St Andrews Old Course Ballot : how to boost your chances of success

THE OLD COURSE BALLOT – AN IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF DEMAND, SUPPLY & SUCCESS RATES

By Chris Toll, Ginger Beer Golf Travel

DESPITE CAREFUL PLANNING YOU HAVE FAILED TO SECURE YOUR GUARANTEED OLD COURSE TEE TIME – ‘DISAPPOINTED’ BARELY COVERS IT. YOU HAVE HEARD OF THE ST ANDREWS OLD COURSE BALLOT. THE PROCESS SEEMS SIMPLE BUT YOU HAVE QUESTIONS …
– What are my chances in the ballot?
– How can I improve the odds?

A successful St Andrews Old Course Ballot - Ginger Beer Golf client

The Old Course Ballot – an overview

The Old Course ballot offers visiting golfers a fair and democratic chance of securing an Old Course tee time at the regular green fee rate.

This option of applying for a tee time 48 hours prior to the day you wish to play is very popular and over the years I have helped many of my clients plan their golf trip around the St Andrews Old Course ballot system.

The ballot approach is ideal both as a ‘Plan B’ for groups who are unlucky in their private advance guaranteed tee time application and also for those who are happy to design their trip around the other first-rate courses in the St Andrews area (many of which are ‘ballot friendly’ i.e. prepared to move around tee times to accommodate success in the Old Course ballot, subject to availability). Each group takes their chance in the daily ballot to secure their Old Course tee time – with the added advantage, if successful, of paying just the regular green fee.

Check out my recommendations for a ‘Ballot Friendly’ golf trip

The ballot is also called the daily lottery. And it’s called a lottery for good reason. Not everyone can get a time, so you just have to submit your application and cross your fingers that your name will get drawn out.

Given the uncertainty of success, my clients are interested in knowing not only the chances of success, but also my tips for improving the odds of success.

So, over the course of the last 12 months I have analysed over 2000 ‘open ballot’ tee times. Open ballot tee times are those available for visitor applications, as opposed to local ballot tee times which are reserved for local residents and club members.

In what I believe to be a truly unique offering, I am delighted to provide historic ballot results data for the last year, along with my analysis which will go some way to answering the most common questions I’m asked:

  • – What are the chances of getting a time in the St Andrews Old Course Ballot?
  • – What is the best month to come?
  • – What is the best day of the week to try to get a ballot time?
  • – Should I apply as a 2, 3 or 4 ball?

Note: Singles can’t apply for a time in the ballot. If you are a single golfer and want some advice on getting on the Old Course then read my in depth report and analysis:

Playing the Old Course as a Single Golfer : Your Chances of Play
Availability of Tee Times – a unique analysis of the data

Single golfers

I can help you find an Old Course Ballot Partner

New for 2019 !!

Use my BallotBuddy service to find a date match with a second golfer

Improve your chance to play

It’s free and easy to use

Disclaimer:

Of course, historic results should not be used as a definitive predictor for future performance. But, as the ballot demonstrates similar patterns each year, they may be helpful at the very least to identify some of the trends which may improve the probability of getting a time in the ballot.

I am exceedingly grateful to St Andrews Links Trust for providing the 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.

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.

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If you are looking to plan your next golf vacation to Scotland right now, and prefer the certainty of your St Andrews Old Course tee time guaranteed, then get in touch to discuss itineraries and to request my assistance.

Scope of my analysis

  • – I have restricted my analysis to the latest data for the seven most popular months of the year April to October when demand for ballot times is at its highest. That’s 214 days covering the St Andrews Links Trust High Season from mid-April to mid-October and the Shoulder Season at the start of April and end of October.
  • – I have excluded Low Season months November to March when demand for ballot tee times are generally matched with good supply.
  • – I looked at the ballot draw sheet every day one was available during those 214 days.

Here’s what I found:
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Results and analysis

Old Course ballot success rate

# of available tee times
  • There was a total of 214 days in the period (Sep & Oct 2017 + April to August 2018).
    On 67 of these 214 days the Old Course was not available to visitors eg Sundays, tournaments (eg Senior Open Championship, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship), local club competitions (eg R&A Autumn meeting).
  • Which leaves 147 days when ballot times were available, or 68.7% of the time.
  • On those 147 days there were a total of 8,847 tee times.
  • Of those 8,847 times, there were 2174 open (i.e. visitor) ballot times, or 24.6% – around 1 time in 4.
  • On average, that works out at around 60 tee times a day, of which 15 were open ballot times.

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# successful ballot tee time applications
  • 2468 successful ballot card applications filled those 2174 times (one tee time could be filled by 2 x 2 ball applications)
  • There were 8839 unsuccessful cards
  • 11307 ballot cards in total were submitted
  • So, 2468 cards out of 11307 gives a success rate of around 22% or 1 card in 4.6

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St Andrews Old Course tee times: 4 ways to guarantee success
# successful cards – daily average
  • Based on 147 days when ballot times were available, on average each day there were around:
  • 15 open ballot times
  • 17 successful cards
  • 60 unsuccessful cards
  • 77 ballot cards in total submitted

Although this gives you a sense for the numbers, in reality, very few days are ‘average’ days, so we need to look at the variation in success rates over the whole period.
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Most and least successful days
  • April 3rd and April 17th 2018 both gave a 100% ballot success rate. All cards submitted were successful. Indeed the 10 most successful days were in April, with a success rates at 70% or more.
  • In contrast, 20th July and 15th August 2018 were the least successful days where there was only a 6% rate.

With such a wide success rate range of 6 to 100%, we need to look a little deeper at the figures.

Ballot success is a simply down to the relationship between demand for and supply of tee times. Let’s look at these 4 days:

Date # tee times available # ballot cards submitted # successful cards Success rate
April 3rd 2018 10 12 12 100%
April 17th 2018 14 16 16 100%
July 20th 2018 11 189 12 6%
August 15th 2018 8 138 8 6%

There is a similar supply of ballot tee times on each of the four days but it’s the extremes of demand as shown by the # ballot cards submitted which explain the huge disparity in success rates. Simply put, July and August are the peak of the high season which is the most popular time with golfing visitors, when demand is at its highest.
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The effect of tournament golf

Plus, unique to 2018, the Open Championship at nearby Carnoustie was held in the w/c 15th July, with the Senior Open Championship on the Old Course the following week. This meant a surge in guests coming to the area to combine playing some golf with watching the pros in tournament action, coupled with a week (w/c 22nd July) when the Old Course was closed to visitors.

So, in the few days prior to the course being closed for the Senior Open we see a spike in demand for an Old Course ballot time. Indeed the 4 day stretch prior to the 22nd July accounted for the 4 most heavily demanded days throughout the whole 7 month period:

Date # ballot cards submitted
July 18th 2018 164
July 19th 196
July 20th 189
July 21st 180
Daily average for the period (7 months) 77

This perfect storm of a surge in demand coupled with a choke-off in supply the following week is quite unusual. But, do be aware that when the Open comes to St Andrews (every 5 years or so) the course closes for several weeks prior to the event for preparations, so if you are thinking of visiting St Andrews to play the Old Course there are fewer high season weeks available for visitor play via the ballot, which should lean you towards trying to secure a guaranteed tee time way in advance instead – either a Private Advance Tee Time from St Andrews Links Trust, or a commercial time from an Authorised Provider.
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If you are looking to plan your next golf vacation to Scotland right now, and prefer the certainty of your St Andrews Old Course tee time guaranteed, then get in touch to discuss itineraries and to request my assistance.

Old Course ballot success rate by month

I’ve touched on July and August being the peak of the golfing season, when demand for Old Course play is at its highest, negatively affecting ballot success rates. But, an analysis of the data on a month by month basis across the whole shoulder and high season period offers up some interesting comparisons.

Daily Averages
by Month
Apr
2018
May
2018
Jun
2018
Jul
2018
Aug
2018
Sep
2017
Oct
2017
Period
Average
# Ballot days 25 22 22 20 25 15 18 21
# Times 56.4 70.5 73.0 71.8 63.6 46.5 31.0 60.2
# Open ballot times 14.6 16.1 18.1 18.0 14.0 12.5 8.8 14.8
# Successful ballot cards 17.0 18.3 20.4 20.5 15.5 14.2 10.1 16.8
# Unsuccessful ballot cards 12.5 57.1 61.5 83.0 103.4 74.1 31.1 60.1
Total # ballot cards 29.5 75.4 81.9 103.5 118.9 88.3 41.2 76.9
Success rate 57.5% 24.3% 24.9% 19.8% 13.0% 16.1% 24.5% 22.0%
1 card in ? 1.7 4.1 4.0 5.0 7.7 6.2 4.1 4.6

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Observations
# Ballot days

Obviously a major factor in deciding when to visit St Andrews to try for a ballot time is the number of available days. September was the worst month for ballot-available days – just 15 for the whole month. This is due to the R&A who had their Autumn Meeting in September which made the Old Course unavailable on 11 days for visitors hoping to get a ballot time.

TIP: This is a regular occurrence and unlikely to change in the near future so if you wish to come in September, look to visit when there is the greatest availability of ballot times. Typically, this is the first week of September, before the R&A events start in the second week, but always check the list of busy dates provided by the St Andrews Links Trust which shows when there are no or restricted ballot times.

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# Open ballot times

The next consideration is how many ballot tee times are there on those days when the ballot is available. October stands out as being particularly poor relative to other months. The average total number of times starts to drop off in September with a big drop in October. This is mainly due to the days getting shorter, exacerbated by the clocks moving back one hour in the middle of the month. Indeed, by the end of the month there were just 24 tee times in total for the day, with the last tee time around midday. As you can imagine, you are taking a chance on the weather if you plan on visiting in October, especially towards the end of the month.
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# Successful ballot cards

There is a direct relationship between the # successful ballot cards and # ballot times. On average each day there are just over 10% more successful cards than times. This is because some 2 ball applicants are joined together on the same tee time.

Whilst October is a relatively poor month for available times and successful cards, it’s clear that the first half of the season, April through July, offers the highest number of successful ballot cards – between 17 and 20 on average per day and up to twice as many as October.
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# Unsuccessful ballot cards

Up to now we have looked at the supply side of the equation – how many times are available each day. By now looking at demand – how many other people are applying for a ballot tee time – we can get a much clear picture of what is contributing to the success rate.

Although the first 4 months of the season have a similar daily inventory of ballot tee times, your chances of success vary wildly, and this is down to demand.

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% Success rate

May and June show a broadly similar success rate at around 1 card in 4, and this is similar to the average rate for the whole period. But July has just a 1 card in 5 success rate and this is largely because the daily average number of applicants is greater (104 v 82 for June) for a similar amount of available times.

Based on these results you could argue that May and June offer the optimum time to travel to St Andrews and score a ballot tee time. Optimum time because you are into the golfing high season months when you can expect longer days and settled weather, and your chances of success are better than the other most popular months of July, August and September.

TIP: But, if you like the idea of a June vacation, it’s best to avoid the one week late in the month that the University of St Andrews holds in Graduation ceremonies. During this week the town is understandably inundated with students and their proud parents. There are not enough bed and dining spaces to go around so accommodation is either sold out or priced at a huge premium, and restaurants are often fully-booked or offer dining in shifts, at unpopular times with set ‘Graduation’ menus. Just look on the University of St Andrews website for graduation dates at the end of June and avoid this week.

However, if you are prepared to stay out of St Andrews then the graduation week is actually a good time to visit. Because some golfers tend to stay away during this week demand for a ballot time can be lower. Indeed, in 2018 the data shows that with fewer golfers in town competing for a ballot time the average success rate during the week of graduation (Monday 25 to Saturday 30 June 2018) was 30%, compared with 25% for the month as a whole.

But, based purely on the success rate data, it’s clear that April is actually the best month to visit St Andrews in order to score a ballot time. With a better than 50:50 chance of success you could rightly feel optimistic of making multiple ballot applications over several days and being successful on at least one occasion. The main reason that your chances are so much better this month than others is because there is a lot less demand. Simply put, April can conjure up beautiful spring conditions, but it can just as easily throw up some wintery weather. You need to be prepared to alter your itinerary on the hoof if and when weather conditions dictate. But if you are a hardy golfer, used to golfing in less-than perfect conditions, then April is a great time to visit in order to score that Old Course tee time.
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TIP: Old Course green fees increase mid-April as we move from Shoulder (£125 from 1st to 14th April 2019) to High Season (£190 from 15th April to 13th October). Yes, the green fee goes up by 50%, but everything else being equal weather conditions should be better towards the end of the month rather than at the beginning. You might think that as weather conditions improve so there should be a greater demand for Old Course ballot times in the second half of the month. But this is not borne out by the data. There is clear demand surge in the days just prior to the price increase, and the last couple of days in the month also show an increase, but there is actually a sweet spot in the middle of the month just after the price increase when demand is flat, supply is good making an excellent success rate. Indeed, on April 17th 2018 every single one of the 16 cards submitted were successful in getting an Old Course tee time in the ballot.
TIP: If you are considering a last-minute trip to St Andrews and are travelling from within the UK or nearby continental Europe, April could be the month to target a visit. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if the near outlook is favourable make your decision to travel. Remember, the ballot is drawn 48 hours in advance so if you are successful with your ballot application you have time to make travel plans, especially if you are driving. Alternatively, you can purchase very cheap flights way in advance and move the flight dates or just let them lapse if the weather doesn’t look favourable. Hotels are less busy in April than the most popular Summer months, so you shouldn’t have a problem with availability.

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Old Course ballot success rate by day of the week

We have looked at the supply and demand variables which determine the success rate and shown how the average success rate varies month by month. Let’s look into the data in a bit more detail to see to what extent the day of the week affects the ballot success rate.

Daily Averages
by Day of Week
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Period
Average
# Ballot days 25 26 25 24 26 21 25
Total # times 60.5 59.5 60.8 60.2 62.0 57.7 60.2
# Open ballot times 13.0 12.8 12.2 16.9 12.3 23.0 14.8
# Successful ballot cards 15.0 14.5 13.7 19.4 13.8 26.1 16.8
# Unsuccessful ballot cards 50.8 52.6 69.3 64.9 68.9 53.4 60.1
Total # ballot cards 65.7 67.2 83.0 84.3 82.8 79.5 76.9
Success rate 22.8% 21.6% 16.5% 23.0% 16.7% 32.8% 22.0%
1 card in ? 4.4 4.6 6.0 4.3 6.0 3.0 4.6

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Observations
# Ballot days

Over the period, there are fewer ballot days on Saturdays (21) than the other days of the week (c 25). This is due mainly to local golf clubs who are given priority access to the Old Course on Saturdays for their seasonal club competitions.
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# Open ballot times

By far the most open ballot times are available on Saturdays, with an average of 23 times. Next comes Thursdays with an average of 17 times. The other days have consistently fewer times – between 12 and 13. Unlike other days, on Saturdays and Thursdays every alternate time after 12 noon is an open ballot time. There are no advance tee times on Saturdays which explains why there are more ballot times on Saturdays than Thursdays.
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Total # ballot cards

Mondays and Tuesdays show lower average demand for ballot times than other days of the week.

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% Success rate

Owing to increased demand for a ballot time later in the week, both Wednesday and Friday offer a worse than average success rate of just 17%. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays all give average success rates around 22%, which also equates to the average for the whole 7 month period. Although providing a similar success rate, Thursdays on average have a higher demand for and supply of ballot tee times. But the standout stat is the 33% or 1 in 3 success rate for Saturdays, much better than any other day of the week, owing to the relative abundance of tee times.

TIP: If your time is limited and you are only able to spend a few days in St Andrews, if your objective is to score a ballot time then, all else being equal, you are more likely to succeed by applying to play at the end of the week – Thursday through Saturday – than the start – Monday through Wednesday. But, make sure you check busy dates first to avoid days when ballot times are unavailable or restricted.

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Old Course ballot success rate by size of group

It’s understandable to want to exploit every potential opportunity to tip the odds of ballot success in your favour. That’s why I am often asked whether it’s best to apply as a 2 ball, 3 ball or 4 ball. Here is some data to shed some light:

# 2 ball cards # 3 ball cards # 4 ball cards total # cards
Total # successful cards 952 449 1067 2468
Daily Average (147 days) 6.5 3 7.3 16.8
Percentage 38.6% 18.2% 43.2% 100%

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Observations

Firstly, a reminder that single players are NOT able to apply for a ballot time. For these golfers I am pleased to offer a free date match service – BallotBuddy – to help you find an Old Course ballot partner. If you find a date match then you and the second golfer will be eligible to enter the ballot.

If you are a single golfer and wish to understand your options and your chances of getting on to the Old Course then read my in depth report and analysis of the data:

Playing the Old Course as a Single Golfer : Your Chances of Play
Availability of Tee Times – a unique analysis of the data

St Andrews Links Trust do not operate a totally random policy when it comes to deciding which applications are successful. Each day they will select cards at random within a framework of creating an equitable spread of successful 2, 3 and 4 ball applications. This is to ensure that there are always some slots available for single golfers each day. So, for example, a 2 ball may be drawn for a tee time, with the other 2 slots left open for single golfers. The next time a 2 ball is drawn, another 2 ball may be drawn too to fill up the other 2 slots on the same tee time. Likewise, they may try to allocate a fair proportion of 3 balls so that there is a slot remaining for a single player on the tee time. Of course, such a policy is dependent upon there being a suitable number of card applicants in each group category.

The data shows that applying as a 4 ball offers a slightly higher level of success than applying as a 2 ball. By which I mean there was a slightly higher number of successful cards from 4 ball applicants than 2 balls.

Both 2 and 4 balls offer significantly higher numbers of successful cards than 3 balls.

However, without knowing the breakdown of demand by 2, 3 or 4 balls it is not possible to calculate success rates by group size and therefore make meaningful comparisons. Indeed, a note of caution should be applied here: just because there were fewer successful 3 ball cards than 2 and 4 ball cards does not necessarily mean that the 3 ball chances of success were lower. Generally speaking, 3 ball groups are less popular than 2’s and 4’s. If this extends to fewer 3 ball ballot card applications than 2’s and 4’s then success rates could be a lot closer to parity across all group sizes.

As I’ve said before, Old Course ballot success rate is simply the relationship between the supply of ballot tee times and demand for them on any given day. This chart shows results on the supply side, but without knowing the equivalent breakdown of demand we cannot calculate a success rate by group size.
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TIP: Suffice to say that based on the data available, if your group was a 4 ball, there is no clear evidence to recommend splitting it into 2 x 2 ball applications. There are slightly more 4 ball tee times available than 2 balls but as we do not know the demand at group size level we can’t calculate the comparative success rate for 4 and 2 balls. So be wary of splitting your group of 4 into 2 groups of 2. You create a planning headache if one group is successful and one is not and you have to make separate golf and transportation arrangements for each of the two pairs.

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.

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