The first question that prospective golf travelers usually ask me is, “How can I play the Old Course at St. Andrews?”
The answer is quite complicated, and my response changes depending on a few factors, including the group’s time of travel, budget, length of stay in St. Andrews and willingness to accept a little uncertainty. Unfortunately, if you want to get a tee time on golf’s most famous links, you will have to sacrifice a little money, good fortune or sleep. That’s just the way it works.
I completely understand when a client is willing to obtain a tee time at all costs, and with advanced planning, along with money or good fortune, there is certainly a way to lock up a tee time that eliminates any uncertainty. However, all is not lost if you head off to Scotland without a tee time in hand.
I was recently sitting in the clubhouse at Royal Dornoch with a long-time friend, recounting the memorable shots from a great day on the club's Championship Course and planning our return trip home the next day via the Edinburgh airport. Although we planned the trip at the last minute, I thought it had been a successful jaunt, highlighted by rounds at Kingsbarns and Royal Dornoch. Despite the great golf and enjoyable company, though, I could tell that something was bothering my friend. As we continued to chat, it became clear that he was disappointed that his trip to Scotland was going to end without a round on the world-famous Old Course. I was unaware that he had never played a round in St. Andrews. Luckily for him, I had a solution.
The St. Andrews Links Trust staff operates a stand-by waiting list each day that rewards those who are willing to show up early. Within minutes of suggesting the option to my friend, we were on the A9 heading south towards St. Andrews. We ended up arriving to St. Andrews shortly after 11, and after three hours of sleep at the conveniently located Scores Hotel, we hopped out of bed and dashed over to the Old Pavilion near the first tee of the Old Course to claim our spot in line. Since the course’s staff typically doesn’t arrive until just before the first tee time, the line is created and tracked by those who are present, a sort of honor system that seems only fitting given golf’s reputation as a gentlemen’s game.
Despite the cold breeze and tired eyes, the atmosphere that night around the Old Pavilion in the wee hours of the morning was amazingly upbeat and energetic. A special bond was seemingly created between a group of people from all around the world, joined together by their love for the game of golf. Fortunately, as two of the first to arrive, my friend and I ended filling two spots in one of the first “games” out that next morning. He was able to check off a bucket list item and the experience of that night is one neither of us will forget. A round on the Old Course was a bucket list item for me, and I am so grateful to have checked it off.
The few hours of sleep we sacrificed seemed like a bargain.
Jonathan Alden is a contributor at Golf News Net and the founder of Worldwide Golf Adventures, a golf travel company based in Austin, TX that offers dream vacations to the world's top golf destinations.