Other Golf Course Near St Andrews

golf courses near St Andrews

So you have a seven day golf vacation, and you’ve determined that the St Andrews Old Course is a ‘must play’. This isn’t an unusual start position, and naturally you think that staying in St Andrews is the sensible thing to do as well. Again, this is quite logical too. St Andrews might be an expensive location, but it oozes golf. Your experience needn’t be limited to your golf though. St Andrews also has a certain charm to it being a legitimate visitor attraction regardless of its golf. If you’re playing through the ballot however, we can’t know what precise day we’ll peg it up on the Old Course, but we can make an allowance. Instead we can set a day aside safe in the knowledge that our St Andrews base allows us the flexibility to respond to any ballot at 48 hours and re-arrange other rounds onto this shifting spare day. It isn’t long then before we turn to the question of how to fill the rest of an itinerary, and this sets up the search for golf courses near St Andrews in the wider Kingdom of Fife, and how you might best strike the balance between the two so as achieve the best result After the Old Course, the next step that visiting golfers will normally make is the marque names in the surrounding area and add these. Carnoustie as an Open Championship venue and with a world ranking in the high 20’s is the first on the list, quickly followed by Kingsbarns which also holds a ranking that puts it in the top-75. Of the two, Carnoustie is the most difficult to rearrange in the event of a round clashing with the Old Course ballot. It makes sense therefore to slip Carnoustie onto the one day of the week where a clash can’t happen, Sunday. Kingsbarns is the most expensive round of the week and not one you’d wish to put at risk of forfeit should it too clash with an Old Course ballot. The best way of handling Kingsbarns therefore is to check whether the Old Course has any block-out in your week concerned and if it does, to shadow this with a round at Kingsbarns, or if it doesn’t, to play it early so as to provide the maximum numbers of days elsewhere the week in the week to execute a re-arrangement and minimise the risk of a forfeit. By this stage we’ve inked in three days and have four left, and its typically at this juncture that your thoughts to turn trying to referee between St Andrews versus Fife. Do you focus on St Andrews or do you expand your horizons to the golf courses near St Andrews by venturing along the coastline picking up the ancient old links of Fife? In terms of convenience, the courses of the St Andrews Links Trust are on your doorstep and they’re the easiest to begin ticking off. With the exception of the Castle Course however, they all play in more or less the same piece of land. Sure, the course designs provide variety of sorts, but its the subtle type. They can perhaps never quite have the different challenges and personality that you’ll get from playing distinctly different courses on different terrain. It’s perhaps worth checking with worldtop100golfcourse.com and seeing if they can arbitrate by way of their Scottish rankings 22 – St Andrews Castle Course 26 – St Andrews New Course 27 – St Andrews Castle Course 31 – Lundin Links 33 – St Andrews Dukes Course 35 – Elie 47 – St Andrews Jubilee Course 48 – Leven Links 53 – Scotscraig 57 – St Andrews Torrance 67 – Crail Balcomie 70 – Crail Craighead 72 – St Andrews Kittocks 79 – St Andrews Eden Course Whereas such rankings are only ever indicative there is broad pattern of the higher ranked, quality courses being in St Andrews, the greater variety in Fife, and then the lowest quality being back in St Andrews. It’s never easy to determine how much of these rankings are corrupted slightly however by reviewers ‘playing’ the name of St Andrews? So let us now turn to how we might fill our remaining four days The St Andrews New Course is a present-pay-and-play proposition on Saturdays. Visitors can’t pre-book it. The Links Trust only release half the tee-times for Saturday on the day of play. It might sound ad-hoc, but it works surprisingly well. For the visiting golfer it means we can make low-risk ballot applications to play the Old Course for Saturdays safe in the knowledge that should we succeed, then we haven’t got to worry about re-arranging a cancelled tee-time or potentially forfeiting a green fee if we can’t. If you were so minded to play a double-day, you could always tag the Eden Course into the late afternoon. The Dukes Course isn’t a links. It’s a heathland course with some linksy characteristics. It’s owned and managed by the Old Course hotel and is about three miles inland. It can normally be played on a later arrangement too if you preferred to use it accordingly. We keep hearing so many good things from those of you who play the Castle Course that perhaps we have to include it as a dedicated day now. The Castle is a cliff-top course and easily the most aesthetic of the St Andrews tracks. It’s hilly and demanding though. It needn’t be one which you’d want to double-up. The two other cliff-top courses are the Torrance and the Kittocks. These are owned by the Fairmont hotel and often come packaged up in any stay and play arrangements. Of the three cliff-top courses however, then we’d probably advise Castle, Torrance, and Kittocks, in that order This now means we have five days accounted for and another two to allocate. At this juncture Faraway Fairways would be of the view that you break away from the ‘auld grey toon’, and look instead to golf courses near St Andrews, in Fife. The links of Fife are amongst some of the oldest in golf. They’re typically shorter than the modern courses, and you can consider some double-days on them as a consequence. Lundin and Leven are separated by a matter of just three miles. They’re obvious candidates. The two courses at Crail are another one and perhaps a little bit perplexing. The ranking has been a bit harsh on Crail you feel, the historic Balcomie links in particular. At about 5500 yds this is a course that does seem to divide opinion. Its supporters love it for its quirky lay-out of hanging lies and shots played from elevated tees, over secluded coves around curved bays etc. There are those however who also point to the comparative weakness of the inland section. Both opinions are legitimate. We might of course turn our attention to the other two courses in Fife that currently hold higher rankings. In truth though, as fun as Elie can be, it’s difficult to perhaps justify dedicating an entire to unless you were perhaps looking to take it a bit easier. You could perhaps consider dovetailing one of the Crail courses with Elie however. They might not be perfect neighbours, but at 12 miles or 30 minutes apart they’re hardly long-distance relatives either Scotscraig probably falls into the same description as Elie, although you could consider tagging it in as an evening round on the way back from a morning round at Carnoustie Perhaps there’s another answer emerging though for those of you who feel Crail might leave you a fraction underwhelmed? In 2020 Scotland’s newest links opens on the Largo coast at Dumbarnie. The pre-opening PR and the green fee suggests that they’re seeking to establish a status similar to that enjoyed by Kingsbarns or Castle Stuart. Even if they fail to nail down a prestigious world top-100 slot (and it’s increasingly competitive) we can perhaps already see that they’ll have built something that is comparable to Dundonald, which is going to mean that it can justify it’s own dedicated day without any loss of integrity

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Scottish Golf Trip for Three Players


Golf travel is perhaps something that’s really designed for four players, or at the very least even numbers you might think? Well there’s a grain of truth in this. Certainly groups of five can be quite awkward and they can find themselves getting penalised, but Faraway Fairways thought we’d take you through how Scotland handles groups of three, and what a Scottish golf trip for three players might look like, how you could adjust things, and how you can make some savings so as to ensure you extract maximum value There are three main blocks of cost in any golf trip

  • Golf/ Green fees
  • Accommodation
  • Transport

Nearly every Scottish golf club will take a three-ball booking. There is little barrier here, and no financial penalty. The only exception we’re aware of is Muirfield who require that you apply as a fourball. You will need a handicap of 18 to play Muirfield, and in the past we have been able to find a local player who is prepared to make up a fourball for anyone who wishes to try this. You should expect to share the cost of the guest’s green fees between you though. The St Andrews Old Course will accept three ball ballot applications as will everyone else. This is not a barrier and there’s no financial penalty involved. All of the top courses will reserve the right to add a single to a three-ball booking to make up a fourball should they need to do so however. If playing a three-ball you should certainly prepare yourself for the likelihood of becoming a fourball, and we make an allowance in our timings accordingly. Faraway Fairways do receive quite a few enquiries from single golfers desperate to try and play top courses and very often they’re finding themselves struggling to do so. Rest assured that in a majority of cases by welcoming a single into your three-ball you’re doing someone a really good turn and playing your little part in helping reinforce he game’s reputation for being ‘thoroughly decent’ The only other golf related area that a three-ball might want to appraise themselves of concerns the issues revolving around St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-times Guaranteed tee-times are distributed amongst ‘authorised providers’ in blocks for fourball play. Guaranteed tee-times are always in high-demand. The operators / providers who hold them are rarely (if ever) in danger of failing to sell them. The fourball booking is the most popular in the market. Therefore, prospective suppliers have very little reason to break up the integrity of their fourball option and sell it to a three-ball in the knowledge that they’ve then got find a single player to maximise their sales revenue yield. It’s basically more time consuming to do so, when the easier and more lucrative transaction is to sell to a fourball. A lot of authorised providers will only sell exclusively to fourball applicants Now that’s not to say that a three-ball party can’t buy a guaranteed Old Course package, only that it’s much harder to do so, and you’d have to be outrageously fortunate to do so on equal terms. Guaranteed tee-times are very, very rarely sold in isolation to the bare essentials (the Old Course and one other St Andrews Links Trust course). They nearly always come with a minimum hotel stay attached to them (typically four nights) and frequently with a minimum spend per person at that hotel (about £100). You could easily find that you’re required to compensate the seller to the value that the fourth player would have been worth to them in order to take a guaranteed tee-time. This needn’t been restricted to nights stayed and hotel expenditure either. It can extend to other courses played that are on the package (usually Carnoustie and Kingsbarns) and can even involve transport too. As you might imagine, sharing the cost of a ‘phantom fourth player’ amongst three, on what is already an inflated retail price, becomes prohibitively very expensive, very quickly. Faraway Fairways can’t really advise that any three-ball doing this is getting value for it The issue of accommodation however is a little bit more opaque and this where a three-ball might pick up some financial penalty, but even here there is sometimes some scope to create a saving with some local knowledge and astute planning. In general terms, odd numbers don’t tend to work that well in the UK hotel market. Although some will make a concession to a single occupancy room, they never do so at 50% of the price. It tends to be in the region of 80% instead. What this usually means is that two players will share a twin room (two single beds) and the third player will normally have a double room under single occupancy. Single rooms do exist, but they tend to be the poor relation in a hotel’s portfolio The double room under single occupancy is the superior choice, but it also happens to be the more expensive option. You might be prepared to accept this as a compromise. Although you’re paying more per person, you are at least getting something for your money One thing you might consider however is a ‘family room’. Family rooms are typically larger than standard twin or double guest rooms. They typically have three beds, usually comprised of one double, and two singles. Obviously, the person who is allocated the double has the best deal on this arrangement. You’d need to decide how you arbitrate on this one. You might make it conditional on doing the driving, you might rotate it, or you might like to introduce a sporting angle and make it subject of a nearest the hole challenge on your par 3’s? The big attraction of the family room however is that the per person rate is usually lower with three people sharing the costs of a family room, than two people sharing a traditional twin room. It can represent a saving to you The final major cost consideration is transport. This is where a three-ball will nearly always get penalised. A golfer typical generates one large luggage item plus a golf bag. Three golfer’s equal’s six significant luggage items. No ‘car’ can handle this without resorting to distinctly sub-optimal solutions of cramming golf bags onto back seats, wedging them into passenger footwells, and the third golfer contorting themselves accordingly. Don’t attempt it. Your ride comfort will be severely compromised Instead you’ll need to use a multiple-person-vehicle (MPV) with the same capacity that a fourball would. These typically have between 7 and 9 seats, but critically they handle 9 luggage items. It might look like a bit like overkill, but there really isn’t much by way of alternative option. The downside of course is that the hire cost for the vehicle is the same regardless of whether three people or nine people are using it. The cost person rises with each less person there is to share the burden The only way around this that might be conceivable is to use two cars, one large estate (4 to 5 luggage items) and one small hatchback or medium saloon (2 luggage items). This wouldn’t necessarily be a ‘saving’ in the strict sense of the word, but it would limit the damage as it usually works out cheaper than an MPV. In truth though, it’s clumsy and the cost differential isn’t actually that much. You’re probably better off keeping the integrity of your group together in a single travel unit where you can enjoy each other’s camaraderie The only other ‘cost heading’ that can make a significant contribution to a golf trip that would possibly need attending to in advance are entry fees to visitor attractions. A group of three isn’t penalised on these, or to be more precise perhaps, a group of three isn’t considered large enough to benefit from any discount structures. If it’s any consolation, neither are groups of four either. Group discounts tend to begin at groups of eight So what about in-situ expenditure? Things such as food and rink aren’t normally affected, although there is one potential caveat of concerning St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-times if for some reason you’ve found that you’ve been able to find someone who’ll sell you a three-ball option

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Scottish Golf in the Spring


Image by Kevin Murray. To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK] One of the key questions that any visitors face when choosing a Scottish golf vacation is the answer to the question of when? In other words, the choice of season or month. Scottish golf in the Spring is one of the most interesting, and varied options of the lot. Meteorological spring begins at the start of March and lasts until end of the May. In practical terms this means a window that starts in the winter season, and which briefly runs through a shoulder season, and finishes on the peak summer season rates. You see, Scottish golf in the spring covers a stretch like no other season and is quite capable of throwing wild and varied conditions at you. Most courses are still on their winter season rates in March, and this usually means a green fee approximately half the price. In March however it’s by no means unusual for the courses to require that you play off fairway mats, so anyone looking to steal a little bit value should make an allowance for this inconvenience. Muirfield are normally the first to break rank and introduce a seasonal price increase in mid March. You wouldn’t normally expect to have little difficulty getting a round of golf on the St Andrews Old Course in March. Our own experience is that golfers playing in March can more or less pick and choose the number of rounds they wish to play. Indeed, you’d even stand a chance of getting a round on the much sought after Muirfield at relatively short-notice too. We should perhaps warn you however that early March in particular can still throw up some quite unplayable conditions should we hit a cold snap. On balance Faraway Fairways would probably advise that golfers based in southern England or nearby continental Europe are perhaps the best placed to play March. You are the guys who can look at a seven-day weather forecast and respond at short-notice Kingsbarns only begin taking bookings at the start of April and Royal Troon waits until mid April before they begin taking visitors. Scottish golf in the spring does have a few restrictions you see, but as we pass through March and into early April we begin to encounter the shoulder season and better weather Shoulder seasons usually last for a stretch of two or three weeks from early to mid-April. During this period green fees will typically be in the region of 33% less expensive than the peak summer rate. Some courses run this structure to the end of the month (Kingsbarns) and a couple run a shoulder season up until mid May (Royal Aberdeen and Turnberry). We perhaps need to focus on St Andrews however, as this is the destination that frames so many package golf breaks. April represents something of a transition zone. In the first two weeks you would still normally expect to be able to play the Old Course more often than not. The adoption of ‘British Summer Time’ at the start of month adds an extra hour’s daylight to our day. The sun sets at close to 20.00 in the first week of April, which means the hardy can begin to entertain ideas of playing double-days for the first time of the year. By the end of month however we’re beginning to encounter our first Old Course pressure. Although conditions are still favourable, you should bank on losing a few ballots now, even with approximately fifteen hours of daylight by the end of the month being available to you Before we leave April behind us though, it’s definitely worth sharing a potentially valuable insight that few people seem to be aware of. April is the driest month of the year in St Andrews. Indeed, the three months of the spring are also the driest season. Whereas this might be a good advert for Scottish golf in the spring, you might need to balance the lack of rain with the temperature. April can still have a bit of a bite in the wind, and it’s only as we move into May that things will begin to warm up. For all intents and purposes May more or less functions as a summer month with seventeen hours of daylight by the end of it. In St Andrews however it normally begins with a significant Old Course block-out for a week though. This often deters overseas visitors from targeting the first week. It’s always worth keeping an eye on the Carnoustie diary in May as well as they run a series of traditional fixtures and competitions too which can also create something of a scheduling problem if we haven’t planned properly. Faraway Fairways normally reckon that an indicative daily strike-rate on the Old Course ballot for May is about 25% and we advise clients who are particularly focused on playing to think in terms of allowing at least four days where they’d be in a position to capitalise should their name be drawn. We have however seen some extended losing streaks in May which have previously coincided with windows of the greatest availability in the diary. We’re increasingly of the view that overseas visitors in particular who consult the Links Trust’s ‘busy day’ diary are over-subscribed clear windows of play and damaging each other’s prospects, whereas other windows which have some block-out, but which stop of short of total block-outs might be more productive If golf courses are prepared to cut visitors a bit of slack on the green fees in April, accommodation providers will usually adopt something of a mid-range pricing structure too, and only start going through gears towards the peak summer season in May All things considered Scottish golf in the spring is quite an attractive proposition, and it’s becoming an increasingly popular season as visitors hedge their bets against the reduced availability at St Andrews in the summer, and of course the more expensive accommodation we see from July onwards

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Scottish Golf in the Summer


Image by Kevin Murray. To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK] One of the key questions that any visitors face when choosing a Scottish golf vacation is the answer to the question of when? In other words, the choice of season or month. Summer golf in Scotland is the most popular season of the year. Meteorological summer begins at the start of June and lasts until end of the August. One of the first things to consider is the venue for the Open Championship. Although no formal decision to remove Turnberry from the rotation has been taken, it hasn’t reappeared since 2009. This does perhaps indicate that it’s been unofficially ‘parked’ for now. That being so, Troon, Muirfield, Carnoustie and St Andrews (twice every ten years) will mean that five in every ten years will likely see a clash. The championship takes place in mid July which means the hosting venue will be closed from the start of June in preparation. In addition to this, the Scottish Open proceeds it. This means that we should expect to lose another course in June too. In recent years this European Tour event has been variously hosted by Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen, Gullane, Dundonald, and most recently, the Renaissance Club One of the big advantages to summer golf in Scotland is the latitude that we play at. The longest day of the year typically occurs in June on or around the 20th of the month. To give you some idea of what this potentially means, the sun rises in St Andrews at about 04.20 in the morning and sets at 22.00. At higher latitudes in the Highlands on courses like Royal Dornoch, you’ll get an extra 30 minutes and a full eighteen hours of daylight. Faraway Fairways tend to advise that larger groups might consider using June as their month of choice. This is why If we’re able to distribute the driving burden and share the mileage out between you, then you can ‘create’ extras days due to the amount of daylight you have. The key to do this is trying to break out of the 08.00 to 17.00, nine-hour mindset that so many of us might export onto our vacation. Although taking it to the extreme isn’t advised (it’s a bit too punishing) you do theoretically have an additional nine hours of daylight of summer golf in Scotland. Even if you don’t want to play two rounds a day, you can use this extra daylight ‘to get to places’ and open the whole country up. If you adopt something like a 07.00 to 20.00 day, you add four hours a day. If you’re here for a week, that equals 28 hours in total. In terms of useable daytime hours, it’s close to being an extra three full days for no additional cost other than time spent travelling or playing It’s worth noting that June can be a surprisingly good month for the playing the St Andrews Old Course, despite there usually being a bit of a dearth of opportunities on Saturday’s due to block-out. In recent seasons however, the month has seemingly been targeted a bit more aggressively as perhaps word started to get out that June was being overlooked a little as visiting golfers and local anxious to ‘get their season going’ piled into May. One local quirk we need to note is that the final week of June is St Andrews university graduation week. This means that parents and returning students are competing with golfers for accommodation in the auld grey toon, and they normally operate over a longer lead time as well meaning that they get first jump. As you might expect, hotels respond to this with a price increase for the week (usually about 20%) although in truth availability is a bigger problem than price. Otherwise, the week in question is normally quite a good window to play the Old Course. Faraway Fairways have seen evidence that daily Old Course ballot strike rates rise by 10% during this week to something like 30% July is the hottest month of the year in St Andrews and the mid-point of the month sees the school summer holidays begin. From here until the end of August winning St Andrews Old Course ballots becomes a whole lot harder. Faraway Fairways tend to advise that clients need to be thinking in terms of one in six applications succeeding, perhaps as high as one in seven in particularly good weather. In fairness to the St Andrews Links Trust though, they do seek to make plenty of tee times available in July, and with 06.30 first tee-times now the norm opportunity still exists if we can navigate onto favourable landing strips (not always the most obvious choices) August performs very similarly to July as we complete our appraisal of summer golf in Scotland. One thing we need to draw to your attention however is the Edinburgh Festival which takes place throughout most of the month. This is a notorious accommodation killer in the capital. Hotels fill up and will usually look for at least twice the normal rate. If you’ve got a programme that involves playing the courses of east Lothian (Muirfield, North Berwick or Gullane) then this could become a consideration Another thing we need to advise as well is that the build up of warmer air from May onwards has usually introduced a bit more moisture into the atmosphere by August. In St Andrews, August is the wettest month of year (similar to January) albeit the average temperatures are a lot more obliging. The summer is the best season for you to entertain some of the more ambitious itineraries that might involve the Highlands and Islands and the remote courses such as Machrie, Machriahnish and Askernish. In order to reach these isolated out-posts we need to use ferries. These are more plentiful in the summer and sail with greater frequency and less weather disruption On balance, we’d probably nominate the Highlands as well. The Scottish Highlands supports a visitor and tourist industry. The more nomadic golfer needn’t always be the reservation that hoteliers regard as their best catch, and we can come into occasional conflict with accommodation providers holding out for a single week-long booking. Although it’s harder work to navigate this, we nearly always succeed in doing so, but usually require a little bit of early planning to lock down our options Faraway Fairways would probably nominate the summer as the best time to play the west coast giants of Turnberry, Troon and Prestwick as well. The western sky is often set alight by burning sunsets at this time of year too which provides a dramatic finale to the day.

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Scottish Golf in the Fall

Scottish Golf in the Fall

Image by Kevin Murray. To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK] One of the key questions that any visitors face when choosing a Scottish golf vacation is the answer to the question of when? In other words, the choice of season or month. Scottish golf in the fall is possibly the most sanctifying and beguiling experience of the year. Sure, it requires a bit of luck to catch it at its best. If you do however then you’ll be richly rewarded and its definitely something that’s worth thinking about rolling the dice on Meteorological autumn begins at the start of September and lasts until end of the November. For St Andrews September has an established pattern however that we need to factor into our thinking. The first ten days of the month are normally clear, after that however the course closes for a series of traditional fixtures culminating in the Dunhill Links Challenge (European Tour event) at the end of the month which usually overlaps into the start of October. The Dunhill also means that Carnoustie and Kingsbarns are closed for the final week too as the trio co-host. It’s easy to reflect perhaps that the various golf clubs of St Andrews know when the best time of year is to play, and they keep mid September to themselves! It’s worth reviewing why though. Despite being a rainy month, and despite the autumn being the rainiest season of the year, we do get some idyllic days in September characterised by a warming sun and crisp fresh air being swept down from the north. Scottish golf in the fall can be blissful and it’s worth being aware that these conditions can particularly prevail in the Highlands, where the more northerly latitude tends to move the changing seasons forward by about three or four weeks. Autumn comes a little bit earlier to places like Dornoch, Nairn, or Castle Stuart, and that means it begins to weave a tapestry of rich colour into the landscape. Catch these conditions right, and Scottish golf in the fall is probably the very best that Scotland has to offer By the time October rolls around however we’re getting into the tail end of the peak season. Royal Troon will usually be amongst the first to close their books, and by the middle of the month St Andrews adopts their second ‘shoulder season’ price list which lasts from the middle of October to the 1st of November. Green fees are typically about 33% less than they were at the beginning of the month. Carnoustie also makes a similar concession about this time of year too. Naturally it also becomes easier to win an Old Course ballot as we press into October. Sure there is less daylight now, especially as we adopt Greenwich Meantime towards the end of the month and lose an hour daylight. There is however a palpable fall off from overseas visitors now reducing demand. Competition for rounds of golf begins to come from local players instead, who themselves are much more likely to be persuaded by looking out of the window and taking a decision based on the weather The early part of the November is normally still quite playable in most regions. The courses of the Highlands usually offer some particularly attractive terms as they seek to squeeze the last few drops out of the season. If you ‘go for it’ you do run an enhanced risk of weather disruption, and we wouldn’t really encourage you to do so after the 15th. Kingsbarns closes in November for maintenance and you would probably best be advised to discount it from your planning St Andrews is probably the best location for Scottish golf in the fall, and to some extent this owes a little bit to how the course interacts with the town. The Old Course leads away from the town and then calls you back in, as the streets of the town run alongside the closing holes to guide you home. The parallels with a ship on a sea and a lighthouse showing them the way start to become unmistakable as the lights of the hotels and bars begin to come on to show the way. It can be an almost spiritual experience coming in after four hours of toil on the links knowing that a dram or two of the good stuff awaits.

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Winter Golf in Scotland

winter golf in scotland

Image credit by Evan Wilson under CC by ND 2.0 For terms of license [CLICK] One of the key questions that any visitors face when choosing a Scottish golf vacation is the answer to the question of when? In other words, the choice of season or month. At face value winter golf in Scotland might seem like an idea best suited to the insane, but a surprisingly high number of courses stay open and are playable all year round. Winter golf has more merit than you might imagine provided you set yourselves up sensibly. Surprisingly perhaps, there are some sound reasons why someone might actually consider this counter-intuitive idea. In the first case the green fees are invariably half-price. The accommodation isn’t far of being either. You will make significant savings. You will also be able to pick and choose where you play. Even the St Andrews Old Course has unfilled spaces on their tee sheet during December, January and February So who, you might ask, thinks about playing winter golf in Scotland? Leaving aside the answers that relate to price, the other people who might be tempted are the thrill seekers looking for ‘an experience’ and the opportunity to test their game under challenging conditions. These types needn’t be first timers (they’ve invariably cut their teeth on the summer months) but people who’ve played a few times already and want to try something different Now no honest assessment of winter golf in Scotland could be considered remotely complete without us addressing the issue of weather. With colder air, there is less moisture in the atmosphere. Rainfall needn’t be your biggest worry. February is a particularly dry month for example and rivals April as the driest in the calendar. Instead the bigger threat comes from cold, frost, wind, and of course snow. This also contributes to answering the question of who plays winter golf in Scotland. We do get crisp clear days where the fairways are firm, and greens receptive. There is an idyllic quality to playing under these sublime conditions, but also a clear downside, we don’t really get much notice beyond four or five days as to when we’re likely to face such bliss The sort of person who is best placed to capitalise on this therefore are the mobile and flexible. These might be the golfers of southern England or the big cities of Europe, or even American’s who can get to a New York airport fairly easily. Indeed, it’s possible to fly out on Friday evening, play the St Andrews Old Course on Saturday, Gleneagles on Sunday morning, and then land back in New York later that same evening flying with the time zones, (via London). What you need of course is the freedom to make late decisions and the foresight to spot a weather window There are two other regions which are worth considering. Perhaps the best are the links of East Lothian. The soil contains a particularly high sand content and they drain well and are less susceptible to frosts. If you chanced midweek, this would open up Muirfield (must be a fourball though), otherwise its courses like North Berwick, Gullane, Dunbar, and the Renaissance Club. East Lothian has the additional safety net of allowing to use Edinburgh as your base. Should the weather take a disruptive hand in affairs, you’ll get a bit of compensation in the non-golf department from the Scottish capital The courses of Ayrshire stay freer of frost than most by virtue of being in the tail of the Gulf Stream, but you will encounter more rain on the west coast usually, and of course Troon won’t be available until mid April. The idea of winter golf in Scotland might sound crazy (it is at one level) but Faraway Fairways would suggest that it isn’t quite as crazy as you might first think. It’s worth looking at, and worth monitoring if you have the flexibility to respond to a window. In 2019 for instance we saw a record temperature set in February when it played much more like June

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How Much Does a Golf Vacation in Scotland Cost?

how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost?

Asking the question of how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost? isn’t a bad place to begin any appraisal. You know the answer about a piece of string? Well it’s not dissimilar in truth. Although we’ve posed the question of how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost? we’re probably answering it a little bit more in the spirit of how much can a Scottish golf vacation cost? Faraway Fairways are more conscious than most perhaps that not everyone can adopt a ‘cost no object’ to their golf vacation planning. With this in mind, we have focused this article towards saving money and hopefully finding ways that delivers top-value Before we start exploring ways in which we can cut the price and costs of a Scottish golf vacation however, there is perhaps something we need to stress. The exercise needn’t always be about how cheap can I make it? If you stretch this question of how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost? to its enth degree for example, you can often achieve some remarkable savings by using extremely sub-optimal solutions, but you’ll suffer in the delivery for having done so. The question we need to try and keep to the forefront of our mind perhaps is more one of how far am I prepared to compromise quality in pursuit of price? In our own private travel it’s something we’ve occasionally done. It becomes very easy to sit at home and bask a little bit in the reflected glory of the savings you’ve made. This tends to wear off though once you arrive at a destination. The savings you made in the winter planning stages are easily forgotten as you’re having to mattle together some unwieldy options. It isn’t long before you find yourself saying “I wish I’d done” Context With people’s budgets potentially tightening in line with economic downturns, it’s perhaps natural that we begin to explore where we can make savings. It’s worth remembering that if your own domestic economy is in recession, then there is a strong likelihood that Scotland’s will be too (especially if you’re American). The cost of living in Scotland is lower than America. In recession sensitive areas like food and hotels, the chances are that the prices being asked for in Scotland are lower than if you’d stayed at home. Assuming that you eat and drink regardless of where you live! you needn’t be paying more for your essentials, and should be saving a bit The other significant context is the exchange rate. In 2016 sterling bought you $1.45. Today that is nearer to $1.25. On a £2,500 golf break, you’d be paying about $500 less on the exchange rate than you would have done only a couple of years ago Golf vacations tend to have three specific components. The golf, accommodation, and transport. Focusing on these three pillars pretty much frames the answer to how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost?There are of course other bits that circulate around this core which we’ll touch on too. The Golf Green fees tend to have the least amount of scope. A reasonably reliable escalator works where quality is reflected in the price although there are some notable exceptions. Places like Machriahnish, Cruden Bay and North Berwick for example, all hold world top-100 rankings and don’t have a reputation for being overly expensive. It’s also worth noting that the St Andrews Old Course should be considered comparatively affordable as well considering that they could easily double their green fees and still sell out. There are close to ten courses in Scotland that are typically asking for a higher fee than St Andrews. A lot of courses operate a shoulder season that typically runs from the start of April to the middle of the month, and from mid October to the end of the month. During this window you’ll normally be able to secure a green fee that is discounted by about 33%. Some courses such as Kingsbarns will extend their shoulder throughout April, whereas Royal Aberdeen and Turnberry can over run theirs into early May Once we hit the peak season however, the scope for ‘nicking’ a bargain on the green fee diminishes. It’s worth being aware however that some courses (notably those of the Highlands like Royal Dornoch and Brora) run twilight tee-times which can be about 33% cheaper. We wouldn’t be deterred by playing at this time of day. It’s often sublime. The only real downside is that you’re likely going to need to stay the night in the area so it needn’t be the easiest arrangement to finish and move onto your next destination from. It can disrupt a flow of morning golf, afternoon travel, if playing a point-to-point touring itinerary You might encounter ‘play and stay’ deals. These are usually good value relative to purchasing the golf and the accommodation independently of each other. They needn’t always be ‘savings’ though. The discount we can achieve on the green fee is usually more than wiped out by the cost of needing to stay in a more expensive hotel, as it’s invariably the five stars that offer these deals. A net cheaper price can usually be achieved by paying the non-residents green fee and then booking a less expensive accommodation. The net saving for doing this however, isn’t normally that significant and at Faraway Fairways, we can be persuaded that the value lies with the deal Another ‘trick’ of course is including a few ‘hidden gems’. These are normally considered high-quality courses with affordable green fees that tend to be overlooked in the proximity of more dominant names. Most regions have them. Candidates in the St Andrews area would include Lundin, Scotscraig, Elie and Leven. Carnoustie would see you perhaps turning to Montrose and Monifieth. The best options in Ayrshire probably lie off shore on the Isle of Arran. This involves using a ferry to get to Shiskine or Corrie. The Lothian courses east of Edinburgh would include Kilspindie, Dunbar and possibly Eyemouth which is a little bit further south on the English border. Aberdeenshire needn’t have so many obvious candidates. Murcar is a possibility but value seekers are likely to be more persuaded by Fraserburgh or Newburgh on Ythan. Finally the Highlands would see Boat of Garten, Tain, Golspie and Brora amongst its nominees If you can weave a couple of gems into your programme without seriously compromising quality you’ll be saving in the region of 10% on the overall price Accommodation Accommodation is the area with the greatest scope and there are two things worth exploring. Faraway Fairways offers a portfolio of what we call ‘affordable’ hotels. They’re more popularly referred to as ‘budget hotels’ of course, and this needn’t be an unfair description. It really depends what you want from your accommodation? These hotels are clean, modern, friendly and safe. They tend to have particularly comfortable beds, a feature of the chain in question. They’re often popular with families and business travellers. If this represents the nuts and bolts of all you really require, then they’re fine. What they lack a bit is luxury décor (you get a chair and a work desk etc) but you don’t sumptuous furnishings. They’re typically about the half the price of a higher-end 4 star hotel. The second angle is self-catering. Some of these options can be extremely good value. In a lot of cases the only downside is the loss of time spent in food preparation and the distraction this causes in your personal planning (shopping in any other language). Faraway Fairways would be of the view however that this can be quite easily ameliorated The chances are that your evening meal is going to be taken ‘eating out’ anyway. A self-catering option isn’t impacted by this decision. What we’re really talking about then is breakfast. A vast majority of golf clubs do a good breakfast at a fair price. If you don’t want to prepare your own, simply switch that which you would have paid in a hotel, and transfer it to the golf club. Both St Andrews and Edinburgh are likely to appear in most itineraries, and both are amongst the most expensive locations in Scotland. The old trick of staying in Carnoustie to save money on St Andrews is quite well established, and you will typically achieve something in the region of 50% like with like. Carnoustie isn’t as charismatic as St Andrews however, and you will face something like a 50 minute commute whenever you wish to go to St Andrews. Staying on the periphery of St Andrews or self-catering in a surrounding town or rural location might be a compromise Edinburgh throws us a slightly different challenge as the road network can help direct our approach. Central Edinburgh is more expensive than outer Edinburgh, and you’ll likely pick up a hidden parking charge too in the centre. If we’re able to find somewhere that has links to the outer ring-road (access to Fife and St Andrews to the north and the Lothian’s to east) we can begin to pinch some time back. In addition, we can also use a budget hotel that is convenient for the tram (100 yards walk away). Trams cost about £3, and take about 20 minutes to get from the west of the city to the centre. They run every 7-10 minutes. Let’s put it like this, if you want to visit central Edinburgh, or want to spend an evening out there without the responsibility of using a vehicle, then the tram solves this, and does so at a cost likely to be the region of three times cheaper than staying centrally. Your primary inconvenience is the 20-25 minute commute, and the lack of a charismatic district in which to stay, both of which can be traded off by a budget conscious traveller who is wrestling with the question of how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost? Transport It is nearly always cheaper to self drive. There are a couple of potential exceptions however. A particularly large group (20+) will probably need to look at a coaching arrangement, augmented with a series of local taxi journeys to fill in the gaps when your coach has completed its days work. This can also become rather messy when the St Andrews Old Course is part of a programme and played under the ballot as we only get the results for a draw 48 hours before play and can easily find successful applicants needing to go in one direction to St Andrews, whilst unsuccessful applicants keep on the main itinerary and go with the rest of the party in the other direction. The other exception might occur where you can set up a base location and stick to it. This means that there are enough courses surrounding you for you to walk to them, or near enough for you to use a local taxi. In other words, we’d make two ‘there and back’ transport hires at the start and end of a programme, and then use a series of in-situ arrangements in between. St Andrews can potentially support this kind of arrangement, as might Gleneagles if you were prepared to confine yourself to their three courses only. Carnoustie if its reinforced with Panmure and Monifieth might have some appeal too as a short break. Finally, if you based in Troon, it might be possible to weave Prestwick, Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald into a local taxi arrangement as well On balance however, any savings you might be able to achieve by using local taxis are unlikely to be significant enough to justify the loss of flexibility and independence that a self-drive solution offers you. Faraway Fairways wouldn’t normally recommend that you do it, instead you might consider the vehicle type. Golfing parties normally generate more luggage than a normal visitor due to the fact that golf bags are large and awkward shapes. Golfers are frequently pushed into hiring out larger vehicles than their numbers would usually require. This means they’ll often have spare passenger seats. If you’re prepared to accept the clunky solution of laying golf bags out in the vehicle interior, then you can usually get by with a lower vehicle category Observing the mantra that net savings are the accumulation of small transactions, another small one can usually be made by dispensing with a meet and greet service at the airport on the vehicle handover, and not using an in vehicle sat-nav, relying instead perhaps on a phone app and an assigned navigator in your group Non Golf activity Many of Scotland’s premier golf courses are actually located in close proximity to genuine apex visitor attractions. Although Faraway Fairways encourage you to add some easy value to your experience by looking beyond the 18 holes, we can also accept that if cost is the principal driver in your decision making, then you could simply choose to omit them. So How Much then? The question you perhaps what an answer to is how much does a Scottish golf vacation cost?, give me a price Well the truth is, the time of year you visit, the date that you book, and the duration of your stay, all frame the price. That’s before we even think about courses played. In the spirit of trying to give you a clue we thought we’d model something that was priced up in September 2019 for play in and around the shoulder season of April 2020 The golf courses featured were, North Berwick, Gleneagles, Carnoustie, Scotscraig, Kingsbarns, Lundin and the St Andrews New Course. Please note that provision to play the St Andrews Old Course has been made in the draft itinerary, but the cost isn’t included since the plan involves using the ballot which means the green fee is paid by you to the Links Trust upon notification of a successful application (you’d need to add it). Assuming that the Old Course does become part of the portfolio however, you’d have four courses that are ranked in the world’s top-100, plus a recent Ryder Cup venue. The savings needn’t have been achieved by slashing back on the quality therefore We would expect to be able to offer a seven night stay on a fourball in early April for an approximate price of £1875 per person under these circumstances One thing that really is important however is the exchange rate. You can make no end of smart decisions in the assembly and have their benefits wiped out by a poor exchange rate. At the time of writing, (the autumn of 2019) Sterling is at levels that would be considered historically low, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. Faraway Fairways can send out long dated invoices for you which gives you the flexibility to pay at any favourable moment should opportunity present. Here’s a link that monitors sterling CLICK FOR STERLING UPDATES AGAINST ALL MAJOR CURRENCIES

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What is the Best Time of Year to Play Golf in Scotland?


Image by Kevin Murray. To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK] One of the key questions that any visitors face when choosing a Scottish golf vacation is the answer to the question of when? In other words, the choice of season or month, which means asking the question of what’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland? The answer (as you might expect) starts with the words “it depends on ….. “. But leaving that qualification aside, Faraway Fairways takes you on a quick spin through the seasons in the hope of helping this decision along What’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland? – the Spring season The spring begins in March and finishes at the end of May. This window will see you encounter a potential range of weather options. March can be quite a cold month still, but on the upside you aren’t likely to experience ‘getting on’ any of the courses you wish to play other than those which are closed to visitors (Royal Troon and Kingsbarns). Towards the end of the month the UK adopts British Summer Time, which means we get an extra hours daylight, with the sun setting at about 20.00 The first two weeks of April will see most courses offering ‘shoulder season’ green fees. These are typically 33% less expensive than the full peak season rate. Kingsbarns opens for play in April and Royal Troon begins to do so as well towards the end of the month. One little known fact about April is that it’s driest month of the year by rainfall in St Andrews May is a warmer version of April, but most courses are now on their full summer green fees. Royal Aberdeen and Turnberry can hang onto their shoulder season however until the middle month. May is something of a trappy month in places for Carnoustie which hosts a series of traditional fixtures, and the St Andrews Old Course also has some significant block-out (particularly in the first week of the month) What’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland? – the Summer season June is the start of meteorological summer but can sometimes be a little bit slow to kick into action. A day or so either side of the 20th is the years longest. This means the sun rises at approximately 04.00 and sets at 22.30 in the Highlands. You can work with seventeen hours worth of useable daylight throughout most of the month which permits you to play two rounds should you choose, or use the daylight to travel between venues in order to open the whole country up. If you’re able to break out of a nine to five mindset and take advantage of the extended daylights at this northerly latitudes, then you can add what amounts to about three days to a weeks golf package tour. Be aware that the last week of June is also university graduation week in St Andrews. This pitches golfers into competition with the university for accommodation. Returning students and the parents of students tend to work on a more advanced planning schedule than golfers. They usually get the first jump on the town’s hotels. We should note however that even though the town tends to prioritise the university during ‘grad week’ it’s normally a good playing window for the Old Course of golfers avoid the week. We’ve also seen evidence to indicate that success on the Old Course ballot increases by 10% during ‘grad week’ A final consideration you’ll need to give towards June concerns where the respective Open Championship is being held for the year you’re looking at, and for that matter the Scottish Open too which is normally played the week before. Any course hosting the Open (mid July) will normally be shut for at least six weeks before hand in preparation. The Scottish Open normally closes a course for about four weeks. July is the warmest month of the year in St Andrews. Play on the Old Course is busy. The middle of the month sees the school summer holidays begin which can start a ‘super peak’ season lasting into mid August. Anecdotally the St Andrews Links Trust have previously told us that they think the first week of August is their busiest of the year. Warming summer air however has begun to introduce moisture into the atmosphere. Rainfall in August is surprisingly higher than you feel it ought to be. August also means the Edinburgh Festival. If your proposed programme involves the courses of East Lothian (Muirfield, North Berwick, or Gullane) or the parkland courses of the capital, then you could have a problem with accommodation availability and price if you leave things too late. It’s certainly worth visiting Edinburgh during this period if you can, and if you’re able to secure accommodation at a price you can live with, then it’s a great time to stay there, but you need to weigh that against the cost of doing so. The Festival lasts for three weeks. What’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland? – the Fall season September is the wettest month of the year in St Andrews, as indeed the fall is the wettest season, but it’s also responsible for some of the most sublime playing conditions too characterised by a warming sun and crisp fresh air. These conditions can be particularly prevalent in the Highlands, where the more northerly latitude tends to move the changing seasons forward by about three or four weeks. The majesty of the autumn at places like Dornoch, Nairn, or Castle Stuart, is enhanced by nature beginning to weave a rich tapestry of browns, ocre, and russet into the green landscapes. The first two weeks of September in St Andrews are clear, but after that the Old Course closes to visitors until the first week of October. The members of the various St Andrews golf clubs know when the best time of year is, and the second half of September is theirs! The Dunhill Links Challenge (a European tour event that also closes down Carnoustie and Kingsbarns) takes place at the end of September which means that visiting golfers will need to wait until October before they can resume their battle The first two weeks of October still see summer season rates being applied, but by the middle of the month of a lot of courses will move onto their autumn shoulder season rates (similar to those of the spring). Royal Troon closes for visitor play in early October, and Kingsbarns follows them a few weeks later at the beginning of November. To some extent the allure of St Andrews in October owes a little bit to how the course interacts with the town. The Old Course leads away from the town and then calls you back in, as the streets of the town run alongside the closing holes to guide you home. The parallels with a ship on a sea and a lighthouse showing them the way start to become unmistakable as the lights of the hotels and bars begin to show the way. It can be an almost spiritual experience coming in after four hours of toil on the links knowing that a dram or two of the good stuff awaits. At the end of October the UK adopts Greenwich Meantime and we lose an hour of daylight as the winter starts to come calling What’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland? – the Winter season A surprisingly high number of courses stay open in the winter and the green fee is usually half the price by now, and the first half of November needn’t be dismissed from your calculations. Significant savings can also be found in the accommodation too. You will usually be required to use a fairway mat however, but your enemy to play is no longer availability on the tee-sheet, but rather weather. Surprisingly perhaps, February is one of the driest months of the year by rainfall as the cold air has sucked the moisture from the atmosphere but however we try and cut it, we need to acknowledge that there is a risk of being wiped out. Perhaps the best way of handling winter golf is if you’re flexible enough to respond at short notice. Even the St Andrews tee-sheet is rarely filled during December, January and February. If you spot a favourable forecast, and can respond to it, you can certainly get some perfectly idyllic conditions for at least half the price that you would pay a few months later. No appraisal of what’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland however without finally addressing the St Andrews Old Course. Allow us to run through the dynamics of this and see if we can assist What’s the best time of year to play golf in Scotland? – St Andrews For many visitors their first point of interest is the St Andrews Old Course. Indeed, it wouldn’t be unfair to describe this as a fixation at times. Golf tour operators see this sort of enquiry all the time. It’s the one which concentrates solely on the Old Course to the point where everything else almost seems incidental background scenery. The sort of golfer who is doing this very often seems to consult to the St Andrews ‘busy days’ schedule, and draws up their short list of dates by simply looking for blocks of seven clear days where the Old Course is available. This might seem logical of course. It also runs a risk. What happens if a thousand other golfers have come to same conclusion? Success on the Old Course ballot is a function of the ratio between supply and demand. That is to say 30 golfers chasing just 10 tee-times, are more likely to succeed than, 300 golfers chasing 30 tee-times. This poses both you and us as a tour operator a real problem. Allow us to illustrate using an example from August 2019 The general rule of thumb for August which Faraway Fairways have succeeded in extracting is “one in six, perhaps as high as one in seven in good weather”. Indeed, this daily strike rate estimate is backed up by some data that a hotel partner allowed us to have which put the figure at 13%. In 2019 however Faraway Fairways achieved a daily strike rate in August of 26%. What happened? Some of our clients were on inflexible dates. They had to play in what looked like poor playing windows. These were days that had ‘block out’ in them, or clear days that were surrounded by other dates that were heavily blocked out. We applied for these dates, and our success rate was 40%. As the block out dates passed through the calendar and we began to hit ‘clear dates’ our success rate fell. On the clear dates we dropped to 13% Overseas visitors in particular tend to plan long-term. It’s tempting to conclude that they simply harvested up the clear dates on the ballot and over-subscribed them to the point where the supply couldn’t meet the demand. It’s actually classic ‘game theory’. By all piling into the same windows, they collectively damaged each others chances. Dates which on-line appear as not being busy (no fixture commitments) became busy as a result of not being busy etc. A similar thing happened in the clear playing windows during May and June where daily strike rates collapsed. The clearest windows aren’t always be the best shot you can take. What they do offer us is the clearest conscience instead. Allow us to explain what we mean by that as a golf tour operator It’s very difficult to recommend that someone plays in week 1 if it contains some block-out, when perhaps the following week 2 is completely clear. Even if we have good grounds to believe that our prospects of success might actually be higher in week 1 as a result of competing golfers overlooking it and concentrating on week 2 instead, we still need to demonstrate we’ve done the right thing by the client. That’s a lot easier to do if we can point to a diary that has six clear days rather than three or four. Eventually we will fail of course making applications into sub-optimal windows. That’s the laws of averages, but when it happens we’re wide open to allegations of negligence. So what are we suggesting then?

Don’t obsess on St Andrews, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that the ‘busy days’ diary is exclusively a supply-side report either. It equally predicts demand.

So are we seriously suggesting a counter-intuitive strategy of targeting windows with heavy block out instead? No. Definitely not. Heavily blocked out windows are also unproductive.

What we’re trying to find is a ‘Goldilocks’ window’ which isn’t too hot, and isn’t too cold. Spotting such a landing strip is one thing however, knowing how it’ll perform though is little more than informed hunch.

To some extent, you own reaction to the busy days schedule is potentially quite a useful insight. If your eyes light up on a clear window, the chances are everyone else’s have done too. The sorts of pattern we might look for then are days where there is only 60-80 minutes blocked out but the all important psychological impact of a block-out report might cause a negative response in the reader that causes them to seek an alternative instead. A lot of this really does come down to understanding our prospective golfers are going to react to the diary A couple of clear days mixed up with a few blocked out days can also be considered possible. Remember that we can always schedule expensive prestige courses such as Carnoustie or Kingsbarns against any blocked out day. This avoids any chance of the Old Course clashing with them, so the day lost to the block-out isn’t necessarily quite such of a loss after all if we’ve got a quality alternative in its place. Again, if people see two days out of six blocked out, they begin to retreat from that week in significant numbers, and especially if the preceding or following week is clear. Overseas visitors can play in weekly blocks too. We believe that we’ve detected that the first two clear days after a run of blocked out days is often under-subscribed as players who’ve made St Andrews the primary focus of their plans are deterred from overlapping, and prefer instead to start a fresh clear week. If for example Monday to Thursday is blocked out, then there’d be a decent chance that Friday and Saturday will be under-subscribed as players choose to begin their trip on a clean Sunday instead. In truth, there is a lot of good fortune involved with trying to second guess a ballot, and that’s before we factor good weather into the equation, which can of course bring the local golfer’s out to play. Perhaps the most important thing to do is not to become a slave to the St Andrews Old Course and to keep an open mind about the busy days. The dates which might look to offer us the best prospects don’t always end up doing so if they’ve been heavily over-subscribed.

What are the Chances of Winning the St Andrews Old Course Ballot

Image by Kevin Murray. To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK]

One of the most popular question Faraway Fairways are asked is “what’s the chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course ballot”. Although it’s tempting to retreat into answers about lengths of string etc we probably can improve on that in attempting to assist you. The least expensive and most flexible way to play the Old Course is through ‘the Ballot’. In 2020 for instance, the real green fee for St Andrew was actually £195 (not the £1,750 that a guaranteed time can typically weigh in around) and is paid by you to the St Andrews Links Trust after notification of a successful result. The ballot also frees you from needing to play the mandatory second St Andrews Links Trust course too, so works out cheaper there as well Although the prospects of winning a single ballot on any given day are usually odds against, we can build-up your chances by making a series of applications over a number of days. Basically we run the numbers game, so as to tip the balance in your favour by sheer weight of attempts The St Andrews Links Trust advertise their ‘busy days’ in advance (fixtures and tournaments) and we can operate strategically around these Every other tee-time on a Thursday afternoon, and all-day Saturday are normally reserved for balloted tee-times. Throughout the year (average), approximately a quarter of Thursday applications succeed, which rises to an estimated one third for Saturday, although this isn’t a uniform result as different months generate different results. Irrespective of this, these can represent some of our better prospects so as a consequence we try to keep these on-side (ballot times exist on other days too). The ballot is rarely as straight-forward as looking at empty diary dates though. A successful application to play is really a function of supply and demand ratios. To use an exaggerated example, 30 players chasing 10 times are more likely to succeed than 160 chasing 40, but there’s the problem. A golf tour operator can’t easily target low supply windows in good faith (Faraway Fairways don’t) but we equally need to be aware that simply adding to the traffic by targeting the emptiest slots needn’t always be the shrewdest play either. It’s actually as much a dilemma for a golf tour operator as it is for the golfer. Whereas an operator can pitch clients into clear windows in good faith and with a clean conscience, we wouldn’t always be convinced that doing so represents the best chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course ballot however What’s the bottom line? The question you really want to know the answer to however is What’s the chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course ballot? How good are the odds Well we’re afraid the Links Trust don’t publish daily strike-rates and are notoriously reluctant to offer an opinion as they have little incentive to do so. They know they can always sell their tee-times and in the past they’ve been the subject of litigation for offering opinions, that although well-intentioned, ultimately proved to be wrong. Whereas any such action always fails, we can understand that they’d rather not have the distraction of contesting it. Now in truth we do occasionally succeed in extracting off-the-record comment from the Links Trust. We’re also able to build up a picture of sorts through conversations we have with hoteliers, and golfers, and very occasionally a guarded chat with fellow tour operators when comparing notes. And of course, we also have our own observational experience to draw from based on our own experience. But this is only ever indicative at best and complicated further by the emergence of hot-spots within a month. It isn’t a complete picture. Part of the ‘read’ in understanding the chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course ballot involves appreciating the way visiting golfers (particularly overseas players) respond to the St Andrews ‘busy dates’ calendar that is published in the St Andrews Links Trust’s website. Seeking to get inside the psychology of how people react to this information might sound like we’re trying a bit too hard, but if you think about it, it actually makes sense We might estimate that about two thirds of enquiries we receive are fairly general in terms of the dates they specify. They normally have an idea of the month or season. Only about a third will specify exact dates (and they nearly always seem to coincide with healthy playing windows which would suggest that the busy dates diary has already been consulted). Allow us to use some hypothetical numbers In July we might expect something like 400 golfers to be in St Andrews during a given week seeking to play the Old Course from the ballot. This probably equates to about 133 applications/ parties a day on a spread of 2,3, and 4 balls. Someone who is considering July and only has the one week to play will look at the diary and see that the window from 13th to the 18th is clear, whereas the window from the 20th to the 24th has 2½ hours blocked out on the 21st. How many of these 133 applicants take the decision to pursue an interest in the first week instead of the second? The answer is we don’t know for certain, but there could very easily be a disproportionate decision made in this direction Let’s assume there’s 15 tee times available each day, multiplied by 5 days = 75, and on Tuesday 21st only 10 are available due to the block out (4 x 15 = 60 + 10 = 70) Now let’s assume that 66% of golfing parties who faced the choice of which week to target decided on the first week, and 33% decided on what looked like the marginally less favourable second week That would leave 87 applications chasing 75 tee times on week one And 46 golfers chasing 70 tee-times on week two. It’s worth noting of course that successful applicants can (and do) re-apply during a week, so the number of golfers can get inflated Now we’d have to concede that some of this is informed guesswork, (it is) but it also draws on our own experience. Like most golf tour operators, we have periodically been wiped out in a ballot. This has happened with greater frequency in completely clear weeks though than it has in weeks with little bits of block out dotted over it. What we’re perhaps seeking therefore are two things 1: Windows that are clear for the five days we want, but surrounded by block out either side to deter people on a seven day programme from targeting that week 2: Windows that might have enough block in them to deter competing golfers from targeting them on a full week but not enough to make them unplayable, and which also have clear playing opportunity built around them to encourage competing golfers to target those alternatives As we’ve already noted, the chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course ballot is a function of the ratio between supply and demand. Overseas visitors in particular tend to plan long-term and it’s tempting to conclude that they heavily consult the ‘busy dates’ diary and simply harvest up the clear windows on the ballot. In 2019 for example this seemed to result in some heavy over-subscribing of what at face value appeared to the be most favourable opportunities. It’s actually classic ‘game theory’. With everyone targeting the same favourable windows, applicants collectively damaged each other’s chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course ballot. Dates which on-line appeared as not being busy (no fixture commitments) became busy as a result of not being busy etc. The clearest windows aren’t always the best shot you can take. What they do offer us is the clearest conscience instead. Allow us to explain what we mean by that as a golf tour operator It’s very difficult to recommend that someone plays in week 1 if it contains some block-out, when perhaps the following week 2, is completely clear. Even if we have grounds to believe that our prospects of success might actually be higher in week 1 as a result of competing golfers overlooking it and concentrating on week 2 instead, we still need to demonstrate we’ve done the right thing by the client. That’s a lot easier to do if we can point to a diary that has six clear days rather than three or four. Eventually we will fail of course making applications into sub-optimal windows. That’s the laws of averages, and when it strikes, we’re wide open to allegations of negligence. So are we seriously suggesting a counter-intuitive strategy of targeting windows with heavy block out instead? No. Definitely not. Heavily blocked out windows are also unproductive. What we’re trying to find is a ‘Goldilocks’ window’ which isn’t too hot and isn’t too cold, but just right . Spotting such a landing strip is one thing however, knowing how it’ll perform is still little more than an informed hunch. We’ll use a real world example. In 2019 Faraway Fairways had sixteen golfers playing August in what looked like an unfavourable window. We achieved a daily strike rate of 40%. As we moved through the month and favourable windows began to appear our strike rate fell back to the 13% we’d expect. Ultimately we closed with 26% for the month (much higher than that which we achieved in May and June bidding into favourable windows). The sort of landing strip that will probably perform best is one which has some manageable block-out (enough to deter people but not enough to seriously damage our own ballot prospects) allied to a clear week either side of it (something to tempt competing golfers onto a close proximity alternative). 2019 Post-Script We alluded earlier to some hotel data earlier which we’ve blended with other proxy indicators to try and present an indicative guideline daily strike rate by month (albeit we need to remember that hot and cold spots exist within any given month).

  • April = 57%
  • May = 27%
  • June = 29%
  • July = 16%
  • August = 13%
  • September = 19%
  • October = 26%

At the time of writing (late-September, 2019) only one Faraway Fairways client who wanted to play the Old Course in 2019 had failed to do so, although we’d acknowledge that some had to use sub-optimal methods such as the ‘walk up rule’ to do so. We should perhaps point out that the individual who failed did so because they weren’t prepared to use the walk up rule, other members of their party were and they succeeded In truth, there is a degree of good fortune involved with trying to second guess a ballot, and that’s before we factor good weather into the equation, which can of course bring the local golfer’s out to play. The ballot is quixotic. As a general rule though, if you’re determined, and if you’re ultimately prepared to endure a bit of inconvenience to play if necessary, you will usually succeed

How to Include Royal Dornoch in a ‘Classic’ Itinerary

A majority of golfers who enquire about a full Scottish golf trip begin with St Andrews. At least three quarters of all the enquiries we receive place the home of golf firmly at the centre of their interest. St Andrews normally involves three or four days and it’s reasonably formulaic. What happens after that though? Golfer’s typically go in one of two directions, albeit they overlap. They either look to the Open Championship venues as their next target, or they interrogate the world’s top-100 list. Needless to say the Open Championship venues yields familiar names, Muirfield (usually sold out by the time we receive an enquiry) Royal Troon, Turnberry and Carnoustie are much to the fore. The latter is usually played in conjunction with St Andrews anyway, so needn’t eat into your time, but those who’ve used the world’s top course list are confronted with a new name, and since it invariably holds a top-10 ranking, it immediately captures our attention. It isn’t long before they begin asking the question of how to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip

The first thing we need to establish is Royal Dornoch is not only in the Highlands, it’s actually in the northern Highlands. There are no ‘easy’ ways to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip, but there are things we can do which make it more manageable.

If you’re playing in the height of summer then you have a natural ally. At these northerly latitudes the sun sets anywhere between 10 and 11 o’clock in the evening and rises between 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning. If you possess a healthy attitude towards mileage, have a group that can share the driving burden, and are prepared to simply ‘saddle up and go’ you’ll probably have about eighteen hours of useable daylight.

Anyone who is trying to wrap up the Open Championship venues already faces an unavoidable west coast (Troon and Turnberry) east coast (St Andrews and Carnoustie) cross-country transit. Troon to St Andrews is about 2¾ hours (that’s a genuine estimate – not an underinflated tourist estimate). The Faraway Fairways ‘classic’ tour itinerary seeks to draw the sting from this by introducing Gleneagles as a mid-point. Gleneagles is the best jumping off point from which to launch from and include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip. It’s further north than most points and quickly connects to the main artery to the Highlands (the A9)

The 18th, illustrating the rippling contours and ‘up-turned saucer’ nature of the greens

Now there’s no way of cutting the next bit.

It’s 170 miles from Gleneagles to Royal Dornoch and will take close to four hours (including a break). It’s then going to take about four hours to complete a round, and of course we need to build about an hour in for eating.

Even if we accept that a 06.00 start is demanding but manageable, we’re probably left with a finish time of about 4 o’clock in the afternoon if we work to the understanding that you’re not going to be leaping straight out of your vehicle and begin playing straight-away You will likely require at least 45 minutes to get prepared etc

At this point you might be struggling a little bit with the knowledge that you’re only halfway through the journey when you hole out at the eighteenth. You have two choices in reality.

You’d either continue with the spirit of the ‘big day’ and complete your push back south. Or you’d call it a day and seek accommodation in Dornoch, or one hour further south at Inverness.

If you’ve chosen the ‘one big day’ strategy, then perhaps the logical line of retreat would be to return to Carnoustie rather than Gleneagles. This is 190 miles and is going to take about 4½ hours, but it does reduce the next day burden and puts you into the Fife zone for St Andrews. You’d arrive in Carnoustie somewhere between 8 and 9 in the evening and simply regain the original plan. In effect you’ll have only used one extra day to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip. Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s been done. You’ll sleep well!

Quite understandably however you might take the view that you’ve done enough and you’ll spend the night in the Highlands and pick things up again the next day. The Dornoch Castle hotel is an obvious accommodation. This is a genuine Scottish castle. It’s not a pastiche recreation that has adopted a ‘castle’ name to make it sound more attractive. It would allow you to tick the ‘Scottish castle’ off your bucket list.

Alternatively if you were prepared to take an hour out of the following day and draw stumps at about five o’clock, you could go south to Inverness and even add a sunset cruise on Loch Ness to your haul

Either option does of course transfer the driving burden to the following day. Under the circumstances it might be worth adding the world top-100 ranked course of Castle Stuart to your itinerary now. Castle Stuart is a mere 15 minutes east of Inverness. It’s easy to include. Unlike Dornoch which involved playing golf after a long drive, Castle Stuart allows you to play first and then undertake the long drive to St Andrews. This adds two extra days in effect however and consequently we’re beginning to push at what might be possible to fit in given that most visitors need to work on a seven or eight night stay.

The 14th, ‘Foxy’ with no bunkers and few clues in the landscape it’s an incredibly difficult hole to read. Often referred to as the ‘most natural in golf’, it really is a hole that was conceived by simply interpreting the lie of the land

So are there any other ways to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip that doesn’t involve a demanding round road trip whilst also wrapping up the rump of the other courses on your list? Not easily, is the answer, but we might be able to dilute things a bit. There are direct flights between Inverness – Dublin and London (or were – it remains to be seen what a post-pandemic timetable looks like).

In theory anyway, we could put Royal Dornoch on the start of an itinerary. You’d pick a vehicle up from Inverness airport and from there it’s only 60 minutes onto Dornoch. You’d still have to undertake the drive south the following day (probably to St Andrews/ Carnoustie described earlier).

In order to ‘pinch your day back’, we might even decide to omit Gleneagles and accept the east coast/ west coast transit between St Andrews and Troon as a 2¾ hour price worth paying. Perhaps the most logical routing then would be to fly to Dublin where you’d have the opportunity to play the world top-100 ranked links of Portmarnock and then fly onto Inverness the following day. Portmarnock is only 25 minutes from Dublin airport. This is an easy transfer. Obviously you’d need to route back through Dublin for cost savings, but this can be performed as a single ‘hop’ from Glasgow or Edinburgh

Trying to put Royal Dornoch on the end of a golf tour is more problematic. The flow isn’t as good and it’s more disrupted.

The final question you might find yourself asking then if considering how to include Royal Dornoch in a Scottish golf trip is, whether it’s worth it? Well, yes, it probably is.

Royal Dornoch doesn’t get ranked over and over again in the world’s top-10 by accident. It might be too far north to host Major championships, and the Highlands might lack the infrastructure etc to do so, but these aren’t considerations for the travelling golfer on a private vacation