A Hole in One

Delighting golfers is par for the course in Scotland

By: David Wishart

As golf champ Tiger Woods recently said, “to win at St. Andrews is the ultimate.”

For the rest of us, just getting a game in will do. In Scotland, golf was played as early as 1457 when the king tried to ban the sport because archery, considered essential for the country’s defense, was being neglected. Still it’s the town of St. Andrews that’s considered the home of golf, and the Old Course is the oldest in the world, with golfers teeing off in 1552. Since then, the seaside town has produced local legends, like Tom Morris, and many memorable Open Championships.

Tee Time
The Old Course hosts 42,000 rounds a year, with 10 minutes between tee times. Golfers from as far away as Japan and Peru come to play, even Bill Clinton recently teed off there. With all the popularity, getting in can be tricky.

If clients plan well in advance, St. Andrews Links offers online booking. Just one snag: This year’s tee times are all booked, which leaves less certain options. Some opt for the ballot, which requires golfers apply by phone or in person at St. Andrews by 2 p.m. before the day of play. (The course is closed on Sunday so Saturday’s ballot is for Monday.) The lucky winners are posted on the Web site at 4 p.m. The ballot system works surprisingly well. In fact, I’ve never heard of anyone missing out, although some golfers might have to try again another day.

Handicap certificates are also required at St. Andrews, a maximum 24 for men and 36 for women. A certificate that resembles a driver’s license, works best. But since many clubs don’t offer this, a letter from a golf club will do.

Before clients can tee off, they must pay the $150 greens fee and visit the caddymaster’s office. Caddies are about $50, trainees about $35 and bag-carriers $25 and can’t be booked in advance. If caddies aren’t available, clients can rent pull carts. (Golf carts aren’t allowed.)

As for the Old Course, let’s just say I enjoyed the experience, although the wind added more than the usual amount of guesswork to the flight of shots. But clients can’t go too wrong following Jack Nicklaus’ advice: Aim left on the front nine; aim right on the back nine. Beyond that, it helps to have a caddy who knows the lines.

And if clients want to know, the Old Course is par 72, 6,566 yards, and the course record of 65 is held by Jesper Parnevik, Justin Leonard and Carlos Franco.

As for lodging with a view of the course, book clients at the Rusacks Hotel, part of Macdonald Hotels. The Victorian hotel offers 68 guestrooms and seven suites. Most rooms overlook the 18th green, while others offer epic views of the beach. If clients set down their clubs, they can visit the British Golf Museum, just behind the clubhouse, or stroll the town’s stone buildings and narrow lanes.

In Driving Range
There was no way I could visit Scotland and play just one course, so I decided to do a little driving. Lundin Golf Club and Kingsbarns are two other nearby seaside links not to be missed.

Lundin is a great bargain at about $60, and golfers get a warm welcome in the clubhouse (as well as Scotland’s best pint of beer, Bellhaven Best). Kingsbarns offers a superb layout: Only a year old, enthusiastic golfers from around the globe are already lining up to pay the $190 fee.

Finally, I could not resist a visit to the west coast, home of Royal Troon, Prestwick and Turnberry courses. The place to stay is the Piersland House Hotel across the road from Royal Troon. (Hotel owner Jack Brown plays a tidy game of golf when he’s not blowing into his bagpipes.) The Piersland was first built in 1899 as the home for Alexander Walker, grandson of Johnnie Walker, founder of the Scotch whisky by the same name.

Scotland also has many great public courses, like Belleisle, a fine parklands experience, where the greens fees are much less.


Golf & Leisure Vacations

Piersland House Hotel

Rusacks Hotel

St. Andrews Links Trust