Walk-up times on the St Andrews Old Course, how do they work?

You don't have a booked tee-time on the St Andrews Old Course and you weren't successful in the daily ballot, so trying for a walk-up time is the next option.

Walk-up times don't just work for single golfers. Lots of golfers who have arrived in St Andrews without a pre-booked time, and have not been successful in the ballot, will try this option.

If you've looked at either of our earlier blog posts about the Old Course daily ballot you'll have noted that the number of golfers successful in the ballot is less than the number of available slots. This is because not every entry for the ballot is a 4-ball. So that leaves spaces. And not all the private advance times are for 4 golfers, so again, that leaves spaces.

Maybe the weather won't be great and some people won't show up (ballot entries aren't paid until you go to the Starter on the day of play). It may not sound the dream setting for golf on an iconic course but the worse the weather forecast the greater the chance of success - times set aside for locals are more likely to free-up.

The Swilcan bridge on the 18th hole of the St Andrews Old Course

An early start

The downside of the walk-up time is it means an early start. Allocations are made on a first come, first served basis. Golfers queue at the Old Pavilion beside the Old Course. In summer the Old Pavilion opens up at 06:00 and there will be a queue of golfers already waiting and hoping for times.

Some say a rule of thumb is to be at the Old Pavilion 2 to 3 hours before opening but that may not get you at the head of the queue. It is perfectly normal for golfers to queue overnight - heading to the course straight from the pub, or even before the pub closes. The decision has to be yours as to when you choose to be in the queue.

Think about how warmed up you will be for that all important 1st tee-shot if you get an early time and you've spent the previous couple of hours, or more, staying warm on an outside bench. While there is some outdoor heating by the Old Pavilion, no inside facilities, including toilets or hot drinks, are available until the Pavilion opens. The Pavilion opens 30 minutes before the first tee-off, so during the months the first tee-off is 06:30, the Pavilion opens at 06:00.

The chances of success simply come down to supply and demand.

Where golfers are fitted in

Bear in mind, after your sleep deprived night, you could be offered an 06:30 time, you could be offered a 16:00 tee-off. It's best to arrive prepared in case it's an early time or nothing!

If you are a group, even of two golfers, you are likely to be split up, and your times may not be close together.

It is possible to check with the Starter later in the day to see if times have become available - it can work - and be sure to turn up ready up to play. If someone fails to show for their slot you could get lucky. Don't dismiss it as an option if all else has failed.

Leaving a day free for trying for a walk up does not mean a day without golf. There will be other courses in, or close to, St Andrews with free spaces, that can be booked on the day or you could try for a walk up on the nearby New or Jubilee Courses.

If you look at the ballot results for the day you want to play this will give you an indication of the number of empty slots. But bear in mind not all times with empty spaces will take golfers. Or, conversely, you may find there are more gaps than the ballot results show.

Locals or local club members may be playing in a tie or a club competition and won't want to add other golfers to their tee-time. Golfers with pre-arranged times, for example through a Private Advance time, may chose not to accept additional golfers, while most do, it is not obligatory. All those with Open Ballot times of less than 4 golfers are allocated walk-up golfers.

We looked at spaces on the Open Ballot in 2019 – the last full Covid free year - as these are the only guaranteed spaces for walk-up golfers you can know in advance, and as you would expect, they varied. The minimum was 1 free space, the maximum was 28.

Dark times

A word about Dark Times. If you look at the daily ballot sheet for the Old Course it frequently ends with several times marked DK. Their full title is Local Priority Dark Time and they are held for local ticket holders.

Dark times that are not booked by 09:00 on the day of play may be offered to walk-up golfers. Please note there is a reason these are called dark times, it's because you may not get a full round in in daylight but you still pay the full green fee. There is no special twilight rate on the St Andrews Old Course. The more overcast the day, the earlier in the round the light conditions may become challenging.

Finally, always remember to check the busy dates on the Old Course before planning what days you're going to be in St Andrews to try and play.

Further information:

Published: 20 May 2022