Golf Article

St. Andrews Old Course

It takes a king to change things at St. Andrews.

By J. Peter Hellman


King James IV lifted the ban on golf in 1502.  The no golf law was imposed by a predecessor to encourage the practice of archery by the able bodied men of Scotland.  Archers were needed to defend the Scots from the warring English.  A local bow maker who had turned his skills to making clubs, made a set for James who was an occasional duffer on the links of the Old Course at St. Andrews. 


Another long reigning king, Jack Nicklaus, has managed to use his power over golf and St. Andrews to make some seemingly impossible changes as well.  King Jack I, either directly or indirectly, managed to convince the Royal and Ancient to change the rotation of the British Open and move St. Andrews to 2005.  It takes a lot of power to change tradition.


Jack has announced that this will be his last professional tournament and that he wants to end it, where it all began.  As Jack said, "I love St. Andrews.  It's been a great part of my career."  So, like King James IV, King Jack I has changed tradition if not laws to satisfy his love of golf.  What power!


Unfortunately, the average golfer doesn't have the same power at St. Andrews.  In fact, most of golfers will be damn lucky ever to play the course.  But, that is not to say there aren't ways to get your tee time.  Your best bet is to work with an established golf tour operator.  They usually have at least some access to tee times.  But, if you're inclined to do it on your own, here are some suggestions.


Good planners can make application for a four-ball (a foursome) for a specific day a year in advance.  Applications with payment are taken each Fall but there is no guarantee and no refund if you change your mind.  Another method, popular with many of our clients, is the "ballot".  Every afternoon during the season, unused tee times for the next day are allocated based on a drawing.  If you're lucky, you could find yourself on the course the next day.  A second "by luck" method is as a walk-on.  This may work for singles but less frequently for two or more and almost never for a foursome.  To be successful, approach the starter early.  You may have quite a wait.  Now if money is of no concern, the Old Course Experience may be your answer.  But at $3,200 per person for three nights and three rounds of golf, few can afford it. 


For the best chance to play the Old Course and to do it at the lowest price play it during winter.  You may have to play off mats but until the mid 19th century golf was only played here during the winter.  It was the invention of mechanical grass clippers that made summer popular. 


Clients who may not be playing the Old Course often ask me whether it's really worth including St. Andrews on their itinerary.  My answer is a definite yes.  Beside the non-golf delights of the town, it's a great place to base your golf.  Accommodations and restaurants are numerous and fit just about every budget.  There are many fine courses around St. Andrews and two adjacent to the Old Course itself as well.  Take St. Andrews New Course, for example.  This classic links course opened in 1895 (I suppose that is new for some).  It has a more varied terrain with more humps and hallows than the Old Course. Designed by W. Hall Blyth and laid our by Old Tom Morris himself many say that it's a more difficult course than the Old Course and that were it not for its proximity to its more famous neighbor, there would be Open Championships and many other major events on the New Course. 


The Jubilee Course, named to honor the silver anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria, opened in 1897.  It is a 6805-yard par 72 links beauty as well.  Located closer to the sea than the other two courses, its dunes are higher and rougher and the scale of the landscape is much grander.  This course opened as a 12-holer, was expanded to 18 in 1905 and had further improvements that took it to championship standards in 1988.


Just out of town are plenty of other great courses.  Among them are the Devlin and the Torrance at the St. Andrews Bay Resort, Kingsbarns, Dukes and Crail.  There is even a new course planned just east of town.  So, even though you may not have the power of a King James IV or a Jack I over St. Andrews Old, you have just enough to turn any trip to this great place into something fantastic.  See you on the links!