ST ANDREWS GUARANTEED TEE-TIMES
Guaranteed Commercial Tee-times
Beginning in 2018 it’s all change regarding the allocation of St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-times. So what’s happening? Or perhaps more importantly what does it mean? Well in the current vernacular of TL;DR (we do try and keep up at Faraway Fairways!) there should be more guaranteed times available at cheaper prices.
For years the St Andrews golf course links used to sell commercial guaranteed tee-times exclusively through the ‘Old Course Experience’. They enjoyed something which was akin to a monopolistic position. From 2018 however the Links Trust took this administration ‘back in house’. This should (in theory) reduce the cost
Now we should clarify that no one is suggesting that the ‘Old Course Experience’ were falling short in quality, quite the opposite in fact, they laid on a very good product, but they had developed a reputation for concentrating on the luxury end of the market and the price structures for a St Andrews guaranteed tee-time reflected this. Basically, you got what you paid for. There might have been a few folk however who were a little bit uncomfortable with the pricing that this involved
The St Andrews Golf Links Trust has decided instead to distribute more of these guaranteed tee times through ‘authorised providers’ which should include more accommodation options (in theory). We’re assured that the individual allocations will broadly reflect the size of the qualifying hotels, guesthouses, and B&B’s, and that an attempt will be made to ensure that there is a representative sample of the possible price range holding these options each week. In other words the bigger and more popular hotels will still receive the most, but tee-times needn’t be ring fenced to the expensive end of the market any longer
Apart from the price, the other potential drawback of guaranteed packages were the strings that were attached to them. They typically involved a minimum stay duration (usually at least three nights), and play on at least one additional course was conditional. The rump of this has remained. The two-course policy (St Andrews) will still be operational. The other courses outside of St Andrews which were typically offered tended to be the likes of Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. Both would normally figure in most visiting itineraries so needn’t have been an imposition. We still expect accommodation providers to use their allocations as leverage for securing a minimum stay too, but this is likely to be where their interest lies. Golfers who might be hoping to wrap St Andrews and Carnoustie up with another centre, say Troon and Turnberry, probably stand a slightly better chance of achieving this now
Perhaps the most important distinction to make however is that a lot the organisations/ establishments advertising the existence of ‘guaranteed tee times’ are doing so generically. What they’ll often be describing is that they only have St Andrews guaranteed times for certain days and if these don’t coincide with your plans you’ll expend a lot of time going up blind alleys trying to identify who actually holds them. If your proposed visit is for a specified week, then you’ll need to identify who has the options on that week, and secure the tee-time.
There is a bit of a downside though. No one will know which specific authorised providers have been allocated guaranteed tee times for which dates until June of the previous year when allocations are notified (neither do they). Consequently, we won’t know until then what the cost will be either, and even then we expect there to be quite a bit of price volatility according to the time of year and who exactly holds the allocation. We have no reason to believe that the most popular slots won’t sell-out within weeks though
Before finishing on this, we feel obliged to give the Links Trust a shout-out. Demand for the Old Course, especially in the peak season, will always exceed supply. There is after all only one ‘Old Course’ and you can only fit a finite number of people on it on any given day. One of the easiest things the Links Trust could do would be to increase the green fee and use the price mechanism to filter demand. They could probably triple the green fee and still sell out (well they might struggle to do this actually by act of parliament – but that’s another story). The Links Trust do hold a commitment to making golf accessible to all, and let’s be honest, £200 is fairly reasonable.
St Andrews guaranteed tee-times are sometimes criticised for being a rich persons ‘get out’. Well to some extent they might be, but equally we need to consider overseas visitors are booking time consuming and costly flights. Scots and Brits enjoy the comparative luxury of being able to make repeat ballot applications until they come out of the draw.
So what are the less expensive guaranteed options?
The Advanced Guaranteed ballot system is retained and represents excellent value. The St Andrews Links Trust normally opens a two-week window for applications from late August to early September. The 2017 window for 2018 applications opened at 10:00 am BST on Wednesday 23 August and will close at midnight on Wednesday 6 September 2017. 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 early October. The process is split into four packages. The most popular is usually the peak season fourball packages (minimum two, maximum eight).
There are 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 Mon-Fri slots. 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 might like to scatter your approach accordingly, 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. Detection of a third party commercial interest also disqualifies an application (trying to prevent exploitative reselling more than advice) the Trust know that tour operator’s act in an advisory capacity.
Notifications of success are then sent out in October, but the question you really want to know the answer to is how good are my prospects?. Well there’s no hard and fast rule. Clearly there are seasonal factors but to some extent the impact of these can be diluted by more daylight hours being available, (the summer solstice usually occurs between June 20th – 22nd). After a bit of teasing and cajoling Faraway Fairways have managed to extract an estimate from those who know these things, that 33% of advanced applications are successful (that’s actually better than we thought). This 33% figure is based on a single ten-day spread however, and we need to stress it was given to us in good faith in spirit of being helpful. It is a broad based guide, (its not a rock solid certainty).
The advanced guaranteed application represents something of a nothing to lose, spin of the wheel. Perhaps most importantly, it isn’t a futile exercise with the deck loaded so heavily against you, that its a waste of time. Once you secure a tee-time, Faraway Fairways would be able to much better build a secure programme around it. The only downside risk to the advanced application is whether or not any commercial St Andrews guaranteed times have sold-out between waiting for the window to open and the notification of the result, and if you’ve targeted a particularly busy week, whether accommodation to support your stay still exists (this is a serious consideration that you need to weigh heavily in your calculation)
Any other options?
Outside of these ‘guaranteed’ structures, then the Burns Ballot, drawn 48 hours before play is the least expensive (£200) and least restricted way of playing the Old Course. Apart from the cost advantage, you aren’t confined to minimum hotel stays, nor are you locked into a second course. Faraway Fairways still believe there’s much 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.
If you’re a single golfer, then there’s always the ‘walk up’ rule for £200 too if you’re feel particularly lucky! But we’ll save that for another day