If you've ever put a tee in the ground, you've no doubt thought about what it would be like to play a round in the birthplace of golf: St. Andrews, Scotland.
A common misconception of the famed Old Course at St. Andrews is that it's an exclusive, private club like Augusta National. That couldn't be further from the truth.
While it's true that green fees at St. Andrews -- and all of Scotland -- have skyrocketed over the past 30 years, the Old Course is open to the public on most days. For a round, it costs about the same as your normal PGA Tour venue open to the public. Depending on the exchange rate, the 2014 green fee to play the Old Course is 160 pounds, which is about $260.
So how can I make a tee time on the Old Course at St. Andrews?
There are numerous ways to play the Old Course that vary in convenience and price.
The easiest option -- and most expensive -- is to book a golf package with a guaranteed tee time. These packages, which are a three-night minimum, are highly coveted assets, and the price to get one is steep. The Old Course Experience is the sole provider (but it does sell some of its inventory to other golf packagers). These packages start at around 2,000 pounds per person for three rounds/three nights in the summer.
The smarter way to get a guaranteed tee time at the posted green fee rate for that season is to write or email the St. Andrews Links Trust (www.StAndrews.org.uk). Each fall, the Trust holds an open period to accept group-booking requests. The more golfers you have in your group, the tougher it will be to accommodate everyone, but this is a surefire way for smaller groups that can commit to a date well in advance. Tour operators can help you submit these requests if you'd like to use one for your trip.
But you don't have to plan well in advance -- or shell out more money as part of a golf package -- if you're willing to gamble a little. The Old Course holds a tee-sheet ballot every day the course is open to the public, and golfers (minimum of two) can enter the drawing, which is announced two days prior to play (so Wednesday tee times are announced Monday afternoon). Now, if you have a group of more than four, be prepared to split up or risk some of you not getting a time. You can enter the ballot at the Links Trust website. Results are posted at 4:30 p.m. every day.
So if you stay three or four days in St. Andrews, plan on entering the lottery for every day you are there, but book some "safety" tee times at nearby courses. These clubs know about the Old's ballot policy, and just about all of them are happy to give you a rain check should you earn a ballot spot the day you're supposed to play their course (just mention your plans to do so when booking with the course). Many clubs now offer online tee times as well so you can make last-minute arrangements.
The last option, if all else fails or if you're a single, is to walk on. You'll want to head to the starter's shed at the crack of dawn and give your name to the starter, who will put you on the list and pair you with any incomplete groups. Keep your fingers crossed for no-shows. Golf Channel's Will Gray successfully attempted this method and wrote a detailed column on the experience, along with additional details about the wait list.
The Unlimited Golf ticket at St. Andrews
This is a game changer for St. Andrews golfers. Recently, the Links Trust began selling an "unlimited golf" ticket for three (£200) and seven (£400) days. Good for each of the courses except the Old, you can set up tee times in advance for your morning round at any course and then have space-available replays in the afternoon. This is especially ideal for those willing to enter the Old Course Lottery during their stay in St. Andrews.
Video: Matt Ginella shares his tips on how to play the Old Course
A few other logistical notes about the Old Course at St. Andrews
You will need a handicap certificate to play the Old Course. So be sure to register for one with the USGA or your local club in advance of your trip. Maximum allowed handicaps are 24 for men and 36 for women.
The Old Course closes for golf and turns into a public park every Sunday with the exception of days it hosts a tournament like the Dunhill Links or Open Championship. So even if you don't have the money to play the course or couldn't score a tee time in the ballot, you can still walk the entire golf course. Heck, bring a Frisbee, a picnic or a dog along.
The golf course is open year-round (weather permitting), but golf in the winter months requires the use of mats in the fairways in order to protect the turf.
While the Old Course Hotel comes into play on the famous Road Hole, it's not the "official" hotel of the Old Course and its access to tee times isn't much better than any other hotel in town. When Herb Kohler bought the hotel, he also bought the Duke's Course about a mile outside of town. It's a scenic and challenging heathland course that offers wonderful views of the town skyline (not to mention golf carts).
Great golf throughout St. Andrews and Fife
It sounds sacrilegious to say it, but your group could play a week of golf around St. Andrews without playing the Old Course and it would still be arguably one of the best itineraries in Scotland. Seven miles east of town, the spectacular and modern Kingsbarns Golf Links is a top-10 course worldwide. There are five other courses in the town operated by the Links Trust besides the Old Course, the best being the New Course and Jubilee Course, both true links playing on the same soil as the Old.
Other more classic links include Crail's Balcomie Links, located to the east. Modern courses lack the history but dazzle with views like the Fairmont St. Andrews Torrance Course and Kittocks Course. The Castle Course is one of the newest golf courses in Scotland and features the best vantage point of the town skyline to go with a rugged David McLay Kidd design atop bluffs.