The Old Course Singles Ballot


In the early 1990's the St Andrews Links Trust began to allow single golfers to present to the starter early in the morning and claim any spare spots in a tee-sheet. These gaps were allocated in first come, first served based on the formation of a queue. This process has now been replaced with a formal Old Course singles ballot which went into operation for the 2024 season

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Why was this done?

There was a mini-boom post covid. The idea of a manageable queue forming to secure a tee-time became increasingly wishful thinking. During peak season golfers were having to lay siege for up to 12 hours to secure their slot under the old walk-up rule. Naturally this became a bit unsightly, but it also became a bit dangerous in certain weather conditions, and might also struggle to satisfy any legal challenge that it wasn’t a discriminatory sales practice given that young, able bodied, males were better equipped to prevail in what had begun to resemble an extreme endurance test

What's replaced it?

In March 2024 the old walk up rule was functionally abolished, and replaced with a new Old Course singles ballot. This system allows single golfers to present to the St Andrews Links Trust 24 hours before play in person, between the 09.00 and 17.00, and enter a random ballot for a tee-time the next day. The draw is made shortly after 17.00 and you’ll be notified of the results early that evening.

The requirement to register in person might create difficulty for golfers who are playing away from St Andrews that day, say at somewhere like Gleneagles (it remains to be seen if they can resolve this) but allowing remote applications could open the process up to a flood of players from all over the UK who can respond at 24 hrs notice

St Andrews 1st.

Image Pixabay License

St Andrews Old Course, 'Road Hole'. Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Who Can Use It?

The two biggest users of the walk up rule were single players and golfers who had failed with their conventional ballot and were looking for a slightly desperate ‘plan B’ (although it needs to be acknowledged that the walk up rule if employed aggressively would often succeed). We’d expect these two groups to still be the main users of the Old Course singles ballot. That the draw has been set aside for 24 hours also means that golfers who have failed with their initial ballot which is drawn 48 hours before play, can enter again for the same day

Only the golfer concerned can make this entry. No third parties (including golf tour operators) can do this for you. They/ we, aren’t allowed to.

How successful is it likely to be?

Faraway Fairways can’t recall any client who followed our advice about using the walk-up rule failing to get themselves a tee-time in 10 years, so there is little chance we can match that!

The strike rates of the Old Course singles ballot have to be lower than the walk up rule purely because its so much more accessible. More golfers will take the comparatively easy option to enter. Some of this traffic will be off-set by frequency though. We only ever tended to make one walk up attempt, whereas we can make one attempt every day using the Old Course singles ballot. So if we’re in St Andrews for a week, we can make six attempts. Even so, it doesn’t seem likely that the 5% strike rate (Faraway Fairways guestimate) will match the 97%+ of a walk up rule regardless of the number of day we throw at it.

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Image by Kevin Murray CLICK 

Strategy (Single Golfers)

Faraway Fairways used to direct single golfers away points in the diary that had a run of successive clear days, as these stretches tended to attract high-demand from larger groups who could contest the 48 hour ballot. Naturally this created an overspill of more failures, which fed into many more golfers using the walk-up rule, and created more competition on the plan B. It was rare that anyone could contest two consecutive walk ups (fatigue) so we only needed two or three days available in a week, so could target what looked like prima facie poor playing windows in the hope that this would scare the competition onto other weeks and create a lower demand pool.

Single golfers now look like they’ll need to spend more time in St Andrews than used to be the case, and also increasingly target high-supply windows of play (same as the larger groups)

Strategy (Ballot Failure Golfers)

The walk up rule had a high daily strike-rate if deployed aggressively. The Old Course singles ballot won’t do. Instead it’s strength lies in the number of attempts we can make, but these look like being a series of long-shots. It’s not like we can invoke it at the culmination of an itinerary with any sense of expectation. It possibly looks like being something we commit to from day 1, or leave until the end in the knowledge of near certain failure if we do

A day 1 strategy could easily lead to fourball parties fracturing though if everyone applies and only one golfer succeeds. It’s going to mean one golfer potentially staying in St Andrews to play the Old Course whilst the other three travel out to the scheduled course. The player who played the Old Course will possibly want to recover their tee-time on the cancelled course too as a single, which starts to separate them from their group. This is going to give some golfing groups some serious dilemmas to ponder. We can perhaps see that there is going to be more green fee forfeits on other courses elsewhere.

A self drive party is better equipped to handle this than a party using a hired driver model

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