This is part of an ongoing series. In the original article, I explain why you should sit down and make a multi-year travel plan to make sure you see and do all the things that are most important to you. Read this guide, “Why Now is the Best Time to Plan Your Travel Bucket List” here.
In this follow-up series, I present 30 different once-in-a-lifetime curated experiences and destinations for you to consider. Obviously, everyone’s dream list will be different, and whatever you really think you want or need to do should be at the top of your list, but with expert help and my 25 years of experience as a award-winning trip I’ve put together some great highlights for you to consider. Each day I will present a different option (see all here):
Golf in St. Andrews, Scotland
Why? There are many golf courses around the world and many golf destinations including Scotland, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and of course many venues across the States States worthy of a week or more.
But the most desirable course to play anywhere, the answer to the question “If you could play any course in the world before you die, what would it be?” must be the Old Course in St. Andrews. As the first course, the original is literally and spiritually the birthplace and home of the game we love and it is also an exceptional course and transformative experience that has stood the test of time – centuries . It also gives it the most history, it has hosted the world’s oldest major on many occasions, and you feel the ghosts playing in the footsteps of virtually every star of all time, as you cross the Swilcan Bridge where Arnold Palmer said goodbye, as you try to play bunkerless tricks like Tiger Woods did en route to the tournament record at the British Open, and so on.
But there’s a lot more to St. Andrews than the Old Course, and that’s been the big change in recent years.
The first time I went on a golf pilgrimage to Scotland was around 20 years ago, and I took what has long been the “typical” dream trip. I went to St. Andrews to play the Old, then drove around the country to pick out some standout courses while packing, unpacking, and spending many hours in a car. This is how people have long taken their first golf trip to the Old Country.
No more. The critical mass of golf courses in and around St. Andrews has increased so dramatically – and with such quality – that it makes much more sense to go there just a week, to play a good course every day. , enjoy the charming town that is home to Scotland’s most famous university and is steeped in golfing history, and stay in one place. You can stay in luxury hotels and play expensive but fantastic golf or stay in much cheaper accommodation and play affordable and fantastic golf, there is something for everyone. There’s also great food, from fish and chips to fine dining, great pubs and bars, and great non-golf related attractions. St. Andrews is close to Edinburgh a wonderful city where everyone comes to so you can drive straight from the international airport to the tee and spend a few days reveling in all things Scottish for a few nights at either end in the country’s top tourist town (the city’s best luxury hotels are the Balmoral, the Glasshouse and the Caledonian). It’s the best of both worlds, with no planes, trains or long journeys between arrival and departure.
How? ‘Or’ What? The Old Course is the highlight and the other thing that sets it apart from dreamy must-sees like Pebble Beach, Royal County Down or Augusta is that it is truly public and requires no membership, no secret handshakes and no chambers. hotel very expensive to get a check out time. However, this requires luck, patience or money. The easiest but most expensive route is to simply pay top dollar to a top golf travel provider like Haversham & Baker, Perry Golf, SGH Golf, Garmany Golf or Premier Golf to get one of their coveted pre-booked guaranteed departures.
You can also request a reservation the year before your trip, try to make one of the limited number of regular departure times in advance, or take advantage of off-season winter multi-tour packages combining the Old with other courses (in winter you “play off the mats”, which means you carry a square of synthetic turf with you and place your ball on it every time so you don’t damage the grass). methods are explained here.
Or you can use the age-old method of entering the daily lottery, the “vote,” which you do the night before and find out that night. The tradition for all courses in the area is to waive your fee if you win the lottery and cancel another round, so basically you go to St. Andrews for a scheduled week of golf and still play the lottery until you get to the Old Course – and you probably will. Nearly half of all tee times are reserved for voting, which is now online. Exact odds are undisclosed, but historically it’s been something like one in three attempts, and that’s been the case on my two previous visits when I was successful on my second and third tries. It’s not a lock, but if you go there for a week and enter the lottery every day, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a time. But remember, the Old is closed on Sundays.
The third strategy is to show up very early (before dawn) as a single and wait for a no-show to fill out a foursome. It also usually works – as long as you’re one of the first to arrive. The singles line can get really long and this method is for the hardier souls – and works best when it’s raining and people (especially local residents who can book tee times cheaply) tend not to not show up.
Where else? Although you should basically play the Old Course for the unique historical factor in your life, many locals believe it’s not the best course in the area or even the best of the Links Trust courses. The Links Trust is the non-profit organization that manages the city’s seven courses much like an urban park, and six of them comprise the large golf complex in the heart of St. Andrews proper. Of these, most consider the New Course, so named because it succeeds the Old (built in 1895), to be the best and you should definitely play it. The Jubilee is considered the most difficult and along with Eden, the old and the new, these four are all very worthy of your precious time. Immediately outside the town the Trust also operates the seaside Castle Course, which some love and some hate, but it is both challenging and dramatic, very different from the others with towering dunes, and you should try it and decide for yourself. The six Links Trust courses in addition to the old one can be played with “normal” tee time reservation policies.
But number two not-to-be-missed in the area after the Old has been Kingsbarns since the day it opened in 2000. An instant classic, it has some of Scotland’s finest seafronts and is pure everyday fare – no of members, no hotel, just a great course and a very nice clubhouse. On two different trips my companions, both newbies to Scotland, called this their favorite part of the trip. They are also probably the most expensive green fees in the country at £312 (about $385) plus another hundred if you take a caddy.
New this year and very close is Dumbarnie Links, a direct competitor to Kingsbarns with ocean views from all 18 holes, set in stunning terrain – and probably the last real links to be built in the area. I was able to play it ahead of time last fall, it’s brilliant, and like Kingsbarns, it’s pure daily fare with an awesome clubhouse.
There are two very nice and underrated coastal courses, the Torrance and the Kittocks, at the 520-acre Fairmont St. Andrews, the best golf resort in the area in terms of combining a luxury hotel with exceptional golf , and it’s a short drive out of town (with a shuttle service) near the castle courtyard. The Fairmont is a full-service resort with a very impressive spa.
While its own parkland course, the Dukes, is probably the last interesting one in the area, the Old Course Hotel is arguably the premier luxury accommodation in St. Andrews and boasts an unbeatable location just along the last hole of the Old Course. It’s where the stars stay, and it’s owned by Kohler, sister resort to Whistling Straits and Wisconsin’s fantastic 5-Star American Club. As such it has a phenomenal Kohler Waters spa, a great pub (Jigger Inn), one of the best whiskey bars in the world (Road Hole Bar) and is located within walking distance of everything in town, a big advantage.
Finally, there are a few lesser-known but wonderful notable old clubs that allow outdoor play here, including the 36-hole Crail, the seventh oldest club in the world, and Lundin Links.
So if you play Old, New, Kingsbarns, Dumbarnie, Jubilee, Castle, Torrance, Kittocks, Crail, Lundin and Eden, roughly in that order, you have more than a week of fantastic golf, and all are worth the worth playing twice (or ten times). Every ride will be stellar and you don’t have to travel beyond St. Andrews to have a dream trip.
Travel Advisors: When planning this type of Bucket List trips, I always recommend using a good travel agent or travel consultant. Besides making sure you’re doing it right, they can often save you money or give you upgrades and more for your money. To learn more about why you want to hire a travel agent/advisor and how to go about it, read my recent article on the subject here.