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Scotland Golf Trip, Part 1: The Old Course

In case you missed my incessant tweets, overabundance of Instagram posts, or fanboy podcast regarding my recent buddies trip to St. Andrews a few weeks ago, I’m going to do my best to summarize it all here. First of all, let me note that this is not an advertisement, and is in no way sponsored, although it is certainly going to read like Visit Scotland sent this over word by word for me to post. A few of you asked for a breakdown of our trip, the courses, the logistics, and the stories, etc. Hopefully these posts will inspire someone to do a similar trip, and help with some of the planning if so. I’m going to try to break the trip down in separate posts for the sake of length. This one will focus on arrival into St. Andrews, getting on the Old Course, as well as our experience playing it twice.

Logistics/Accomodations

Our trip consisted of four bros (my buddies Scott Bishop, Leif Mahler, and Chris Toomer), eight rounds, spread out over five days. We based ourselves at Agnes Blackadder Hall, near the Road Hole, and a short 10 minute walk to the first tee at the Old Course. The rate we paid was 750 pounds for five nights, for two rooms, so it was 75 pounds per night per room, or 37.50 per person. This dorm more than got the job done, although the sleeping quarters were a bit tight. It’s a walkable distance to the old town, the bars, restaurants, shops, and of course, the golf. The way I see it, there is no reason to splurge on a room, as if you’re anything like us, you will spend next to no time there.

The hardest part of the trip was picking out the dates. As our foursome was coming from Hawai’i, Chicago, Columbus, and Amsterdam, it was tough to plan flights into Edinburgh to arrive on the same day, much less at the same time. I met up with Scott and toured Edinburgh for the day on a Wednesday, but basically we couldn’t stop talking and thinking about the golf that was ahead. We weren’t booked to play our first round until Friday, but we called an “OMAHA” at the line and picked Leif up at the airport on Thursday morning, and told him we were going straight to St. Andrews without a tee time to see what we could make happen. With our fourth a clean 13 hours away from landing, we picked up our rental car (a must for a Scotland golf trip), and made the hour and ten minute trek to St. Andrews on the wrong side of the road.

Getting on The Old Course

We checked into our digs, put on some gear, and strutted over to the Old Course like we owned the place. We couldn’t help but notice how many people were standing around watching players finish on the 18th green, and tee off on the first. This would come into play later.

(Edit: I should mention there are other ways to get on the Old Course rather than just walking up. You can book tee times WAY in advance (I think we’re already past that window for 2016), or you can enter the ballot 48 hours in advance. We struck out all three days on the ballot. Note that the Old Course is closed on Sundays. Also, Ru Macdonald from the Scottish Golf Podcast is a great source for any questions about getting on the Old Course. His advice was what helped us get on.)

The first stop was the Old Course Pavilion to at least inquire about our chances of getting on the Old Course. We knew it was a long shot, but we figured it was worth at least asking, and getting to know some of the staff that we would be relying on to fulfill this lifelong dream of walking these hallowed grounds. The news we got was what we expected: No chance of getting off today. However, we were surprised at the overall response we got:

Starter: “How long are  you guys here?”

Me: “Four more days.”

Starter: “Where else are  you guys playing?”

Me: “Kingsbarns tomorrow morning, St. Andrews New Course Saturday afternoon, St. Andrews Jubilee Sunday morning, Crail Sunday afternoon, and Carnoustie Monday afternoon.”

Starter: “OK, if you want to play the Old Course, here’s what you should do. Come tomorrow super early, around 4:30, get your name in, and by the time you get back from Kingsbarns, you’ll be at the top of the priority list.”

Rather than simply turning us away, the starter gave us invaluable advice that would pay off in a big way in the near future. We thanked him, and asked what our chances were of getting off on one of the other courses in the mean time. He told us to head down to the New Course and ask the starter there.

We tentatively approached the starter’s station down the road a bit at the New Course, and were not encouraged by the starter’s initial reaction when we asked what our chances were. He leaned back, looked at the clock, and made a face like he was really uncertain.

Starter: “Hmmm…. I mayyyy be able to get you out, but it’s going to be like, 30 minutes or so.”

We looked around at each other like he was crazy.

“Ummmm that is absolutely no problem.”

30 minutes later, we were playing the New Course. But we’ll save that for another post. You want to hear about the Old Course.

Friday Morning

I picked up Toomer late in Edinburgh on Thursday night, and we shut the lights off at the dorm at 12:00, alarms set for 4:00. We sprung out of bed, threw on some jeans and hoodies, and drove the short 4 minute drive to the Old Course to line up. We were beaten by one gentlemen named Kyle from Michigan (it’s alllllll Americans out there), but were proud of being numbers 2-5 in line. About 8 more people were lined up behind us by the time the doors opened at 6, and we were putting our names in at about 6:02. We had accepted the fact that we were all probably going to get split up, and we were fine with that. We were not ready for the news that was about to hit us.

Starter: “This never happens, but you guys aren’t going to believe this. We had a foursome cancel at 6:30, and you guys can play as a foursome if you want it.”

At this point I need to acknowledge that we had prepaid for our 9:10 tee time at Kingsbarns to the tune of 225 pounds, easily the most expensive round of the trip. Their shop didn’t open until 8:00, so we had no idea if we could move the tee time. The staff at St. Andrews ensured us that the Kingsbarns guys would accomodate us, and asked if we could be ready by 6:20 for the 6:30 tee time. Remember we are not dressed for golf. We accepted.

What ensued was the most panicked 14 minutes I’ve ever had in my golfing life. We sprinted…. sprinted to the car, past the caddie barn, who was shouting out catcalls to us like we were wearing miniskirts past a construction site. We jumped in the car, and I drove as aggressively as I possibly could have (remember that I’m driving on the opposite side of the road for the second day of my life). We parked the car in front of the dorm, sprinted in, and threw on the first clothes we could find. Three of us made it back to the car by about 6:14. But there is no sign of Leif. We are freaking out. WHERE THE HELL IS LEIF!?

Three excruciating minutes go by. The starting staff couldn’t have been nicer, but they made it very clear that we would not be playing if we weren’t ready by 6:20. Finally, at 6:17, Leif emerges in a dead sweat out of the dorm. He got lost trying to leave the hotel, and honestly contemplated running through a fire exit, which would have sounded the alarm.

Back around the corners we went, screeched up to the tee box, and made it at 6:20 on the nose. Ten minutes later (and only 170 pounds later), we were off at the Old Course.

The Old Course, Round 1

We had the benefit of being off so early that there was no one around to watch our opening tee shots. But there’s enough going on to for sure make you nervous. The course itself, I did not find all that difficult, but it was very clear from the beginning that you need experience around this course to master it. There’s space on almost every single hole to miss it as far left as you want, but the further left you go, the worse your angle to the flag. Also, I learned the hard way that reaching for the driver on every middle length par 4 is not the solution. The last shot you want off very firm turf is a 60 yard shot over a small valley in front of the green.

I’ve watched a lot of Scotland golf on TV, and still for the life of me did not understand why the game was so different from American golf. Three holes in, and it was pretty easy to figure out. I was tempted to putt the ball from 40-50 yards off the green because there simply just aren’t better options. It’s very difficult to slide a wedge under a ball without the club skipping off the turf, resulting in a blade, or catching a little bit of sod and just laying it over. Over time, I tried to leave myself full shots into the green to avoid this issue (the Old Course was the only course I had problems with the turf).

Caddies, for your first time out, are essential. When you step to a lot of the tee boxes, you have no idea what you’re looking at, and the course is very flat. They’ll give you lines to start on, where to miss, and where not to miss. Everything about golf in Scotland is different, and you’ll need all of the help you can get. At this point I should emphasize just how much fun Scottish golf is. It’s really hard to describe, but the different approach to the game is such a welcome challenge, and as douchy as it sounds, you really can’t understanding it until you play it.

Toomer, fresh off a 12 hour flight across 12 time zones, and off four hours of sleep, rolled out of bed and shot a 77 at the Old Course on his first go around. If you knew Toomer, you would know that the last thing you want to do is give him credit for anything, but this deserves a shoutout. Before his birdie putt on 18, as he was lining it up, he delivered a line to me that will live in infamy:

“May wanna get the camera out. There’s about to be some sauce.”

He did not disappoint.

Some additional sauce was sprayed as well:

Here are some pictures from our first round at the Old Course:

Getting in ten minutes of putting before our tee time
Getting in five minutes of putting before our tee time
Me teeing off on #1
Me teeing off on #1
Leif trying not to throw up on the first tee
Leif trying not to throw up on the first tee
Toomer on the front nine
Toomer on the front nine
The foursome
The foursome
Bleachers still up
Bleachers still up
The Strath Bunker on #11
The Strath Bunker on #11
Toomer on #14
Toomer on #14
Of course, some #TourSauce
Of course, some #TourSauce
Leif putting around the Road Hole Bunker. Got it down in 2.
Leif putting around the Road Hole Bunker. Got it down in 2.
Walking #18
Walking #18
The token picture
The token picture

After the round, we headed over to the Jigger Inn for a fat, juicy burger and some beers. Much to the chagrin of my buddies, Spencer, a loyal NLU follower, spotted us and said what up. The Jigger Inn is a must visit in St. Andrews, with enough pictures in there to occupy your time for an hour as if it was a museum. You drive over this place with your tee shot on 17, and is a great place for food and beers/scotch after a round.

https://twitter.com/goldenkeith3/status/627074444889075712?lang=en

Day 2 at the Old Course

Day 1 was such a success, that we woke up early on Saturday morning to do the whole thing over again. We had a 2:30 tee time at the New Course, and were hoping to get out on the Old Course in the morning. We lined up at 4:30 again, but this time we discovered we were beaten to the punch by 10 college kids from Ferris State (also loyal NLU followers, I may add) who camped out overnight. The generous staff got us penciled in with two of us going off at 1:10, and the other two off at 1:50. This obviously conflicted with our 2:30 New Course tee time (also prepaid), so they called down to the New Course, and asked if we could move that up to this morning. Two minutes later, we were informed we were going off the New Course at 6:56. Incredible.

We got a chance on Friday to play the course in the quiet morning, but the second go around was quite different. The sun was shining, the birds chirping, and the town was buzzing with patrons strolling around the clubhouse, behind the first tee. as well as right down the middle of the 1st and 18th fairway. Toomer and I elected to play the tips, and with a breeze in our face on the first tee, I reached for the driver this time around. As I mentioned, the first fairway was quite busy with pedestrians, dog walkers, and runners with headphones in, who are completely oblivious to the golf being played. It’s easy to drive over their heads, so I didn’t think much of it as I teed my ball up. As I reached the top of my backswing, the starter (who in his defense, did not know I was swinging), belted out the loudest imaginable “FOOOOOOORE!!!” I panicked, rolled over my drive, and went full Ian Baker-Finch out of bounds left on the widest fairway in the world. In front of hundreds of people. It was horrifying.

We made it through eight holes in the sun, but we saw what was coming on the horizon. What ensued on holes 9-12 was what the caddies called the worst storm of the summer. My umbrella lasted exactly eight yards before ejecting. The rain was coming absolutely sideways, and the wind howled harder than I had ever seen. The 10th was 350 yards, and a dead cross wind from left to right, and I hit driver 5-iron, and still came up short! I couldn’t even hold the club it was so wet, but there was absolutely no stopping. Three holes later, the sun was shining, and it was like the rain never even happened. Of course our clothes (and our clubs) remained soaked, but we at least got to experience what St. Andrews is like in the worst possible weather. And it was impossible.

I scraped it around, failed to get up and down from the Road Hole bunker for the second consecutive day, but almost drove 18 and managed a birdie to shoot 80. Considering the weather and the wind, I was pretty proud of that. On the other hand, Toomer fell victim to the Road Hole, as it took him four shots to get out on his way to a 10. The only reason I mention this story is what followed. He marched straight to the 18th tee, and took the tee box from me after making a ten. You almost have to respect the move.

After we finished, we got our cameras out and went back a few holes to watch Leif and Scott finish the final two holes. They were like giddy school girls when we saw them in the fairway, having the time of their lives. Leif, a 7-handicap, finished with a 79, and Scott, an 11 handicap, finished with an 86. They were both ecstatic. It was another perfectly amazing day at the Home of Golf, and despite the fact that there are 2,400 words here, it really is hard to put into words.

Some pictures from day 2:

Looking confused at the starter after going OB
Looking confused at the starter after going OB
The calm before the storm
The calm before the storm
Pictures don't capture this weather
Pictures don’t capture this weather
Pictures don't capture this weather
Pictures don’t capture this weather
The sun is back out and shining for the Road Hole
The sun is back out and shining for the Road Hole
Road Hole Bunker
Road Hole Bunker
The finishing hole
The finishing hole
Swilcan Bridge
Swilcan Bridge
The gang crossing the bridge one last time together
The gang crossing the bridge one last time together
Leif wrapping up his 79
Leif wrapping up his 79
Scott finishing with a par
Scott finishing with a par

The Old Course experience was a 10 out of 10. The fact that I had just watched the pros play this course ten days earlier, and the bleachers were still up from the Open Championship made the experience that much more special, as the course was in a very similar condition as it was for the Open. The entire theme around the whole city is golf, and you can talk about golf with anyone you cross paths with. As much as I had built up St. Andrews in my own head, I could not believe that it could meet the hype, but it somehow exceeded it. As I continue with these posts, you’ll see why I called this the golf trip of a lifetime. If you have any questions you would like answered about the trip, please leave them below. To be continued…

Other parts in this series:

Part II: Kingsbarns

Part III: Carnoustie

Part IV: St. Andrews New and Jubilee

Part V: Crail (Balcomie)

About the Author

Inventor of #TourSauce, always waits for the green to clear, and club twirl savant.

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  • Stephen B.

    Awesome Article!! Big fan of NLU. Can not wait to read the rest as one day hope to plan a similar trip!

  • Love the detail here. St Andrews is huge for everyone but don’t forget Scotland is home to 11 other top 100 golf courses.

    @Stephen B – I host a weekly podcast on all thing Scottish golf travel. Might be worth adding to your list of golf podcasts!

  • Robb

    After listening to your podcast I immediately started contacting my golf buddies and spark some interest in making the trip. This is something that I wanted to do for a long time and I have heard really bad things about the trip and how hard it was to get on old course. Hearing how to do it the right way is awesome and I’m definitely taking notes on how to do it, thank you for the detailed post!!!!

  • Pingback: Scotland Golf Trip, Part II: Kingsbarns | No Laying Up()

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  • Wayne Manko

    Went on a trip with my parents and best friend back in ’02 and got to play Murfield about a month before The Open was there. The day we played The Old Course we had about every different type of weather you could have. I played lights out for 16 holes at +2, everything was working that day. I had just made a 30 footer for par on 16(followed it in with a fist pump) and hit my drive down the left side of 17 fwy. As my and my buddy are walking around the hotel, out come my parents and my friend just laughs and says, “Well, you’re done.” I was so into my round and they came over and just started talking about what they had done all day and where we needed to go after that I fell apart, finished triple, double for a 79. Worst part is, I didn’t even hit it in the Road Hole bunker, I just ejected myself that bad…. What could have been? Still, it was such an awesome experience and I broke 80 so I couldn’t be that upset about it.

  • Darcy Rossiter

    Hey guys – got turned on to the podcast earlier this week by a golf buddy and have been bingeing on the back catalogue all week. Loved the Scotland travel pod and especially the Old Course content. I live in London (grew up in Canada) and did a solo trip to St Andrews in Oct 2012 the week after the Dunhill Links. Had some time off between jobs so booked a flight and played the Old Course and the Castle and had 1 rainout day. Old Course was the best day of my golfing life. Up at 4:30 am to be first in line, had an entire 4some not turn up so the first 4 of us (an America, Frenchman and a Dutchman) were picked from the line and made a 4some. Shot 78 and managed a 4 after hitting it into one of the coffin bunkers on 13. An amazing day on a great course. Spent the evening in the Dunvegan with a perma-smile on my face. Thanks for all the great tips on places to play in Scotland. Already planning a trip.

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