Imagine you’re on the first tee of a true bucket List course. 50 to 75 people are watching – and you duff your 3-wood maybe 140 yards down the fairway.
The good news you don’t dunk your second shot into the creek guarding the first green. Nope, a skulled a 6-iron never gets more than 2 inches off the ground, rolling nicely to about 10 yards shy of the water.
“Way to keep it under the wind,” your caddie Brett mutters, encouragingly.
A pitch and two putts later and you’re off on the greatest golf adventure of your life.
Welcome, GolfSpies, to St. Andrews, aka The Home Of Golf.
A #datacratic Traveler’s Guide
This is something different for MyGolfSpy: a #datacratic, Power-To-The-Player look at golf travel. Sure, we’ll talk golf, but we’ll also explore things to do, places to stay, what and where to eat and drink, must-see places and things you could probably skip.
Your faithful scribe spent a week this past May at golf’s Holy Land – St. Andrews (it’s dirty work, but someone had to do it). In this piece, we’ll share everything from the first bite of haggis to the last sip of Yippie IPA, as well as tips on navigating St. Andrews and a few hidden gem courses to round out your trip.
The first tip isn’t news to buddy trip vets: pick your traveling partner carefully. As Charlize Theron and Shania Twain were both busy, the role of traveling companion fell to someone I’ve known since 1965, my cousin Paul – a solid, albeit distant, third choice.
Paul and I have talked about playing the Old Course for years. We applied for tee times when the lottery opened up last August (this year’s application process opens 8/21), but we were both shut out. The prospects looked grim until I met a young man in Orlando who made it all happen.
Jack Sallis, all of 23 years old, is the founder and operator of Halcyon Golf Travel in Nottingham, England. I met Jack at the PGA Show in January and was impressed with his ambition and enthusiasm. Jack specializes in higher-end, bespoke experiences (if you want to try your hand at falconry, take a whiskey-tasting tour or travel from course to course via helicopter, Jack’s your man). Being budget-conscious, Paul and I told Jack we’d sleep in a car if it meant better golf arrangements. The lad came through.
If you cling to the narrative of millennials wanting everything handed to them, Jack isn’t going to help your argument any. In addition to Halcyon, he also runs a landscaping business and tutors economics online to students all over the world. And he’s a scratch golfer. The young man is going places.
Here’s the itinerary Jack built:
– Seven nights at The New Inn – a pub/rooming house a 20-minute walk from downtown.
– Three St. Andrews Day Passes for unlimited golf at any St. Andrews track that isn’t the Old Course.
– One round at Lundin Links – an Old Tom Morris/James Braid hidden seaside gem.
– One round at Kingsbarns – a high-end must-play course just south of St. Andrews.
– Entry into the Old Course ballot for each day.
The trip came to $3,000 per person, with airport transportation and breakfast every day at the New Inn included. Additional meals, Old Course greens fees (if we got on), caddie fees, other ground transportation, and souvenirs totaled another $1,000, and round trip airfare was around $800 on Delta. Can a week-long trip to St. Andrews be done for less? No doubt, but it was a stress-free trip with Jack doing the heavy lifting. He even met us at the New Inn when we arrived, played with us at the Castle Course and provided personal concierge service during our stay. He also prepared a souvenir video of the trip that included drone footage.
We also teed it up with Gavin Dear and Jenn Saxton from ShotScope, which is based in Edinburgh. Gavin showed us two other hidden gems: Ladybank (a Senior Open qualifying course last year) and Scotscraig, which bills itself as the 13th oldest golf club in the world, dating back to 1817.
Getting There, Getting Around
We took the Delta red-eye from Boston to Scotland, landing in Edinburgh Sunday morning. We considered renting a car, but Paul and I are both 55-plus and neither wanted the challenge of driving on the other side of the road. Jack arranged airport transportation for us, which proved to be a good thing: Scottish country roads are narrow and winding, and – no insult intended – Scots drive like friggin’ lunatics.
St. Andrews is also accessible by rail and bus from downtown Edinburgh’s Waverly Station. It’s a 70-minute train ride to Leuchars Station, where you catch a bus for the 12-minute ride to St. Andrews. If you’re so inclined, Carnoustie is a 30-minute or so train ride north, with the train station a 9-iron from the course.
St. Andrews is best seen on foot – it’s small and easy to navigate once you get your bearings. As mentioned earlier, the New Inn is a 20-minute walk to the Old Course, 30 if you walk along the shore and through the ruins of the St. Andrews Cathedral and Castle (make the time). You won’t find Uber or Lyft in St. Andrews, but cabs are reasonable – just don’t expect to hail one. Heidi, the innkeeper at the New Inn, arranged taxis for our trips to Lundin Links and Kingsbarns. The courses called cabs for our return trips.
Sleeps, Eats, & Treats
St. Andrews in the spring and summer is not cheap. The Old Course Hotel will run you over $300 a night, while other higher-end spots such as the Fairmont, MacDonald Rusacks or the Hotel Du Vin will run you well over $200. There’s no shortage of smaller inns, guest houses, and AirBnB’s, but early booking is imperative. And the closer you are to the golf courses, the more the accommodations will run you.
We’ll talk about the golf in a bit, but golfers travel on their stomachs, and we found some great places to dine. Our first meal, at a place called Forgan’s in downtown St. Andrews, was a proper Scottish breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast and the twin pillars of Scottish cuisine, haggis and black pudding.
I asked our waitress what each was made from. She just shook her head and said, “if I told you, you wouldn’t eat it.”
Haggis is basically a loaf made from oats and leftover sheep and/or calf organs. They slice off a piece, fry it up and serve it up. If you’ve had scrapple, you get the idea — sort of.
Black pudding? If I told you, you wouldn’t eat it.
Another Scottish breakfast staple is salmon and scrambled eggs. The salmon is raw – on a bagel, you’d call it lox – but the combination was tasty.
Scottish pizza can be a crapshoot. We tried a place called Zizzi our first night and sampled their Pizza Rustica – basically a flatbread pizza – and gave it two thumbs up.
Paul is a true beer nerd, and rates beer on an app called Untapp’d. He was anxious to visit the St. Andrews Brewing Company, where we found good beer but forgettable food (Scotland is not the place for pulled pork or chicken wings), save for the Halloumi fries. I asked the waitress what they were. She just shook her head and said, “they’re not very good for you.”
I’m not a drinker, but when there’s something called Yippie IPA on tap, I’m all in. It was tasty with a pleasant grapefruit aroma – definitely worth a try. Paul sampled the Oatmeal Stout, which he liked as well. Overall verdict on St. Andrews Brew Pub – go for the beer, eat only if you have to.
Speaking of beer, the New Inn is your typical Scottish pub with a few hotel rooms upstairs. On tap was another beer I had to try: Bitter and Twisted Golden Ale. The barmaid said it was named after her ex-mother-in-law. It’s worth a sip.
It’s a St. Andrews tradition to have a drink, and maybe lunch, at The Dunvegan, a classic hotel and pub at the corner of North and Golf Streets. It’s famous for the hundreds of pictures on the walls and ceilings of famous golfers who’ve had a pint or several there, with memorabilia dating back to Bobby Jones’ heyday. Paul, myself, and Jim from Alabama (you travel, you meet people) enjoyed lunch after our first round at the Old Course. If you ask Charlotte the bartender nicely, she’ll let you take a picture with a replica Claret Jug.
The Dunvegan’s fish ‘n chips were fine, the Steak ‘n Ale pie was outstanding, and beer nerd Paul gave the Brew Dog Punk IPA his seal of approval.
Two more places to put on your must dine-at list: The Jigger Inn and Ziggy’s.
The Jigger Inn is as tiny – keep your head on a swivel when standing at the bar – as it is legendary. It’s a small, old white building along the Road Hole fairway, adjacent to the Old Course Hotel. All along the walls, behind the bar and on the ceiling are autographed hats from tour pros who’ve tipped an elbow at the Jigger after a round at the Old Course: Arnie, Jack, Gary Player, Rory, Tom Watson, and dozens of others have all enjoyed a pint there at one time for another.
The food at The Jigger is outstanding. Bart – a 14-year Jigger veteran from Poland – steered us in the right direction with Cullen Skink soup, the Jigger Club Sandwich (chicken, egg salad and a sort of Scottish bacon on Artic bread) and an excellent Steak and Onion sandwich on a baguette. Louise has been tending bar at the Jigger for 13 years and can draw a beer and run the cash register at the same time. She suggested the Jigger Ale, made special for the Inn, which is Paul approved, although he reports the St. Andrews Ale is nothing special.
Ziggy’s, on Murray Place just off North Street, is where you go when you’re next-level hungry. It’s named after Ziggy Stardust because, according to the owner’s wife, her husband is the biggest David Bowie fan in Fife. Ziggy’s features a museum’s worth of British rock memorabilia from the Beatles, Stones, Who, Clash, Led Zep and, of course, Bowie.
It’s also home to the most ridiculous burgers you’ve ever seen. They’re huge and get huger if you ask for a “double.” We met up with four guys from Nebraska – huge MyGolfSpy fans on their own buddy trip – and one doubled his double cheeseburger. He did some damage but ultimately couldn’t finish it.
If you’re between rounds at St. Andrews, lunch can be a trade-off between good and convenient. The Swilican Lounge, in the main clubhouse for the New & Jubilee courses, is certainly convenient. We had a mediocre burger and a less than mediocre ham-and-cheese. It wasn’t very good, but at least the portions were small.
Every evening on our walk back to the New Inn, we passed a great little gelato place called Jannettas Gelataria. They have at least three dozen flavors to choose from, but I’m partial to pistachio and anything made with peanut butter. They succeeded hugely.
A great treat of visiting St. Andrews is buying souvenirs, either as gifts for buddies or as reminders that you went to St. Andrews and they didn’t. The two official St. Andrews souvenir shops – a small one behind the 18th green and a much larger main store across the street from the 18th green – feature officially licensed gear you can’t get anywhere else, and you’ll pay top dollar for it. I passed on most, buying only a flag from the 17th hole.
There’s no shortage of other places to buy goodies, but a few stood out for both selection and price. We especially liked the St. Andrews Golf Store on St. Mary’s Street: great prices on shirts, logo balls, bag tags, ball markers, scorecard holders and other trinkets, and they advertise the best hat prices in town. Make sure to say hi to Catherine.
Just down the street is the Golf Shop of St. Andrews. There you’ll find unique stuff at excellent prices, including shirts, sweaters, hats and other items of their own design. A shirt/hat/ball marker combo – available in multiple colors and of excellent quality – runs under 60 pounds, or $73.00.
Another favorite is the St. Andrews Golf Co, on Golf Street near the 18th green. It claims to be the oldest club maker in the world, dating back to 1881. You can buy collectible – and playable – handcrafted hickory putters, drivers, and full sets, including a replica of the clubs Bobby Jones used to win the 1930 British Amateur at the Old Course. Stephanie was minding the store that day and told us the factory is only a 20-minute cab ride outside of town, with tours available.
Oddly, the St. Andrews Golf Co. is also a PXG fitter. “We can do it from both ends,” Stephanie told us. “The historic and the ultra-modern.”
Scotland and whisky (no “e” over there) are blood brothers, so if you’re looking for something to bring back, you’ll find almost anything you can imagine at Taste of Scotland (next door to the St. Andrews Golf Store). You’ll discover nips, fifths, jugs and more of classics such as Glenfiddich and rarities such as The Dalmore, aged forty years and priced at nearly $8,700.
Getting on The Old Course
Jack couldn’t score guaranteed Old Course tee times, so we applied in the daily ballot. Slots are assigned two days in advance (you can check on the St. Andrews app), but we kept coming up goose eggs. The option of last resort is to get up in the middle of the night, hike downtown, wait outside the Starter’s Pavilion in the cold, wind and rain, and hope.
Which is what we did.
St. Andrews is the only place on Earth where two guys walking around town at 2 AM with golf bags won’t bring the cops. When we reached the pavilion, there were eleven people ahead of us, including a millennial from San Mateo who went to Tom Brady’s high school (we hit it off). Just behind us was Jim, a retiree from Alabama, among others.
The way it works is you wait in line until the pavilion opens, and the starter doles out any remaining tee times first come, first served. Paul and I were 12th and 13th in line. Unfortunately, there were 11 openings that day, but Gavin, the starter, told us to put our names in and wait, something would almost certainly open up.
We got lucky.
The first groups went out at 6:30 AM. At 6:35, Gavin called Paul’s name and got him off at 6:50. That morning I saw my worldly, 55-year old cousin turn into a 13-year-old girl at a Taylor Swift concert. It wasn’t pretty.
I sat in the pavilion, enjoyed a fine sausage and egg sandwich with a UK delight called Brown Sauce, and chatted with my new buddy Alabama Jim. By 7:30, Gavin told us we could tee off at 8:00 with two members who were playing a match and graciously allowed us to join up.
Two days later we tried again, doing the same 2 AM trek. This time, however, we were 34th and 35th in line. First in line were the smartest people I met in Scotland – a foursome from Calgary who set up shop around 10 PM with folding chairs, a cooler for libations, and a small table for an all-night poker game.
We had a 3:00 PM tee time at the Jubilee Course, so we decided to skip the overnight wait and head back to our room. We spent the morning shopping and visiting the British Golf Museum (across the street from the R&A Clubhouse – do not miss it!). At 2, we stopped in the Pavilion for a quick bite, and Paul said, “why don’t you go up and ask if they have any openings?” The weather was raw and rainy, he figured, so maybe somebody canceled. I was dubious but decided to make my cousin happy.
“You wouldn’t have any openings or cancellations for this afternoon, would you?” I asked.
The starter looked at her tee sheet, then looked at me.
“Can you go out right now?”
Oh hell to the yes, we can.
Golf in the Kingdom of Fife
Gavin Dear of ShotScope – a former European Tour player – sums up the Old Course very well.
“If I could play the tournament tees every time, I’d play the Old Course every day.”
It’s not overly long, and you if you can avoid going right, it’s very playable. While the Old Course lacks the majesty of Pebble Beach, the sheer history of the course is electric: you feel it every step of the way. Maybe most surprising about the Old Course is it’s a veritable shooting gallery, with double greens and shared fairways. Forget hearing the birds or the ocean; what you hear most is caddies and golfers screaming “FORE!”
For your first round, go all out and hire a caddy. It’s 55 pounds plus tip (15 to 25 pounds, based on service) and is worth it. Brett caddied for me both rounds, helping me grind out an 83 (could have been a 78 with a little luck) and an 85 (would have been a 93 except for the luck) despite a severe case of the lefts, which isn’t a bad thing on the Old Course. He could not, however, understand my glee at hitting shots into some of the nastiest bunkers on the course. Hey, if you’re going to do the Old Course, do the Old Course.
Wind and rain are part of the fun at St. Andrews. We had our Galway Bay raingear and played through a pretty good rainfall our second round. The wind makes it a different course: the first time we played 18, I hit driver/9-iron to about 15 feet for a two-putt par. The second round was driver/3-hybrid. We won’t mention the skulled pitch or three putts for a double.
If you’re lucky enough to get on the Old Course, enjoy every second of it. The walk up 18 is something you’ll never forget.
We also played the New and the Jubilee courses, which are parallel to the Old Course. Some say both are more of a test than the Old Course, but my take is that’s to drum up more interest in them. You can always score a same-day tee-time at both the New and the Jubilee, as well as the Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove courses. We enjoyed both the Jubilee and New, with my preference being the New, where I had my best round of the trip – a 79 despite bogeying the final four holes.
We did not play Eden, Strathtyrum or Balgove, but everyone we spoke with said for sheer fun, don’t miss the Eden.
The Castle Course is about 10 minutes south of the city and has the feel of an American sea-side course with lots of elevation changes. While the greens at the Old, New, and Jubilee courses are relatively straightforward, the Castle greens are downright diabolical: think Augusta with a sadist for a greenskeeper. When it comes to vistas, Castle is incredible with several holes on both the front and back nines playing along cliffs overlooking the ocean. The view of the village from the 6th green and 7th tee is worth the trip all by itself.
In between rounds make sure to hit the Himalayas, a 27-hole mini-golf course between the first green of the Old Course and the clubhouse and first tee of the New Course. It only costs 3 pounds ($3.65) to play and is a hell of a lot of fun.
Before we teed off on the Himalayas, we met a pleasant 89-year-old gent who told us he just set the course record with a 28. We chatted for a bit, and then he said, “do you know who I am? I’m Old Tom Morris.” We humored the guy until he pulled out his driver’s license.
If you’re into hidden gems, do not miss Lundin Links, located about 20 minutes south of St. Andrews. The original course was designed by Old Tom Morris (not the guy above!) and opened in 1868 but was ultimately split in two as it crossed town lines. There’s a low stone wall dividing Lundin Links from neighboring Levin Links, so both courses are half Tom Morris designs. Lundin was finished by James Braid and is really two different courses. You have long par 4’s (an Old Tom Morris signature) along the coast, and then you go up the cliffs for a few holes and back down the cliffs for the home holes. It’s spectacular, playable and a great add-on to your trip.
If you play Lundin Links, you’ll need to get the code from the Pro Shop to access the lounge and locker room. And make sure to bring a change of shoes – golf shoes and sneakers are not allowed in the lounge.
Kingsbarns, seven miles south of St. Andrews, might be the crown jewel of Fife even though it’s only 20 years old. It’s a destination course, and while it lacks history, it owns spectacular. Like Castle, it’s a seaside course with magnificent views of the Firth of Forth and incredible golf holes that will remind you of Whistling Straits.
The caddies at Kingsbarns do resent comparisons to the Castle Course, as they feel their course superior. In fairness, they’re not wrong. The Castle is a great course, but Kingsbarns is in another league.
Kingsbarns isn’t cheap – running $350 plus caddie fees (about $67 plus tip – same as St. Andrews). You don’t have to take a caddie but, as with the Old Course, for a first-timer, it’s a really good idea.
It goes without saying virtually everyone walks in Scotland – the locals either carry or use a pushcart, while a lot of golfers – of all ages – actually own motorized pushcarts. There are riding carts at St. Andrews, but can only be used if you have a handicapped certificate and then must be driven by a caddie.
If you go between May and July, there’s a ton of daylight. We saw golfers finishing up 18 on the Old Course as late as 10 PM, so if you have a day pass and are eager, 36 holes are no problem with an outside shot at 54 if you can get tee times.
We did learn one important pro tip. They don’t advertise it, but you can rent a locker in the lower level of the main St. Andrews clubhouse adjacent to the New and Jubilee courses. It costs 2 pounds ($2.40) per day, but they aren’t maniacal about collecting it. You can store your clubs there instead of schlepping them back and forth to your hotel, and you have full use of the shower facilities (towels, soap, and shampoo are included). There’s also a free dryer in the locker room, especially handy after a wet round.
One final note about visiting St. Andrews – while it does have a world-class university (students get St. Andrews playing privileges), the village is all about golf: everyone you run into has a genuine connection to the game. You could visit Myrtle Beach and your waitress at dinner may know nothing about golf and care even less about it, but at St. Andrews, golf is a living, breathing part of the community and everyone in it. You won’t want to leave, and you won’t be able to wait to get back.
We hope this travelogue is useful to you and can help make planning your trip to St. Andrews a little more fun. If you have any questions about visiting St. Andrews, please comment below, and please share your own experiences at the Home of Golf.
And if there are any other golf destinations you’d like us to scout out for you, please let us know.