What are the chances of winning the St Andrews Old Course Ballot?
The least expensive and most flexible way to play the Old Course is through ‘the Ballot’. In 2021 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 open 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 usually represent some of our better prospects so as a consequence we try to keep Thursdays and Saturdays 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 here’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 if everyone else is doing the same
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 such an action always fails, we can understand why they wouldn't want to put something out there under the circumstances.
Drawing from our own experience, plus information we can source from partner or friendly organisations, we've laid out some indicative data below. It's an estimate though, a guideline only. It can certainly be defied with bad luck so isn't any kind of guarantee or promise
AVERAGE DAILY STRIKE-RATES
DAY OF THE WEEK
MON TUES WEDS THUR FRI SAT SUN 20% 21% 16% 23% 15% 30% n/a
MONTH OF THE YEAR
APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT 59% 21% 20% 16% 14% 17% 19%
Are commercial ‘Guaranteed’ Old Course tee-times worth the extra cost?
The biggest draw back to the St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-time is the price. Guaranteed tee times are always sold as parts of package deals. Isolating the specific green fee therefore is never that straight-forward as they aren’t itemised. Instead Faraway Fairways have had to reverse engineer retail prices against known trade prices and attempt to estimate what the Old Course has been charged at. For 2021 on a very crude transaction, we believe a round that costs £195 peak season is typically charged between £1,500 and £1,750.
When seeking to answer the question of are guaranteed St Andrews Old Course tee times worth it, we need to run through some of the strings that come attached to them too. The first concerns a mandatory round on a second St Andrews Links Trust course. This ‘two course policy’ is non-negotiable and is applied at the point at which it leaves the Links Trust. It’ll be included in any package, and it’s usually the Jubilee Course
We should perhaps stress that every year Faraway Fairways receive enquiries from golfers asking about purchasing a guaranteed tee time in isolation. The answer to this is simple. Forget it. No one can sell a guaranteed tee-time in isolation. The two course policy applies. At the very least you’ll be saddled with an extra Links Trust course. This isn’t actually that much a of burden though, and most golfers will accept this were it the only ballast added.
If you succeed in restricting your package to just the Old Course and second course though, you’ll have done remarkably well. Far more likely however is that you’ll have other courses bundled into a package. Whereas Carnoustie and/ or Kingsbarns needn’t be out of line with what you planned on playing anyway, you might also discover the likes of Crail, Leven, or the Dukes Course being added as conditional rounds dependent on where you buy it from
Both accommodation providers and golf tour operators will nearly always look to pin you to a minimum number of nights stay in a nominated hotel too. The usual minimum is three nights if you're lucky, but most ask for four nights. Some hotels will also extend this and impose their more expensive suites on a guaranteed package so as to cut off the golfer who thinks they can buy a round of golf and then get the money back staying in the cheapest room
Most hotels will also impose a minimum expenditure per golfer for the duration of your stay too. On a four night package, this usually amounts to £100 per person on food and beverages
Finally some will also force you into using their transport provision, which again becomes an additional cost
Now in fairness, not all of these ‘strings’ would be out of kilter with your own aspirations. Plenty of golfer’s plan to play Carnoustie and Kingsbarns for instance anyway. Similarly, you’re likely to want somewhere to stay too, albeit you’d probably welcome some choice in that decision rather than having the terms dictated to you
When trying to pull all this together it probably comes down to a question of time and money, set against the month of the season. The window you wish to play in of course impacts your prospects of using one of the less expensive alternatives methods.
Guaranteed tee times are of course most popular with overseas visitors who needn’t be in a position to ‘come back next week’ and try again. They can (and do) eat away at someone who obsesses on the Old Course. Golfers who develop a case of ‘Old Course fever’ can become quite irrational as they seek to close down every last percentage point of potential risk. ‘Old Course fever’ is probably the single biggest mistake we see visiting golfers making. It’s worth remembering that there reaches a point where weather is a bigger risk than failure on the ballot – and that knocks out any tee-time!
Finally it's worth noting that if you're in a small party 2-8, the 'walk-up' actually enjoys a remarkably high strike-rate. In the experience of Faraway Fairways at least, we see it in excess of 95%. Sure, it's inconvenient and requires a degree of determination, but if you are dedicated to playing, it nearly always works provided you're prepared to utilise it aggressively
Spring Months - what to expect?
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 higher demand at St Andrews in the summer, and of course the more expensive accommodation we see from July onwards.
Golf courses are prepared to cut visitors a bit of slack on the green fees in April. Shoulder season rates are typically discounted by a third. Accommodation providers also adopt something of a mid-range pricing structure too, and only start going through gears towards the peak summer season in May.
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, 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 any 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. 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).
One important consideration that isn't widely known concerns the month of April. With less heat, there's less moisture in the air. April is actually the driest month of the year in St Andrews, as it across the entire country
Summer Months - what to expect?
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.
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 leaves Troon, Muirfield, Carnoustie and St Andrews (twice every ten years) and means that five in every ten years will likely see a clash. The championship takes place in mid July. 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.
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. The final week of June is St Andrews university graduation week. This means that parents and returning students are competing with golfers for accommodation. They normally operate over a longer lead time, 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 an additional 6% a day 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. 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.
Fall/Autumn Months - what to expect?
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, 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 further 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 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 be 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. 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. 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.
Can we play as a three-ball or odd number?
There are three main blocks of cost in any golf trip -
- Golf/ Green fees
Nearly every Scottish golf club will take a three-ball booking. 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.
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 to 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. Some 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
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 naturally costs more 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 person less there is to share the burden
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
Can I play as a single golfer?
Single golfers are treated in line with the courses policy. Now in fairness this isn’t as bad as it sounds. Some of the commercial courses will seek to pair up single golfers. They'll take a single booking for a solo round, but as the tee-sheet fills up you can expect to be moved, or have other players join you, as is deemed appropriate.
We’re also lucky in golf in that there is a tradition of accepting strangers into a four ball and meeting new people etc The greater disruption we face is trusting that we can find an under sized group on any given day. We’re also a little bit more limited in our options for that day too given that we’re rarely in a position to pick and choose our tee time with the same freedom that a fourball might enjoy. A single golfer’s itinerary needs to be more flexible as a consequence as we seek dot them around into windows of opportunity as they present themselves. It wouldn’t be unheard of to require a ‘Plan C’ as well as Plan’s A and B. Basically an itinerary is more complicated to arrange, and we’ll usually need to consider more fall-back positions than usual.
No examination of the single golfer’s plight would be complete however without talking about the St Andrews Old Course ‘walk up rule’. This is specifically designed to accommodate single golfers. The premise is simple. A single golfer presents themselves to the starter and asks to be allocated to the next under sized group to make up a fourball. This operates on a first come, first served basis. Once the group presents themselves to the starter he will inform them that they have a solo player requesting that they join them. The group can refuse but in reality most will accept. It’s considered poor protocol not to do so. You then pay the starter the standard green fee, shake hands with your new companions, and off you go. You might be surprised by just how often single golfers are able to make this arrangement work, but there is a draw-back, and especially in the peak season. The first come first served model requires you lay something of a siege to the starters hut, and this can involve an uncomfortably early start, and frustrating wait.
Let us now move onto the second consideration, that of accommodation, and it isn’t long before we encounter the dreaded ‘single person supplement’. If staying in top hotels the cost can quickly run away from you. Even in the best-case scenarios, single reservations rarely work out in the solo traveller’s favour. Even when you aren’t being charged for the room as a double-occupancy, they tend to work out at room and a three quarters.
One advantage the single traveller does have potentially though is flexibility and the ability to hunt around smaller accommodation providers particularly bed & breakfast or guesthouse properties. For reasons of legislation and tax, these properties are categorised according to the number of rooms they have. Larger parties can often find themselves restricted by having more bodies than beds (so to speak!). This means that single travellers can often pick up the spare capacity. B&B’s also tend to be more equitable in their pricing of single rooms than hotels are as well
It’s perhaps worth mentioning that some budget chain hotels offer sufficiently competitive pricing and a comfortable double bed, that a single traveller can certainly entertain the idea of making a conventional double room booking without taking a noticeable hit in their budget. Although we’re reluctant to invoke ourselves as a recommendation proof, but its what faraway Fairways tend to do if accompanying a group.
The final major component then is transport, and here planning pays. The first thing to perhaps recognise is that if you’re undertaking a conventional ‘point-to-point’ tour which involves luggage movement days and consequently ‘standing-time’ as part of your golf playing, then unless money really is no object, a chauffeur driven option is likely to prove prohibitively expensive. You might even find yourself being required to pay for driver overnight accommodation and sustenance too on a conventional touring route.
The only way that most of us could entertain a chauffeur driven option would be to adopt a ‘base-and-back’ approach. These means luggage is kept in your accommodation which removes the need to pay for vehicle standing time. It still tends to be a sub-optimal solution however, and usually limits you to a comparatively small golf playing radius. The only bases that have a sufficient quantity of top-quality golf courses around them which could be serviced by local taxis are the links of St Andrews (plus Kingsbarns), and Troon (Prestwick, Dundonald, and the Gailes Courses).
For the most part, self-drive is the most cost-effective solution and the single golfer enjoys a bit less price discrimination here so long as you’re using a smaller vehicle, but even then, the emphasis is on limiting the damage rather than being able to achieve a cost advantage. If you wanted a larger more luxurious vehicle, then you will be penalised with just one person undertaking the cost burden rather than being able to share it. Which ever way you dive on this one, you will also be responsible for the fuel costs too which can’t be shared either.
One possibility a single golfer might consider is using a hotel near to a railway station. A return rail fare on a local train can work out to be rather cheap and you wouldn’t be out of options. North Berwick, Prestwick and Carnoustie can all be accessed by train remarkably easily. All are under 400 yds from the station
Can I take a Family Golf Vacation?
Rather than adopting a traditional ‘point-to-point’ touring itinerary, family golf trips are better served using a ‘base-and-back’ approach so as to better replicate the comfort and consistency of the family home. This allows you to get settled in and enjoy your surroundings without the pressure of continually moving-on. Naturally the choice of base is crucial. We need to combine world-class golf, with a stunning environment, and a menu of activities for all the family.
The Cairngorm National Park ticks all the boxes. The Highlands is soaked in history from Glencoe to Culloden. It has a sculptured landscape of mystery which includes Loch Ness,. Perhaps most importantly though, it offers you a menu of exciting outdoor adventure activities for all ages including white-water rafting, climbing, mountain biking, trail walking, and that’s before you realise there’s a genuine Harry Potter connection to experience with both the Hogwarts Express and the ‘Black Lake’ (the ones that featured in the films)
The golfer has access to some of Scotland’s most picturesque courses. Castle Stuart is a Scottish Open venue, and an established world top-100 ranked. Gleneagles a recent Ryder Cup venue. Nairn hosted the Walker Cup in 1997. In addition to this trio we’ve also woven a couple of aesthetic shorter-yardage gems into your tapestry. Boat of Garten is like playing a round in Switzerland, whereas Traigh, with extended views across the sea to the Inner Hebridean islands is arguably the prettiest short course in Scotland. The Old Course at Lossiemouth probably possesses Scotland’s finest closing hole and finally we’ve introduced the new Spey Valley course at Aviemore. Spey Valley looks destined to rival Gleneagles and possibly even Loch Lomond in the fullness of time, for the status of Scotland’s premier inland 18 holes. If you’re happy to add some mileage in the pursuit of world-ranked links, then the top-10 course of Royal Dornoch is feasible to include at your discretion
Faraway Fairways set your family golf trip up using two vehicles so as to afford you much greater flexibility to explore, and pursue separate activities, whilst also allowing you to meet up later in the day. Golf and non-golf activities shadow each other
How much can a Golf Vacation cost?
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. The chances are that the prices being asked for in recession sensitive sectors like food and hotels, 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.
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 normally 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 usually 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.
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 given their proximity to 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.
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 get 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 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 takes 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.
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 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 should Troon, where we'd expect to weave Prestwick, Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald into a local taxi arrangement.
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 we'd perhaps look at the scope in the self-drive arrangement
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.
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.
The time of year you visit, the date that you book, and the duration of your stay, all frame a final price. 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. 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.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
If Faraway Fairways had to nominate on single thing that causes more problems than anything else it would be this. Don’t obsess on the St Andrews Old Course.
We frequently see golfer’s obsession with St Andrews closing down other opportunities. The most obvious of these concerns a willingness to pay a green fee up to eight times what it should cost in the pursuit of a ‘guaranteed’ tee time. If you’re cash rich, time poor, and have got money to burn, this might have its attraction, but in a lot of cases golfers will seek the security of a guarantee when they don’t necessarily need it due to unnecessary fear.
St Andrews fever can also extend to ‘advanced guaranteed’ applications too. Every year we’ll receive enquiries from disappointed golfers who waited until late October/ early November for an advanced ballot result. Whereas the advanced guarantee offers golf at a much fairer price, (this is a big part of its attraction) it involves going deep into the buying season. Those who are asking us to include Muirfield or Royal County Down for example in their package, have already missed the boat by the time they'll get their result. If they’re seeking a peak season date, and are asking to include Royal Troon, Royal Dornoch and Carnoustie as well, they’re going to be right on the margins by November. Their focus on St Andrews has caused them to miss booking windows on other courses. It can extend to hotels too.
We’ve mentioned Muirfield, and this is another mistake golfer’s often make. If you wish to play a summer round have your party in place by March 1st for the following season. Muirfield goes on sale in late March. By the end of April a majority of their popular dates will have sold-out, although some can last into May.
May is the critical month for Royal County Down too. Have everything in place for May 1st so as to capitalise on the release of their tee-times in the third week of the month.
Royal Portrush is also worth getting early. They operate a waiting list and the sooner we can get on it the better. The same is true of Royal Dornoch. This means February/ March time for confirmations later in the season. Mid June is the date we’d ideally like to observe for both Carnoustie and Royal Troon in order to try and get the pick of the crop there. We can salvage times into the autumn on both those courses, but it gets progressively more difficult and we’ll find ourselves being pushed to the end of the tee-sheet One final piece of advice we might offer concerns how you develop a relationship with a tour operator. Be wary about cherry-picking parts of the assembly yourself. We’re increasingly seeing individuals booking their own accommodations (the advance of Airbnb in particular) and to a lesser extent transports, and then asking a tour operator to take over the complicated bits that involve the golf. Whereas Faraway Fairways aren’t that bad about accepting this proposition (usually we will) there reaches a point where some tour operators will simply decline. You could easily find that you’re simply invited to finish the job yourself if an operator perceives that the commercial incentive for them to take over the responsibility has been eroded to the point where it no longer warrants the risk. The reason for this is quite simple really. Golf tour operators are commercial entities. That is to say golf, accommodation, and transport all contribute. An enquiry that cuts off two of these avenues is clearly a less lucrative proposition. A lot will depend now on the identity of the courses you’re left looking to play, and the number of people in your party. If these have squeezed the operator though, then there is a chance they’ll politely decline to take the booking forward for you.