Golf Guide St Andrews & Fife – Kingdom of Heaven

Nowhere in golf stirs the imagination quite like St Andrews – the ‘Home of Golf’ and The Old Course – God’s original layout in Scotland’s eastern Kingdom of Fife.

  • How to get a tee-time at golf’s most famous links
  • Putts of over 100-yards and the approach to the Road Hole
  • New courses – more choice at the Home of Golf
  • Scotland’s finest fish and chips
  • The coolest range finder in golf at Elie Golf Club

Teeing off on The Old Course at St Andrews is golf’s greatest trip. The one on every serious golfer’s bucket list, whether you’re Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus or a weekend social golfer that has dreamt of this moment for a lifetime.

In this golf guide to St Andrews, we look at how to play The Old Course, the six other courses operated by the St Andrews Links Trust and the wealth of great golf in Fife, right on the doorstep of the ‘Home of Golf.’

St Andrews and The Old Course

Driving along the A91 into St Andrews poses a serious risk to life.

Passing the colossal super structures of the St Andrews Links Trust offices to your left and the delightful Balgove larder farm shop on the right, anticipation and excitement builds for one of golf’s greatest views and peak distraction takes hold.

When the Old course finally appears, nestled under the watchful eye of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, driving straight becomes almost impossible such is the joy of that view.

The Swilken Bridge St Andrews
Swilken Burn and The most photographed bridge in the world of golf

How to get a tee-time on St Andrews Old Course

Teeing off in front of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse, to the world’s widest fairway, is probably the most sought after experience in golf – right up there with a tee-time at Augusta National Golf Club.

The St Andrews Links Trust maintains seven public courses in the town, The Old, The New, The Jubilee, The Eden, The Balgove, The Strathtyrum – and now The Castle Course set on the high cliffs overlooking St Andrews from its Eastern approach.

Playing one of the other St Andrews courses is a special experience in its own right but one tee-time towers above all others, The Old Course.

International visitors to St Andrews can get a guaranteed tee-time on The Old Course as part of a Scottish golf holiday booked through a licensed tour operator.

Each tour operator is allocated a certain number of tee-times a year and they are usually reserved for overseas golfers committing to a multi-day tour of Scotland’s links, Open Championship venues and trophy courses.

The Old Course Ballot

For domestic visitors, or those not using a tour operator, golfers can enter a ballot, a type of lottery, to gain a tee-time on the Old Course. You can enter the ballot over the telephone, online or in person at the St Andrews Links Clubhouse next to the New Course.

The St Andrews Links Trust changed its policy about the ballot in 2011 at the request of many of the hoteliers and tour operators who bring international golfers to the town.

You can now ballot 48 hours in advance giving you a greater chance of landing arguably the most famous tee-time in golf – and avoiding the crushing disappointment of making the journey, only to be balloted out.

The draw for the next day’s play is displayed by the Old Course starter’s hut and Caddie’s pavilion.

If you don’t make it into the ballot, there is another option for any golfer willing to sacrifice sleep and brave cold and wind. You can join the singles queue and wait for one of a handful of rare singles slots allocated every morning by the St Andrews Links Trust.

Head down to the Old Course starter’s hut in pre-dawn darkness and you will see huddled shapes sitting on benches and a line of golfers waiting and chatting. All are hoping to be offered a chance of a singles slot, to play with strangers and experience a golf course which has inspired so many course designers, writers, artists and great players.

The singles queue is a rite of passage and brings no guarantees. You won’t get to join friends and the staff are unflinchingly democratic. It’s first come first served, regardless of status or influence, and they fiercely protect the privilege.

If you aren’t lucky enough to land a tee-time on The Old, the other courses in St Andrews are quite the consolation, especially The New and Jubilee; arguably more difficult and challenging layouts than the Old Lady herself.

The greatest tee-time in golfThe Old Course

Playing the Old Course is possibly the most fun you can have on a golf course.

Golfers remember their play at the 461-yard “Road Hole” – the toughest par-four in golf, with the notorious bunker which shares it name.

Yet, putting on double greens like that at the 5th and 13th, measuring fully 100-yards, or avoiding the terrifying riveted bunkers like “Strath” at the par-three 11th or “Coffins” left of the 13th fairway, is fuel for lifelong recollections at the 19th hole.

Playing the closing four-holes, with the romantic silhouette of the “auld grey toon” creeping into view – and shadows cast across the links hummocks late in the day – you feel closest to the true spirit of the game.

ST ANDREWS – PICTURE ESSAY

The perfect end to the golfing day is a trip to the nearby Dunvegan Hotel at the corner of Golf Place and North Street.

If a pub could embody the spirit of golf, this is it.

The walls are adorned with signed photographs of famous golfing patrons and Arnold Palmer’s old caddie Tip Anderson has his own seat marked out with a gold plaque.

Sit in it at your peril. Try a pint of 80 schilling, the smooth light ale, brewed in Scotland or Belhaven Best, and finish with a “wee dram” of Malt Whisky.

Another great golfing watering hole is the Jigger Inn just off the 17th fairway at the Old Course Hotel.

There is a challenge popular with St Andrews students which involves stopping play after the drive at 17,  going to the Jigger Inn for drinks, and trying to play the 18th hole in fewer shots than you had drinks.

While the Old Course has changed little since its natural creation – shaped by winds from the sea and sheep huddling for shelter in the nooks and crannies of harsh links land – the surrounding area and coastline has changed dramatically.

Changing face of golf in St Andrews

New golfing developments now pepper the Fife Coast and the Old Course is no longer the only show in town.

                   The 17th hole – Castle Course, St Andrews

Most noteable among the new courses is The Castle Course – the seventh course built by the St Andrews Links Trust – Kingsbarns Golf Links and the Torrance and Kittock’s courses at The Fairmont St Andrews Bay resort.

          Kingsbarns Golf Links – once a wartime training ground for the RAF

All this choice now means visitors face a tough decision over where to play in the “home of golf.”

From the Old to the New: Kingsbarns Golf Links


From the oldest, take the 5-mile drive along the A917, to one of the newest and best courses.

Kingsbarns Golf Links, designed by American Kyle Phillips, is the ideal of Links golf played within sight and sound of the sea.

Every hole on this stretch of coast, formerly an RAF training ground, plays with a sea view, and the sound of waves crashing onto rocky shore intensifies the links experience.

Opened in 2000, it is already being talked about as a possible Open Championship course.

At 7126 yards Kingsbarns is long but more a test of strategy than muscle.

The 15th, a 212-yard short hole is Kingsbarns’ sternest test.

A spectacular ocean-hole, the tee is shielded from the wind by a wood, while the ball must carry 200-yards across rocks and surf to find the sanctuary of the green.

Hole 15 – Kingsbarns Golf Links (credit Kingsbarns)

 

Scotland’s best Fish and Chips

Just along the coast, at Anstruther, is Scotland’s best fish bar, where queues can be an hour long at weekends.

Anstruther Fish Bar (creative commons B4bees)

It’s worth the wait for fish that melts like butter on the pallet, and is best eaten overlooking the harbour.

Dukes and Fairmont – Princes at Court

Two courses that fit the property mantra, “location, location, location” are the Duke’s Course, owned by the Old Course Hotel and the Fairmont St Andrews Bay Hotel Resort and Spa, built by American pharmaceutical tycoon Don Panoz.

The Duke’s to the west of St Andrews, is a 7,000 yard monster designed by five-time Open champion Peter Thomson.

It plays like an extended Wentworth, with tree-lined fairways and impenetrable swathes of gorse, but also has breathtaking views down over St Andrews Bay.

At the Fairmont St Andrews Bay resort you can play the Kittock’s and the Torrance courses.

The Kittock’s is considered the better course as each hole plays untouched by other golf traffic, often along dramatic clifftops with views of St Andrews.

Fairmont St Andrews - one of 800 courses you could play free with Golfbreaks.com

The Torrance holes tend to run alongside each other – out and back to the hotel – making it less inspiring but still a good test.

Fife has great new golf on offer, but it is hard to beat the numerous established links that have served as Open Championship qualifying venues.

Fife’s Open Qualifying courses

Lundin Links and Leven overlooking Largo bay wind through sandhills and bents.

They are separated from each other by only a drystone wall which was erected in 1868 when the land was split and two clubs were formed.

Once a year, the wall comes down and a competition is played by the members over the original 18holes.

Up Periscope at Elie Golf Club

At Elie, a sedate fishing village, between St Monans and Earlsferry, you will find a windswept links favoured by holidaying members of the R&A.

The blind opening tee-shot also requires the player to stare into a submarine periscope rescued from the Royal Navy’s HMS Excalibur and donated to Elie Golf Club by club member Gavin Reekie in 1966.

In 2014, Elie Golf Club built a new starter’s hut around the periscope to welcome golfers and it remains to this day one of the most unusual range finders you will find in the world of golf.

ELIE GOLF CLUB – credit VISIT SCOTLAND

In Elie’s smoking room, you will find golf hospitality from a bygone day, and I heartily recommend the “Golfer’s grill.”

Whether you choose the Old or the new in Fife, you will not be disappointed, for it is Scotland’s golfing heartland.

FACT-FILE

St Andrews Links Trust

T: +44 (0)1334 466 718 

Old Course Ballot

Recommended Tour Operator

Booking a golf break or holiday to St Andrews requires local knowledge, expertise and a deep appreciation of planning exclusive golf itineraries. While many companies offer trips to St Andrews, it’s hard to beat those who live in the town, tee up on its links and have their heart and soul invested in the place. For that we reason, we recommend Graeme and Marc at St Andrews Golf Travel.

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