You know you’ve always dreamed of it–navigating your way around the hallowed humps and hillocks of the Old Course at Saint Andrews. The history doesn’t just accent the Old Course experience. It defines it. Seek out the Elysian Fields. Avoid the dreaded Hell Bunker, where Jack Nicklaus took five shots to escape in 1995. Take the bold line over the hotel at the Road Hole and face the dreaded approach, which has struck fear into the hearts of the likes of challengers from Old Tom Morris to David Duval.
Finally, traverse the Valley of Sin on the home hole. Once you’ve played it, you’re a part of a select and proud golf fraternity that will cherish that experience forever.
But how do you get on? If you’re a forward-thinking planner, you can try to book a time in advance on the St. Andrews Links Trust Website (www.standrews.org.uk). Bookings begin in September for the following year’s tee times. If you’re willing to work with package deals, a number of tour operators offer guaranteed times at the Old Course, but be aware that they don’t come cheap.
The purest way to experience playing the Old Course, however, requires a leap of faith–the Daily Ballot. The Daily Ballot is one of the great traditions in golf, and about half of all available starting times are awarded via the ballot. To put your group’s name in (the ballot requires a minimum of two), either register in person or over the phone by 2 p.m. for the following day’s play. The results are posted at 4 p.m.
Even more exciting is the early-riser walk-on approach. Depending upon the time of year, weather and luck, singles who report to the starter at first light get the chance to fill vacancies in groups. Yes, it happens. Get yourself out of bed, bundle up against the North Sea chill and test your luck with the starter. With any luck, you’ll find yourself part of a memorable match with a mix of locals and tourists. Be aware, however, that the waiting list at the Old Course is exactly that, and patience is definitely required.
If you’re looking to add the Old Course to your personal championship rota, remember that you’ll need a current handicap index card (they will check it). Men require a handicap of 24 or lower, while ladies need a handicap of 36 or lower to try their hand on the hallowed links. As it has always been, the Old Course is closed on Sundays.