Ready to bust out of your pandemic lockdown and start notching some bucket-list golf? Already getting your legs in shape for a hike around the Old Course at St. Andrews?
Well, there’s bad news, so you might want to take this sitting down.
When the pandemic unfolded in early 2020, the St. Andrews Links Trust, the body that operates the Old Course, pushed that year’s tee times into 2021. Then, as lockdowns dragged on, both the 2021 tee times and 2020 reservations were pushed into 2022.
According to travel experts, that left little to no room for new reservations until 2023 or even 2024, or whenever the bulge in the reservation pipeline finally clears.
So, if you don’t already have a tee time reservation, you’re likely out of luck.
“I’d say forget [the Old Course] for 2021,” said Jim Mills, who has run Fore Golf, a packager of U.K. and Irish golf tours, for 40 years. “Other U.K. courses have 2021 tee times available, but the Old Course isn’t open except by the ballot.”
“The ballot” is an online lottery for a small share of each day’s tee times. It’s held two days prior — a system that’s only useful for players willing to hang out in St. Andrews with no guarantee of getting on. The other option is to stand in line at the Old Course starter’s shack well before dawn in the hope of snagging one of that day’s cancellations.
The Links Trust did not respond to a request for comment. Its website says only that “information will be made available on 2021 advance reservations in due course.”
Gordon Dalgleish, president of Perry Golf, another golf-tour operator with access to Old Course tee times, said that in light of the unavailability of Old Course tee times, U.S. golfers are well-advised to consider other, more off-the-beaten-path destinations in the British Isles.
Experts Advise ‘Get off the Beaten Path’
Among them: northwest Ireland, northern Scotland or northwest England. One of his suggestions, Royal Dornoch Golf Club, in the far northern Scotland County of Sutherland, is a solid four-hour drive north from Edinburgh.
“One area is the Lancashire Coast of England,” Dalgleish said. “There are three [British] Open courses there that, for one reason or another, have been overlooked by golf travelers: Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham and St. Annes, and Royal Liverpool.”
Another plus: Some Lanchashire lodgers used the lockdown to update aging facilities. “You can stay in one hotel and play some Open courses, plus five or six other quality courses.” Dalgleish said.
The scarcity of 2021-2022 tee times also has hit the Irish icons of Ballybunion and Lahinch. “Most 2020 and 2021 bookings have rolled over into 2022, creating an oversold situation on Irish golf courses next year, especially the trophy links courses,” said Marty Carr, CEO of Carr Golf, a Dublin tour packager. More
Photo: St. Andrews Links Trust