Five last-minute must-play golf courses around St Andrews

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Carnoustie Championship Links
Carnoustie Golf Links is only an hour from St. Andrews.

With the 139th British Open returning to the Old Course at St. Andrews, many of us wish to play the storied course that offers public access. But what if you didn't make the Old Course ballot this time around? It's to be expected, as chances usually range from one-in-two to one-in-four. That's why groups often book three or four days in St. Andrews alone.

Depending on the size of your group, you can wait around the starter shack and hope to be a walk-on. Also, the tee sheet is posted online at the Links Trust Web site, and sometimes you can spot some twosomes on the sheet with open space that are ripe to jump in.

But if you don't want to play the waiting game, it's a near certainty you can still play golf even if you didn't book weeks in advance. St. Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife have one of the richest pockets of links golf anywhere.

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New Course in St. Andrews
Playing right beside the Old, St. Andrews' New Course is managed by the Links Trust to especially cater to walk-on play by leaving most of the tee sheet open for groups on a first-come, first-serve basis.

It's no accident, the New was originally built in 1895 to relieve demand on the Old and serves this very purpose today.

And the New Course is no meager second fiddle like many other clubs' second course around the U.K. It's set on links land just as good as the Old, and some locals think it's actually harder from the daily yellow tees than the Old. It's also open on Sundays, unlike the Old Course.

Crail Golfing Society
Just a few miles from St. Andrews, Crail Golfing Society is one of the world's oldest, dating back to 1786.

The club also recognizes the Old Course is a big reason why so many golfers come to Fife in the first place, so they offer a system that caters to golfers: Book a round at Crail, and if you make the Old Course ballot the day of play, you can reschedule your tee time for later.

The historic Balcomie Links Course at Crail is a popular play, but the club offers a modern complimentary links, the Craighead, that opened in 1998. Both are coastal links with great views, and chances are there's an opening on one of them.

If you don't book Crail in advance, your chance at scoring a last-minute tee time varies depending on the day, but with two courses, your chances are often good on one of them.

'It's a potluck during the high season but usually we accommodate most walk-ons,' said David Roy, managing secretary at Crail.

Carnoustie Championship Course
If you're in Scotland for one reason only, to play Open Championship courses, you've got a second option beyond the Old Course nearby worth giving a try.

Carnoustie Golf Links is about an hour's drive from the Old Course in St. Andrews, and out of all the courses that host the Open in Scotland, Carnoustie is usually the easiest to get on because there are the least amount of visitor restrictions and less demand than the Old Course.

Carnoustie has two other courses next to the Championship links, but St. Andrews' complimentary courses such as the Jubilee and New are superior.

Fairmont St. Andrews Kittocks and Torrance
The past decade has seen redesigns and rebranding of the Fairmont St. Andrews Resort (formerly St. Andrews Bay) and golf courses; it's as good as it's ever been. The two courses here, both overlooking the coast, Torrance and Kittocks, are recently redesigned and now an Open Qualifying site for the 2010 Open.

You can also try Kingsbarns Golf Links, further down the road from Fairmont St. Andrews. Kingsbarns is a very popular course, but it's also one of Scotland's most expensive, so there may be holes in the tee sheet.

Duke's Golf Course
The Duke's Golf Course is both a benefit and victim of its St. Andrews address.

No other golf course can claim its official hotel as the Old Course Hotel, but it also gets lost in the mix because most visitors (from America, at least) are here to play links, and the Duke's is just a 'mere heathland.' But it's a very good one that keeps getting better as it continues to benefit from the golden Kohler touch.

The Duke's does receive a fair amount of corporate outings because buggies are available, but on days a large group doesn't have the course booked up, it can be easy to play last-minute and is still challenging with five sets of tees up to 7,500 yards – and unlike the Old, you can pick which set of tees you'd like to play.

-- by Brandon Tucker