pine box.

    The New course was busy on the off day we had, and wound up playing the Jubilee- a very nice course in itself. We also played the Castle course- a big, modern golf course with difficult greens(and 3 nice finishing holes)

    I recommend playing the Himalayas putting course, lots of fun for just 2 pounds. The Dunvegan was our go to spot for pints, making fast friends with anybody sitting within earshot as we swapped golf stories.

    We spent 5 nights in St Andrews and didn’t want to leave. I highly recommend 6 Murray Park guesthouse, Tony and El are wonderful hosts.

    3 nights in Dornoch and 2 nights in Glasgow (and a round a Turnberry) rounded out the trip. The whole trip was fantastic.

    Ireland in ’16 is next on the list.

  22. Gary Robb

    September 2, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    –PLAYED St Andrews twice walking on with a friend of mine. Started before the starter was there, and paid at the end of the round. This was 1981and 1986 so that may not be possible now.. don’t know Of course, back then it was 13 and 35 british pound respectively

  23. John

    September 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Went to play the old course during our Irish/Scotland golf outing in May 2012. Tried the lottery every day and came up empty. B$B owner told me to get to the starter at first light and get put on his list. I did and we got off about 10;30 on a perfect day. The starter told me that He couldn’t guarantee I’d get to play with my buddies,but he would get me on the course that day. He did with my buddies and am looking at that picture of me on the swilcairn bridge on 18

  24. Peter Phelan

    September 3, 2014 at 7:41 am

    I’m an Australian and can’t see myself playing the Old Course or the others,but I just want to say I really enjoy reading the reports of some of you characters after your experiences of those great Scottish,Irish and English courses.You all seem to have the ability to bring each of them to life,but the nearest I’ve got so far is a ball my son used on the Old in ’94.

  25. John Dunne

    September 3, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Was there towards the end of June and did the “walk on” as a single. Had a great time with three Germans who had made their arrangements through a travel agency. I arrived at 1pm and got on at 3:30. Beautiful day.
    Beside the”History” factor I have to admit that, having also played the New, Eden and Castle courses during that week, my favorite of the St Andrews courses was the Castle. Sorry about the Blasphemy.

  26. Dave Koz

    September 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

    My wife and I wrote for Tee Times at the Old Course a year in advance and received a nice info packet. We ended up calling 6 months out and purchased a two course package.
    We stayed at a B&B and played Jubilee and the Old Course. Minutes before our tee time on the OLD, two teenage walk-ons were paired with us. Neither had cadies and bombed the ball into every gorse and burn blaming the layout. My wife and I enjoyed ourselves in spite of their slow play. The neatest souvenir I ever got is the classy ball mark you get when you register. I stump people with it very often. Those of you that played know what I’m talking about. While in the area – Don’t miss playing the historical North Berwick. …. and do some REAL Lawn Bowling while enjoying a few pints! WHAT A BLAST!

  27. Christopher DeBlois

    September 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I played the Old Course for the first time in 1997 through the daily lottery. Since that time I’ve become an overseas member of Royal Dornoch so I’m in Scotland (from Atlanta, Georgia) at least every other year for plenty of golf. Usually the trip includes a week at Dornoch and environs (Nairn, Castle Stuart, Brora, Tain, etc.) with a side trip before or after to other great links. Last year was Machrihanish, which is hours from anywhere but great fun yielding wonderful memories.

    But while two of us were on the Mull of Kintyre the rest of our group was on the Old Course. I had instructed them to enter the daily lottery from America before flying to Edinburgh, and they knew before they got on the plane that afternoon that they had a tee time on the Old Course when they reached St. Andrews. Not guaranteed of course, but if you’re going to be in St. Andrews for three days or more you WILL get on (assuming it’s not Open week or the like) either through the daily lottery or as early morning singles or doubles arrivals with the help of the starter. All my experiences with getting on the Old Course this way have been positive for me and my fellow travelers. Go. Enjoy.

  28. Don

    September 4, 2014 at 10:18 am

    I could not disagree more with your opinion that this change in the process is an improvement, Getting a tee time on the Old Course has for some time been difficult, but those who have been willing to plan well in advance and make the necessary arrangements have been able to gain an advantage through having their applications ready to go, and hitting the send button as the clock ticked to the appropriate second to send.

    Why would you think that punishing those willing to do that is an improvement? It is still a lottery, and everyone still has the same chance, IF they make the same effort. By doing so last June, through having three guys make that effort, we managed to get 24 of us on the course within a few hours of each other. What a day that was!

    Don

  29. Ben

    October 1, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Moving the September advance reservation applications from the former first in first served basis on a single day, to a two week registration followed by a lottery for 2015 is one that should significantly level the playing field to give a fairer chance to all who register in the hope of securing a start time on the Old Course for 2015 and future years.
    The change by the St Andrews Links comes on the back of revelations in 2013 that the former system had been flawed for many years between 1997 and 2010 when a trusted employee gave priority allocation of Old Course start times to a significant number of bogus applications each year creating an inventory that at its height, during 2007-2010, amounted to over 200 start times annually. This inventory was then made available to “preferred” tour operators and commercial entities permitting them to free sell the start times to customers (face value base rate, two course policy, no premium and no VAT).
    It’s almost incomprehensible that controls and checks could not have been in place to prevent this abuse over 14 years but even more incomprehensible that when bought to their attention the Trust determined to retain the services of the employee concerned.
    Nevertheless, the new system that provides for the drawing of successful applicants from a hat is a positive step that presents a fair and transparent process to all those making application. Better late than never!

  30. Gary

    September 8, 2015 at 11:42 am

    I’ve been to Scotland on four separate occasions and have been able to walk on twice as a single (in August 2001 and 2006), was part of a successful ballot with 2 foursomes (May 2012) and successfully booked an advance time online for June 2014. This new system seems much more fair.

    As for other courses in Fife – the New Course is a very good layout, and while Kingsbarns gets a lot of attention (and a hefty price tag), I recommend the Balcomie Links at Crail, which is anoth 10 minutes down the road and has the same views (and a more natural links environment) at about a third of the price. The club is welcoming, the course is a joy to play, and the clubhouse outstanding.

  31. Pat

    September 8, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    For whatever it is worth, date selection on the new application is made on a calendar with the busy dates crossed out, so you can’t accidentally select a busy date. Minor nit.

  32. John Burda

    September 10, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Nothing lasts forever. Before the old course Hotel was built and before decimalization on currency, I played the Old Course twice in 1970 and paid 12 schillings ($1,44). Played the New course the day before for 6 schillings.

    You put your name on a list for the next days play by the starters booth. At the end of the day you checked back and found out the time you were to tee off.

    We stayed at B and B in town for three nights for under 28 pounds. I gave them 30 pounds and said Thank You! I pound = $2.40 at the time.

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