Checked off a bucket list item on our two-week backpacking trip through the UK when I played The Old Course at St. Andrews. It still doesn’t feel real to me. We’re talking about St. Andrews. The birthplace of golf. The British Open. The ultimate “I played there” course amongst golfers. This guy – he played there.
Did I Even Have A Chance To Play?
Single golfers are not allowed to make tee times. The website said single golfers with a handicap under 24 can show up in the morning and the starter would put you on a waiting list. They post tee times and I saw 9 openings on the day I planned to golf some two months out so I figured I had a chance. Good thing I joined a golf league this year. You have to show the starter a print out of your handicap to play.
Upon Arriving In St. Andrews
The lady (Fiona) who ran the Bed & Breakfast we stayed in said she heard people were waiting in line before 6am to play and I’d better walk down to the starter. Luckily it was just a 5 minute walk to the course. Everything started to set in now. We were standing in front of the buildings I remember seeing near the 18th hole on TV. Pretty cool.
We made our way over to the starter where I asked him about getting on tomorrow. My best chance of getting to play was to show up before 6am. That morning there were 20 people waiting in line before 7am and he was only able to get 10 of them out. If he could not get me on The Old Course then I would be be able to get onto The New Course or Jubilee Course. Both of which are right next to The Old Course.
The good news is I was going to get to play one of the St. Andrews courses but I was there to play The Old Course. I’ve had 8am tee times before but never had I woken up before 5am to stand in line for 2 hours to maybe get the chance to be told I was going to play some hours later. I set my alarm for 4:55 AM and went to bed early.
I made my way through the darkness to the starters building. A guy approached me and said “Hi, I’m Larry. You’re #4.” Larry was #1. He had shown up at 3:45 am. The other two showed up 20 minutes before me. For the next hour and a half the same greeting was passed on to the remaining people who showed up. I believe 12 people were there waiting before 7am. We passed the time talking about politics (of course I was the idiot Libertarian who knew nothing) and of course some golf.
The starter shows up and takes down our names. He informs us that there is a very good chance we will all get to play but to hang tight for 30 minutes. We all head over to the putting green and the starter motions for Larry and #2 that their playing in 15 minutes. He then approaches #3, me, #5 and #6 and informs us a foursome cancelled their 9:45 tee time and he’s going to pair us up. YEEEESSSSSSSSSS!!!!! In the mean time he tells us to get something to eat and come back at 9 am.
I dart back to the room, run up the stairs, kick the door open, wake Andrea up from a dead sleep and inform her of the most awesomest news ever. I get to golf St. Andrews. Yah. Wake up. Get dressed. Lets go eat some of Fiona’s food and get down to the course. Yah.
Its time to break the game of golf. It was a little intimidating standing on the 1st tee box knowing all the history that’s gone done there. Andrea was recording me. There were the 3 guys plus caddies in my group and the 40 or so people on the street watching. Plus, the caddie I hired for the day wasn’t there yet. Figured a 3 wood would be a good play. It was, but I didn’t know how far the creek was down the middle right hand side of the hole was. Just wanted to get off the tee and be in play. My shot went 235 yards with the last 40 or so rolling into the creek. Crap. My caddie, Luke, showed up while I was walking down the 1st fairway and told me I probably should have taken a 5 iron.
Without Getting Into Every Little Detail
Playing The Old Course was the coolest golf experience of my life. It was unlike anything I’ve ever played before. Very few trees so everything kind of looked the same. Greens were huge and usually two holes shared the same one. The course wasn’t long but accuracy and imagination were needed. Almost got a hole in one on the wrong hole. Sprayed my tee shot on one of the par 3’s that shares a green with another hole. Ball landed 4 feet from the wrong hole. Caddies said they’ve never seen that happen before. Reminded them I’m here to break the game. Sent a 125 foot lag putt back to the right hole and made bogey.
Shot a 97 with 7 penalty strokes. Couldn’t keep the drive straight and the pro blade irons were unforgiving. Still can’t get over how I 3 putted on the 18th hole from 30 feet out.
Fairways and greens were cut about the same length. Bunkers were deep and plentiful. Only hit into one in which I had to hit out sideways. The rough was brutal. It grabbed the club like something fierce. Must have putted from 100 feet out at least 6 times through a maze of bumps. The 17th and 18th holes were my favorite. You get to experience what the greats see. Plus, you get to hit over a hotel.
My Best Tips For Golfing St. Andrews
Lodging – Town is small. 10 minute walk to everything. Bed & Breakfast worked for us.
Golf Is Not Cheap – Greens Fees (£155) + Club Rental (£30) + Shoe Rental (£10) + Caddie (£65) + Golf Balls (£15) = £275 or $442 U.S Dollars. The currency conversion is brutal.
*Golf balls are half price in town. Tees come with the goodie bag from St. Andrews.
Caddies – Its custom to tip £20 pounds on top of the £45 fee. Never had a caddie before so I figured why not. Luke was in his mid 20s so we had enough in common to talk about. If he wasn’t there telling me what bush or TV tower to aim at or when to lay up it probably would not have been as much fun. I’ll probably pass on getting a caddie next time. Found myself getting tunnel vision through out the day as I was listening to him more often than trying to picture how I was going to hit the shot. They were hilarious though. A number of times I heard “Where were you at on that one dip-shit” (Happy Gilmore) said with a Scottish accent.
Show Up Early – If you’re a single golfer like I was then be ready to stand in line by 5:45 am at the latest. The starter told us the people who have tee times do not have to let you play with them. Picture a dad and his two sons making a tee time a year in advance and wanting to enjoy it just the three of them type of scenario. It rarely happens though.
Whiskey – Bring a pint. I didn’t. Wish I would have.
Check For Tournaments – Make sure there are none going on the day you want to play.
Golf Clubs + Shoes – Reserve ahead of time. Research golf stores in St. Andrews for cheaper prices. St. Andrews rents Callaway RAZRX Fit Extreme woods, Callaway X Hot Pro irons (which were impossible to hit) and an Odyssey putter.
Attire – It rains a lot in Scotland. Bring something you can swing in. I Under Armoured it up.
That’s about it. Can scratch golfing at St. Andrews off the bucket list. Don’t know if I’ll ever get back there but it would be cool to do three days of golf and play The New and Jubilee Courses along with The Old Course.