St Andrews Old Course ballot success rates for 2023

The results are in!

First published: November 3rd, 2023
Last Updated: March 12, 2024

My analysis of daily St Andrews Old Course ballot results from April to october 2023, and my prediction for THE 2024 SEASON.

By Chris Toll, Ginger Beer Golf Travel

As golfers continue to return in their numbers to play St Andrews Old Course, I look at ballot success rates in 2023, with the effects of Covid firmly behind us.

Covid wiped out a lot of golf tourism in 2020 and 2021, especially for those destinations that normally welcome a high number of visitors from overseas. Those visitors, deprived of travel for two years, returned in their numbers in 2022. Plus, fewer tee times were available as the Old Course was closed to all golf visitors from 18th June to 18th July to prepare for the Open Championship. You could say 2022 was the perfect storm: visitors returning to St Andrews in their numbers, competing for fewer ballot times. So it comes as no surprise the success rate in the Old Course ballot for visitors almost halved from 20.15% in 2019 to just 10.71% in 2022.

So how has 2023 fared? Has the pent-up appetite for golf created by Covid subsided with demand returning to ‘normal’ levels? Has the success rate jumped back up? The results are in, so read on for the full story…

The analysis

  • I’ve looked at St Andrews Old Course ballot data for each day there was a ballot from April 1st to October 31st 2023.
  • I’ve analysed how many ballot times were available – both ‘open’ (visitor) and ‘local’ (local ticket holders), how many ballot applications were successful and, using the number of unsuccessful applicants (or ‘overcards’), calculated the success rate.
  • Then I’ve produced the results as a daily averages, so as to compare with other periods in the past.
  • Finally, I’ve compared the results with my predictions for 2023.

Did my prediction that the daily average open ballot success rate was unlikely to rise much above 10% play out, despite the effects of Covid being in the past?

Yes it did!

Read on to see how …

Disclaimer:

Copyright:
This content is the copyright material of Ginger Beer Golf Travel and permission is not granted to copy it or otherwise make use of it in any way.

– I am exceedingly grateful to St Andrews Links Trust for providing the overcard data (even though it no longer distinguishes between open and local ballot data) which has enabled me to provide analysis on the results.
Even though the daily ballot draw is publicly available, it must be stressed that these are neither ‘official’ statistics nor approved by St Andrews Links Trust as the analysis is based purely on my own interpretation of the draw data.

To the results then ….

Success rate

Chart - Daily Av % success rate - open and local combined
  • The daily average ballot success rate between April 1st and 31st October 2023 was 16.91%compared with 16.23% over the same period in 2022.
  • But both 2023 and 2022 were just a little over half as successful as 2019 (28.2%).
  • 2019 was the last ‘normal’ year that was completely unaffected by Covid, so a valid year for comparison.
  • St Andrews Links Trust no longer releases separate figures for open and local ballot overcards each day. So we do not have the success data for separate ballots in 2022. Success rate therefore is for open and local ballots combined.
Chart - Daily Av % success rate by ballot type
  • However, we do have previous years’ overcard data which shows that in both 2018 and 2019 around 91% of overcards (i.e. failed ballot cards) were in the open ballot and only 9% were in the local one. Using this same ratio and applying it to 2023 data yields an estimated open ballot success rate of 11.78% and a local success rate of 47.69%, generating the combined success rate of 16.91%.
  • A slightly better open success rate than 2022 then (11.78% v 10.71%), but both 2023 and 2022 were only a little over half as successful as 2019 (20.15%).

Open ballot success rates are quite similar, so did the same underlying conditions apply in 2023 as in 2022?

The chance of success is simply governed by the relationship between the supply of ballot tee times and the demand for them on any given day. So let’s examine them separately …

Supply of ballot tee times

Chart - Daily Av of ballot times
  • On average, on days when the ballot operated, 2 1/2 more ballot times per day were available in 2023 compared with 2022 (24.7 v 22.2). A 11% increase in supply.
  • Number of open ballot times has increased by 16% (14.2 v 12.2), equating to 2 more tee times per day , or around 581 during the course of the year.
  • Number of local ballot times has also slightly increased by, on average, 1/2 time per day (10.5 v 10.0).

This overall increase in ballot times may perhaps be explained by no longer requiring capacity in 2023 to accommodate the final few groups whose tee times had to be rearranged from earlier years owing to Covid.

But this increase in the daily average number of ballot times does not on its own explain the small increase in success rates.

So let us look at the TOTAL number of ballot tee times …

Chart - Daily Av of ballot times
  • The ballot was available on 23 more days in 2023 compared with 2022 (149 v 126). An increase of 18% and nearly back to pre-Covid levels (154 in 2019). This dip in 2022 is explained by The Open Championship in July 2022 when the Old Course was closed for approximately one month in preparation for and during the staging of the tournament.

So, in terms of total ballot times …

Chart - total # of ballot times
  • 886 more ballot times in 2023 compared with 2022 (3,682 v 2,796). An increase of over 30%.
  • That’s 581 more open ballot times (2,116 v 1,535) and 305 more local ballot times (1,566 v 1,261).
  • So, since we have seen above that around 298 open ballot times were gained during the year owing to 2 more times on average each day for 149 days, the remainder, around 283 (581-298), have been gained owing to the ballot being available for more days.

In summary then: 581 more open ballot times in 2023 v 2022, with around 283 being gained by additional ballot days, and around 298 to more open ballot times on ballot days.

But, whilst 2,116 represents a big increase in the number of open ballot times compared with 2022, it is still not quite back up to the supply in 2019, the most recent normal pre-Covid year, with 2,319.

Everything equal then, with 23 more days available to ballot and 2 more times each day, we may expect many more successful ballot cards and therefore a significant increase in success rates.

But, we have seen that the open ballot success rate has only increased from 10.71% to 11.78%. Nowhere near the 2019 success rate of 20.15%, despite the supply of tee times almost back to 2019 levels.

So we must look at the demand side of the equation to better understand this …

Demand for ballot tee times

Chart - Av # of ballot cards open and local
  • The demand for ballot times can be quantified by the number of ballot applications made; i.e. the total number of ballot cards submitted.
  • On average, each day around 11 (168.4 v 157.3) or 7% more cards were submitted in 2023 v 2022, of which just 3 were successful and around 8 were not. Compared with the same period in 2019 (103.8), around 65 or 62% more cards were submitted in 2023, largely responsible for twice as many unsuccessful applications in 2023 compared with 2019 (140.0 average per day v 74.5).
  • Note too, there were 3 (around 12%) more successful cards in 2023 compared with 2022 (28.5 average per day v 25.5), broadly in line 2.5 (around 11%) more ballot times being available (24.7 average per day v 22.2 – see earlier chart).

Let’s now look specifically at open ballot cards, having used our earlier 91% : 9% ratio of open to local ballot overcards as a basis for estimation …

Chart - Daily Av # open ballot cards
  • On average, each day there were 2.6 more successful open ballot cards (17.0 v 14.4). This is to be expected, given we already know that there were around 2 more open ballot tee times.
  • But, overall, there have been an estimated 10.1 (144.4 v 134.3) or 7.5% more applications daily, leading to an estimated 7.5 or 6.3% increase in daily unsuccessful applications in 2023 compared with 2022 (127.4 average per day v 119.9).
  • So whilst the number of open ballot times has increased by 16% (14.2 v 12.2), leading to an 18% increase in the number of successful cards (17.0 v 14.4), the overall success rate has only improved from 10.71% to 11.78% owing to an underlying 7.5% rise in demand (144.4 v 134.3 total open ballot cards).
  • Also, it is worth noting that whilst the daily average number of open ballot times available is creeping back nearly to 2019 levels (14.2 v 15.1), the 68% increase in the total number of open ballot cards (144.4 v 85.8) over the period has seen the success rate drop from 20.15% in 2019 to 11.78% in 2023.

To summarise, perhaps it’s good to look at actual results below compared with my prediction for 2023 at the end of 2022:

Actual results compared with my prediction for 2023

  • The Walker Cup is being held on the Old Course at the end of August and the start of September so that’s a few additional days when the ballot won’t be available. On the plus side however, there is no Open Championship in 2023, so the overall supply of ballot days should return to near 2019 levels – I calculate around 148 days (154 in 2019). Yes – actual ballot days in 2023 = 149
  • Furthermore, the number of ballot times each day should also return to 2019 levels as there should now be no significant requirement to re-allocate ballot times to rescheduled Covid-affected bookings. Yes – actual average daily number of open ballot times in 2023 = 14.2 v 15.1 in 2019. Just 12.2 in 2022
  • However, does this mean that the open ballot success rate will jump back up to 20%? My sense is that the answer is no. I feel there is still a huge residual, untapped demand to play golf after the imposed lay-off during the Covid years. Yes – open ballot applications continue to increase, with 144.4 on average each day v 134.3 in 2022 The demand for an Old Course tee time is stronger than ever, with clients booking for 2024 12 to 18 months in advance. Indeed, the number of daily ballot failures (as measured by the total number of overcards) is already trending higher now (start April 2023) than this time in 2022! Yes – this trend continued throughout the year, with 127.4 unsuccessful open ballot cards on average each day in 2023 v 119.9 in 2022
  • My prediction for 2023 is that the positive effect of a rise in the number of ballot times will be neutralised by the continued increase in demand, so that the daily average open ballot success rate is unlikely to rise much above 10%. Yes – actual 2023 daily average success rate only rose to 11.78% v 10.71% in 2022

Prediction for 2024

  • Looking at the current SALT Busy Dates calendar which identifies days when no ballot is available (including 17th to 26th August 2024 inclusive when the AIG Women’s British Open is held on the Old Course), I estimate a total of 144 days when the ballot should be available between 1st April and October 2024 inclusive. So a small but relatively insignificant decrease on 2023 (144 v 149).
  • In itself, I don’t expect this relatively small decrease in the number of ballot days to have a significant effect on reducing success rates.
  • However, I do not see any reduction in demand for an open ballot tee time over the next year. Indeed, my sense is for demand to continue increasing.
  • This is borne out of feedback from my clients, most of whom have reported failure in their PATT (Private Advance Tee Time) application for a 2024 Old Course time. My sense is of a low PATT success rate owing to huge demand, leading PATT failures to plan on making the trip anyway and relying on the ballot to get a tee time on the Old Course.
  • Additionally, with prices for premium commercial Old Course tee time packages continuing to rise (on the back of sustained demand), those golfers who previously may have been able to afford a package are now perhaps having to revert to cheaper alternatives such as PATT and ballot.
  • One caveat to my belief in this continued growth in the demand for tee times is that at some stage there may be a tipping point where the perceived odds of ballot success are no longer high enough to justify the costs of making the trip to St Andrews, bearing in mind the majority of open ballot groups are from overseas (which we can tell from the names of the golf clubs listed on the daily ballot draw sheet).
  • As things stand, with an average daily success rate of 11.78% in 2023, I calculate you would need to ballot six times in order to have a greater than 50% probability of success on at least one day (based on the binomial distribution). My experience is that as the cost of lodging, food and beverages continues to rise at pace (St Andrews is reported to have the highest average rooms rates in the whole of Scotland), golfers (especially from overseas) will find it difficult to justify an expensive trip of a week or more when their main reason for coming – playing the Old Course – is no more than a 50:50 shot. At some point the numbers may just start not to stack up.
  • Till then though it’s business as usual and an insatiable demand for a ballot time on the Old Course! And unless there is a significant increase in the number of ballot times available to meet this demand, then success rates are likely to fall back once again.

Some suggestions going forward

If these trends continue, what do they mean if you’re a golf tourist visiting St Andrews on a ballot-based trip in 2024, or a Golf Tour Operator with such clients?

  • You should consider extending your stay and incorporating more ballot attempts into your itinerary to improve your chances of success. You could now view a stay of 7 nights with at least 6 ballot attempts a bare minimum in order to have at least one success in the ballot.
    (Calculation: using the binomial distribution, based on a 11.78% daily average success rate, 6 ballot applications should yield a 52.86% probability of at least one success (>50% means more probable of at least one success than not).
  • Expanding on this, 8 days of ballot attempts should give you a 63% chance of one success at least; 10 days increases your odds to 71%.
  • So, maybe consider a two-location trip based on St Andrews and one other within easy distance of St Andrews so you can return to play if you get lucky in the ballot. Angus (for Carnoustie, Panmure and Monifieth), Aberdeen (for Royal Aberdeen, Trump International, Murcar and Cruden Bay), North Berwick (for West Links, Gullane, Muirfield) and Gleneagles (PGA Centenary, Kings, Queens) spring to mind.
  • You should expect more failed ballot days and prepare accordingly. For example, leave ballot days free in your itinerary then take advantage of resources to provide quality alternative golf options in case of ballot failure. For example, this extensive Last Minute Tee Times service provided by Ginger Beer Golf Travel covers availability for all the best alternative courses in the St Andrews area when the ballot results come out.
  • Be methodical in your approach to deciding when the best time will be to visit St Andrews for ballot success. Look at my analysis of ballot results for 2018 and 2019 and my useful guide to St Andrews trip planning which looks at success rates as well as other factors too such as weather and cost.
  • If the idea of planning a ballot-based trip to St Andrews is unattractive, given the likely low odds of success, then you should consider the other routes open to you to secure a guaranteed tee time. There still may be the odd guaranteed Old Course tee time package available for 2024. Also, consider planning your trip earlier – I can help you NOW to secure a tee time package for the month of your choice in 2025. Contact me for help in your quest.
  • A final thought for single golfers who can’t enter the ballot – through my popular Ballot Buddy service I can hook you up with another single so you can enter the ballot together and, if successful, avoid the Daily Singles Draw (the final option for singles and ballot failures, available 1 day ahead of play). I got 75 single golfers out on the Old Course via the ballot in 2023!

Lastly, don’t lose sight that whilst the ballot is a lottery, it’s free and without commitment to enter and produces winners every day who go on to enjoy a round on the famous Old Course at the cheapest possible green fee rate in 2024 (£320 high season).
It’s still the best ticket in golf, and you have to be in it to win it!

As always, I welcome all comments and questions.

This content is the copyright material of Ginger Beer Golf Travel and permission is not granted to copy it or otherwise make use of it in any way.

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