St Andrews Golf Trip

Introduction

St Andrews, the spiritual home of golf is on almost every golfer’s wish list of places to visit.

A few years ago I decided to make the pilgrimage. Since none of my regular golfing partners were interested in paying hefty green fees I decided to go it alone.

This made planning the trip a lot easier as I could go with the flow. Assuming my trip wasn’t during peak season I didn’t think I would have too much trouble getting on to the courses.

The R&A clubhouse at St Andrews
Royal and Ancient Clubhouse Suicasmo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Getting There

Compared with the distances involved in traveling across the US or Australia for example the UK is a pretty small island.

From where I was living at the time it was going to take me around six hours to drive to St Andrews (approximately 350 miles).

Planning

In all honesty, I had done the absolute minimum planning for this trip.

As an increasingly fair-weather golfer, I checked the weather for the week ahead and it looked not too bad but even so, I didn’t want to pre-book any tee times.

That’s the beauty of doing this sort of thing on your own, you can slot in wherever there is a gap and play as much or as little golf as you want.

I knew there was a reasonable amount of accommodation in the area. Since I wasn’t going during the peak season (end of May) I thought it likely I could find something relatively easily.

17th Hole at The Old Course

Golf

On any trip to St Andrews, a golfer is going to want to play the Old Course first and foremost. I was no exception.

I arrived in the town in the early part of the afternoon. With the weather looking set fair for the rest of the day I decided to find out my chances of getting on the Old Course that afternoon.

Enquiring in the Links Clubhouse I was informed that if I could be on the first tee in 10 minutes then there was a space with a three-ball. Not wanting to miss the opportunity I dashed back to the car got my gear together and pegged it to the first tee.

My playing partners for the afternoon were a couple of locals, well they were from Fife and a young man from the US whose parents owned a house in the town.

It was a thoroughly pleasant round of golf. Despite having no warmup following six or seven hours driving I managed a reasonable 82, only four over my handicap at the time.

I then went in search of some accommodation and managed to find a single room in a bed and breakfast a short walk from the course. That left me the rest of the evening to enjoy the sunshine outside the Jigger Inn with a suitable beverage.

As I’m always on the lookout for the best value I was going to take advantage of a three-day ticket that allowed access to all the links courses except the Old.

An early alarm call saw me down at the starter’s hut purchasing my ticket and booking my first round of the day on the New Course. Of course in St Andrews ‘new’ is a relative term with that course opening for play in 1895.

This time I was joined by a group of three Americans who were part of a larger group that traveled over to play some of the top courses.

An interesting mix including a stockbroker and a postman!

Gorse tends to feature more prominently on the New than the Old. The standout hole is the ninth. A long par-3 that will be a driver for many and possibly unreachable for most into the wind.

It is almost certain that if the New Course was not sitting right next to the Old Course then it would rank higher in most people’s opinion. Unfortunately, its location means it will always play second fiddle to the Old Course.

My second round of the day after lunch in the Links Clubhouse was on the Jubilee Course. The course was opened in 1897 the same day as a national day of celebration in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It started life as a 12 hole course, was eventually upgraded to 18 holes and then redesigned in 1946 before Donald Steel overhauled the course in the late 80s.

Considered the toughest course by many of the locals I found it difficult to master. The vast majority of my golf is played on parkland courses so links golf is always that bit more of a challenge.

I would have to assume that the back nine suited my eye more since despite it being quite a bit longer than the front nine I scored better on it.

St Andrews golf trip
Course planners

The following day saw me take on the Eden,  the Strathtyrum and the Balgove.

The Eden course is a shorter and simpler test of golf than the three main championship links. It originally opened in 1914 with the tournament bearing its name starting in 1919.

It is the only one of the Links Trust courses to have a water feature. Designed by Harry Colt with help from Alistair Mackenzie. It had a slight redesign in the late 80s from Donald Steel.

I managed to spoil a decent outward half of 38 by riding the bogey train on the back nine. Indeed I managed an almost perfect run of fives only marred by a bogey four on the par-3 15th!

The Strathtyrum Course is the shortest and newest of the 18-hole courses in the town. Designed by Donald Steel in 1993 to offer enjoyable golf.

The use of bunkers and mounding still present a challenge however but gives even shorter hitters a chance for some pleasant holiday golf. I managed one of my lower scores of the week, not surprisingly, with equal halves of 36. Although given the standard scratch I was still three over my handicap.

No doubt starting to tire I made my way over to the Balgove nine-hole course. Six par-3s and three par-4s make up the nine. Although the first two par-4s are short enough they might be considered par-3s in other circumstances. I must have finally managed to groove my swing as holes 37 to 45 for the day gave up two birdies, two bogeys and five pars for a total of 30 shots.

On the final day of my 3-day ticket, my first priority was to play the Castle Course. This is the newest course amongst the St Andrews family and was designed by David McClay Kidd. Set in a dramatic clifftop location overlooking St Andrews Bay. Each nine start and end near the interesting circular clubhouse.

Certainly a much tougher test than the Old you really need to play from the correct tees to have any hope of enjoying your round. Given its location, it is much hillier than any of the other courses. Many of the greens have significant mounding which indeed attracted much criticism when the course first opened.

The 17th is probably the most memorable hole with a ravine that must be carried in order to reach the green. For me, it was another promising front nine that was rather ruined by a poor back nine including yet another snowman!

I followed that with another round on the New Course after lunch! I wanted to get value for money for my 3-day ticket!

Since I am a glutton for punishment I decided to allow myself a few holes on the Jubilee to finish off the day. In the end, I managed to sneak in the first four and last four holes.

The fourth day of my trip saw me visit Kingsbarns, another relatively recent addition to the roster at St Andrews. Designed by Kyle Phillips this is, I suppose, an American version of a links course.

Of all the courses I played in my visit, I found this the most scorable and indeed my score of two over gross would attest to that.

Turning up on the 1st tee the starter presented each player with a dozen free balls. This was a thank you to compensate for the greens being tined and dressed.

Kingsbarns Golf Links
Kingsbarns Golf Links Iain Lowe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I wasn’t overly impressed though having only booked early in the morning with no warning. Even back when I played it wasn’t cheap. To find I’d spent what to me was a significant sum of money to play on less than tiptop greens was a bit of a disappointment. However, they couldn’t have been that bad as I did produce my best score of the week.

Looking at the green fee they are charging now – £328 ($465) I’m not sure it’s worth it! When I played 10 years or so ago, it was around £135 so it was expensive but not ridiculously so.

In the afternoon I decided to play the Balcomie Links at Crail. The club is coming up towards its 250th anniversary although the course at Balcomie is much newer.

Not a championship course coming in at around 6000 yards. It is a very enjoyable place to play golf. There are some wonderful views and a nice combination of testing and not-so-testing holes.

I particularly liked the uphill par-3 13th which for me needed a driver into the wind.

On the final day of my trip, I decided to treat myself to another round on the old course if I was able to secure a tee time. Having managed to fit in with a two-ball mid-morning I decided to splurge on a caddy. It turned out he had actually recently returned from a golf scholarship in the states which I did find a little intimidating.

It seemed like money well spent as I was 1 under par standing on the 11th tee. Unfortunately, my driving deserted me somewhat on the back nine. I managed to find far too many bunkers and ended up with a worse score than I had earlier in the week! The out-of-bounds on 17 leading to a snowman didn’t help!

My two playing partners were members of one of the clubs whose clubhouses sit to the side of the 18th fairway and they kindly invited me for a late lunch.

After another pleasant round of golf, I thought I would round off my trip to St Andrews with a visit to the Himalayas! In this case, the Himalayas are a putting course situated next to the Old Course.

Looking back I wish I’d taken more photographs (or indeed any photographs) of some of the courses I’ve played.

St Andrews Golf Trip: Conclusion

As any golfer knows St Andrews is a town steeped in the history of the game. Almost wherever you look in the town there is something golf-related.

While the golf at St Andrews isn’t cheap by comparison with most other top courses it isn’t too bad.

A visit to St Andrews should be top of every golfer’s wish list for a golf holiday.

FAQ

How Much is a Golf Trip to St Andrews?

There are going to be a lot of variables:

  • How long is your trip?
  • How much golf will you play?
  • Where will you play?
  • Quality of accommodation?

Let’s assume you wanted to recreate the above itinerary. (Prices are based on high season for golf and June 2021 for accommodation. USD prices calculated in May 2021)

GolfCost in £Cost in $ (May 2021)
2 Rounds on St Andrews Old390553
3 day season ticket260369
1 round on Kingsbarns328465
1 round Balcomie Links98139
Himalayas putting course45.68
Total10801532

So just the golf for six days will cost over £1000! Yikes, that’s quite a jump from when I played – I think it came to around £620.

Accommodation:

The guesthouses in the area I stayed, appear to be charging between £100-£120 ($141-$170) per night for a twin room and you have the advantage of being within walking distance of the Old Course.

So that will set you back £500-£600 for five nights. ($709-$851)

If you looked at one of the cheaper hotel chains in the UK, Premier Inn then their prices seem pretty similar but you are a mile or so outside the town center.

If you prefer to take it up a notch and book at the Old Course Hotel then during peak season it is going to cost you £410 ($581) for a weekday and £440 ($624) for a weekend.

If you want to add in breakfast then that’s going to cost you £466 ($661) per night for five nights (Mon-Fri) giving a grand total of £2330! ($3306)

For me that was a month’s wages working full-time so not really an option to spend that on just five nights bed and breakfast no matter where it is!

Dining:

This is an area I tend to skimp on in order to spend more on golf. Looking at the menu in the Links Clubhouse, a club sandwich for lunch and fish and chips for your evening meal is going to set you back £26! I think I would have to stick to the local fish and chip shop or McDonald’s. Let’s assume £35 ($50) a day including alcohol!

Even at the budget end of the spectrum, you’ll be looking at about £1800 ($2554) for less than a week in St Andrews.

If you’re coming in from overseas then you might want to add in car rental which is probably going to cost another £150 ($212) or so.

Maybe you would like to treat yourself to a caddie, particularly on the Old Course. Back when I played I think there were three different levels of caddie at different price points. Now it just appears to be a straightforward fee of £55 ($78) plus whatever tip you may feel is appropriate.

This may seem expensive, let’s be honest it is. The golf at St Andrews is actually relatively cheap when compared with other venues of its stature. With the option of the three or seven-day tickets allowing unlimited golf, it does bring the average cost down quite a bit.

I would love to take another trip back to St Andrews but in order to do so, I would need to dramatically reduce the accommodation cost. Maybe I’ll have to check out options for camping nearby!

Related:

St Andrews Links Trust: Run the Links for the benefit of St Andrews

Kingsbarns: One of the host courses for the Dunhill Links Championship.

Crail – Balcomie Links: Pleasant old fashioned links course

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