Most golfers who have cause to consider a trip to Scotland will usually find themselves seduced by the siren call of a guaranteed Old Course tee-time at some point in their deliberations. Why wouldn’t you? It does after all remove one of the biggest sources of potential anxiety. It isn’t long however before you discover that not only are they significantly more expensive, but they also come with ‘strings attached’. Naturally the question of, are guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee times worth it, is one you’ll quickly be trying to answer.
Like so much associated with St Andrews, the honest answer probably begins with the dreaded phrase of “it depends”. Anything that begins like this is usually setting you up for a reply that raises as many questions as it does answers. In brief summary though, the ‘authorised providers’ who are permitted to sell commercial guaranteed tee-times will tell you that they are worth it, and not surprisingly perhaps those who aren’t will be more inclined to persuade you otherwise.
Faraway Fairways are not an authorised provider, so you would expect us to fall into the second camp. You should bear that in mind when seeking to evaluate our answer. We can however resell guaranteed tee-times but have always been a little bit reluctant to do so. Basically we would buy them at the same price as you, and simply mark them up. Any initial gratitude you might feel towards us for sourcing one will likely give way to a mild sense of grievance quite quickly, once you discover what we’ve done (and you would do). As a general rule we don’t like doing this unless there are quite specific circumstances involved which we might describe as borderline specialist. Under such circumstances it then becomes easier to justify, but this is quite rare
We should however in the pursuit of balance make some quick concessions to the guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee-time.
Are guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee times worth it, well provided money is no object to you – then maybe you could view purchasing one as being worth it. There are probably a couple of other circumstances where you could take a favourable view as well. If you’re very short of time and not in position to adopt the sort of siege tactics associated with a ballot strategy, then again you might take a positive view of the proposition too. Otherwise (like most people) you’re probably left trying to weigh the pros and cons against the various alternatives in seeking to decide if guaranteed old course tee times are worth it
Perhaps we need to address the mechanisms at this juncture?
Allocations of St Andrews Old guaranteed tee-times are made in early June to various authorised providers. We believe that 250 tee-times (1000 golfers) are issued amongst designated ‘authorised providers’ (identified by the logo).
An authorised provider is normally an accommodation provider, or a golf tour operator. These two groups tend to control a vast majority of the guaranteed tee-times. Some of the larger hotels will retain their allocation for their own internal use. Others will look to package and resell them commercially, whilst a surprisingly high number of hotels will distribute them to golf tour operators in broad recognition of the amount of business they have received throughout the year. It tends to be the case that B&B operators will be the last to sell out their allocation, but even these smaller accommodations have waiting lists and loyal returning customers who they may choose to prioritise.
We don’t know what percentage of the original allocation ever find their way onto the open market, but it is possible to negotiate advance arrangements in which case some are in effect pre-sold provisionally subject to confirmation of dates in late June so never appear
Another problem that might apply concerns group size. St Andrews Old Course guaranteed packages are sold in fourballs. It’s important to realise that this is a sellers-market. The person selling a guaranteed tee-time will have no difficulty doing so and consequently the buyer has very little leverage. Most authorised providers will usually prefer to keep the transaction simple, and that means selling to a group of four. Splitting up the integrity of a fourball just makes selling the remaining odd part that bit harder. They have little incentive to do this. Don’t be surprised if an authorised provider who agrees to sell to a three ball for instance, asks to be compensated to the full amount for the absent fourth player (including the add ons)
Having raised this red flag, we did say ‘most’. There are some authorised providers who are more receptive to selling to two-balls, but they tend to be in a minority.
The biggest draw back to the St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-time is the price. Guaranteed tee times are always sold as parts of package deals. Isolating the specific green fee therefore is never that straight-forward as they aren’t itemised. Instead Faraway Fairways have had to reverse engineer retail prices against known trade prices and attempt to estimate what the Old Course has been charged at. For 2020 on a very crude transaction, we believe a round that costs £195 peak season is typically charged between £1,500 and £1,750.
When seeking to answer the question of are guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee times worth it, we need to run through some of the strings that come attached to them too. The first concerns a mandatory round on a second St Andrews Links Trust course. This ‘two course policy’ is non-negotiable and is applied at the point at which it leaves the Links Trust. It’ll be included in any price, and it’s usually the Jubilee Course
We should perhaps stress that every year Faraway Fairways receive enquiries from golfers asking about purchasing a guaranteed tee time in isolation. The answer to this is simple. Forget it. No one can sell a guaranteed tee-time in isolation. In the first case the two course policy applies so at the very least you’ll be saddled with an extra Links Trust course. This isn’t actually that much a of burden though, and most golfers will accept it if this were the only ballast that were added.
If you succeed in restricting your package to just the Old Course and second course though, you’ll have done remarkably well. Far more likely however is that you’ll have other courses bundled into a package. Whereas Carnoustie and/ or Kingsbarns needn’t be out of line with what you planned on playing anyway, you might also discover the likes of Crail, Leven, or the Dukes Course being added as conditional rounds dependent on where you buy it from
Both accommodation providers and golf tour operators will nearly always look to pin you to a minimum number of nights stay in a nominated hotel too. The usual minimum is four nights, although you might be able to source a three-night deal if you’re lucky. Some hotels will also extend this and impose their more expensive suites on a guaranteed package so as to cut off the golfer who thinks they can buy a round of golf and then get the money back staying in the cheapest room
Most hotels will also impose a minimum expenditure per golfer for the duration of your stay too. On a four night package, this usually amounts to £100 per person on food and beverages
Finally some will also force you into using their transport provision, which again becomes an additional cost
Now in fairness, not all of these ‘strings’ would be out of kilter with your own aspirations. Plenty of golfer’s plan to play Carnoustie and Kingsbarns for instance anyway. Similarly, you’re likely to want somewhere to stay too, albeit you’d probably welcome some choice in that decision rather than having the terms dictated to you
When trying to pull all this together it probably comes down to a question of time and money set out against the month of the season, which of course influences the amount of less expensive alternatives available. Guaranteed tee times are of course most popular with overseas visitors who needn’t be in a position to ‘come back next week’ and try again. They can (and do) eat away at someone who obsesses on the Old Course. Golfers who develop a case of ‘Old Course fever’ can become quite irrational as they seek to close down every last percentage point of potential risk. ‘Old Course fever’ is probably the single biggest mistake we see visiting golfer’s making. It’s worth remembering that there reaches a point where weather is a bigger risk than failure on the ballot – and that knocks out any tee-time!
Advanced Ballot – Guaranteed Tee-time
The Advanced Guaranteed ballot system is a variant on the guaranteed tee-time and represents excellent value. The St Andrews Links Trust normally opens a two-week window for applications from late August to early September. Applications can be made via an online form [CLICK] . Once all applications have been received a ballot (lottery) will be drawn. Results are notified to you in late October. The process is split into four packages. The most popular is usually the peak season fourball packages (minimum two, maximum eight).
There are however other important things to be aware of though. Advanced ‘guaranteed tee-times’ are restricted to midweek slots only. Applications can only be made therefore for Monday to Friday. You are allowed to make three applications in two week blocs each year. A bit of calendar strategy is probably wise here. Predicting how demand will unfold is very hit and miss, but as a general rule of thumb follow the seasons. The summer months and early autumn are the most popular and you can expect demand to be highest around these known bottlenecks. You can’t apply into September. You might like to scatter your approach into less popular windows, or you may prefer to go ‘all in’?.
The Links Trust operates a two-course policy on its ‘advanced guaranteed allocations’. The St Andrews Links Trust will allocate the Jubilee course as the ‘second course’ if you don’t nominate, or they’re unable to meet your choice.
Applications are headed by an assigned ‘lead golfer’ from your party, with your nominated others named on an application. If you get caught making multiple applications (different lead name but with same names appearing as named golfers on the booking) you’ll be disqualified. This is very easy to spot and it would be foolish to try and do it.
The advanced guaranteed application represents something of a nothing to lose, spin of the wheel. Perhaps most importantly, it isn’t a completely futile exercise with the deck loaded so heavily against you, that it’s a waste of time. There is however a cardinal rule!
The biggest mistake someone can make with the advanced guaranteed ballot is to wait on the outcome before booking anything else. If you wait until early November then you will have lost the opportunity to play Muirfield, quite probably lost Royal Troon as well, and will have Carnoustie or Royal Dornoch under pressure and find yourself increasingly forced onto a sub-optimal tee-time.
You’re very often better advised not to rely on it as anything other than an unexpected bonus. Faraway Fairways tend to believe that in most cases we’re better off building an itinerary up to the application period as planned, and taking aim at high demand courses which will otherwise sell out if you delay. For instance, in 2020 we have a party that did this and were able to include Muirfield, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Portmarnock, Carnoustie and Royal Dornoch ahead of their decision to enter the advanced ballot. What they did in effect is get these secured in exchange for reducing the number of applications they could make into the advanced ballot. Remember your chances of winning the advanced ballot are odds against. They’re actually lower than a normal daily ballot strategy. Deferring any other bookings until November so as to open up two or three potential extra days to apply into is quite a bad trade when it comes at the risk of losing courses altogether
Another related downside risk to the advanced application concerns commercial St Andrews guaranteed times. Whilst we’re waiting on the result of an advanced guaranteed ballot, other guaranteed tee-times will have begun selling out since June. As too incidentally will accommodation (this is a serious consideration that you need to weigh heavily in your calculation). We tend to advise that we’re best to assemble a programme regardless, and just make a couple of applications where appropriate on a ‘nothing to lose basis’
So What’s our answer? Are guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee times worth it
On balance, Faraway Fairways tend to the view that there’s more merit in a targeted ballot strategy, and there’s plenty of high quality compensation available on very flexible re-booking terms in the area if you don’t succeed first time. Mind you, perhaps you’d expect us to say that for the reasons we laid on the table at the outset.
If you are cash rich and time poor however, and playing a busy period or on a particularly tight deadline dependent schedule then we’d maybe more inclined to think that the guaranteed tee-time is the answer, but even then, you perhaps need to remember you’re likely to be locked into a four night minimum stay in St Andrews. If you’re hoping to pick other courses up in other parts of Scotland (say Troon and Turnberry) then you might find you’re generating additional costs to do so whilst you play out time on the east coast to meet your minimum obligations
Perhaps the best advice we can give is this
THE RISK ASSOCIATED WITH THE GUARANTEED TEE-TIME IS RARELY A RISK OF FAILURE OF PLAY AT ALL. REMEMBER THAT. INSTEAD ITS A RISK OF HOW YOU’LL PLAY IT, NOT ONE OF IF YOU’LL PLAY IT
If you’re determined to play the St Andrews Old Course, much more often than not you will. Now this might not always be convenient and it could involve needing to endure some anxiety (the daily ballot) or some discomfort (queuing under the walk up rule) but if you’re determined, you can nearly always be certain you’ll succeed (especially if you’ve got a few days to manage it under)
The only clients Faraway Fairways have had who failed were those weren’t prepared to queue under the walk up rule. All of those who were prepared to do hard yards if they needed to, succeeded.
Put it like this – If we estimate that your peak season chances on a 4-5 day ballot strategy are in the region of somewhere between 55% to 66%, and then reinforce this with a figure of about 97% on the walk up rule, then you shouldn’t perhaps be thinking in terms of failure to play. At Faraway Fairways we’re fond of saying “you can only get the correct answer if you’re asking the right question”. The question needn’t be one of are guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee times worth it, but rather one of am I prepared to endure a bit of discomfort in return for paying £1,750 less to play the Old Course?