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

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?
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, HERE ARE THE ANSWERS BASED ON REAL DATA NOT GUESSWORK

THE OLD COURSE BALLOT – RESULTS DATA

ANALYSIS OF DEMAND, SUPPLY & SUCCESS RATES IN 2019 and 2018

By Chris Toll, Ginger Beer Golf Travel

  Table of Contents  

The Old Course Ballot – an overview

The Old Course ballot offers visiting golfers a fair and democratic chance of securing a St Andrews 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 as a ‘plan B’ for groups who are unlucky in their private advance guaranteed tee time application or do not score a commercial advance guaranteed tee time from an Authorised Provider for budget or availability reasons.

The ballot route is also great for those who are happy to *design a super-flexible trip around playing Old Course and the other first-rate courses in the St Andrews area, many of which are ‘ballot friendly’ and prepared to move around pre-booked tee times to accommodate success in the Old Course ballot (subject to availability).

* My extensive St Andrews golf trip planning guide is essential reading for those of you looking to use the ballot system on your trip.

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.

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. If it doesn’t, don’t despair as there are other great courses in the St Andrews area which will offer you a great alternative golfing experience.

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 two years I have analysed over 4000 ‘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 2019 and 2018 (which show remarkable similarities), 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?

A special note for single golfers:

Or take a look at my unique BallotBuddy service …

Single golfers

I can help you find an Old Course Ballot Partner

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 you’ll see from the results below, the ballot demonstrates similar patterns each year, so 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.


Results and analysis for 2019 and 2018

Scope of my analysis

  • I have restricted my analysis to the latest data for the seven most popular months – 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:

Old Course ballot success rate

# Available tee times
  • There was a total of 214 days in the period (April to October 2019 incl).
  • In 2019, on 60 of these 214 days the Old Course was not available to visitors eg Sundays, tournaments (eg Alfred Dunhill Links Championship), local club competitions (eg R&A Autumn meeting).
  • Which leaves 154 days when ballot times were available, or 72.0% of the time.
  • On those 154 days there were a total of 9,642 tee times.
  • Of those 9,642 times, there were 2,319 open (i.e. visitor) ballot times, or 24.1% – almost 1 time in 4.
  • On average, that works out at around 63 tee times a day, of which around 15 were open ballot times.
  • 2018 follows an almost identical pattern for tee time breakdown. Of 8,893 times, there were 2,128 open (i.e. visitor) ballot times, or 23.8% – almost 1 time in 4
  • On average, that works out at just over 60 tee times a day, of which around 15 were open ballot times.
# Successful ballot tee time applications & % Success rate
  • In 2019, 2,662 successful ballot card applications filled those 2,319 times (one tee time could be filled by 2 x 2 ball applications – see ballot success analysis by group size below for further explanation)
  • There were 10,546 unsuccessful cards
  • 13,208 ballot cards in total were submitted
  • So, 2,662 cards out of 13,208 gives a success rate of around 20.2% or 1 card in 5
  • The success rate for 2018 is almost identical
  • 2,414 successful ballot card applications filled those 2,128 times
  • There were 8,908 unsuccessful cards out 11,322 ballot cards in total that were submitted
  • So, 2,414 cards out of 11,322 gives a success rate of around 21.3% or 1 card in 4.7
# Successful cards – daily average
  • Based on 154 days in 2019 when ballot times were available, on average each day there were around:
  • 15 open ballot times
  • 17 successful cards
  • 69 unsuccessful cards
  • 86 ballot cards in total submitted
  • In 2018, based on 145 days when ballot times were available, on average each day there were around:
  • 15 open ballot times
  • 17 successful cards
  • 61 unsuccessful cards
  • 78 ballot cards in total submitted

Simply put, although the same average number of cards were successful each day in 2019 as in 2018, there was a 10% increase in overall demand in 2019, which contributed to the slight drop overall in success rate from 21% in 2018 to 20.2% in 2019.

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 2nd and April 16th 2019 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 75% or more.
  • In contrast, October 2nd and 4th 2019 were the least successful days where there was only a 8% rate.

With such a wide success rate range of 8 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 2nd 2019 10 12 12 100%
April 16th 2019 13 8 8 100%
October 4th 2019 8 110 9 8.2%
October 2nd 2019 7 89 7 7.9%

There is a broadly 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. In 2019 there were around 10 times as many cards submitted on the least successful days compared with the most successful ones (89 & 110 v 8 & 12).

Why so? April is the start of the season and it’s not the most popular month to travel because you are taking more of a gamble on enjoying good weather. So demand for a ballot tee time is generally lighter than in other months which leads me to suggest that if scoring a ballot time on the Old Course is your prime motivation to travel then you should definitely consider an April vacation. More on this later.

The poor success stats for October 2019 are not so easily explained. You need to dive a little deeper to understand such unusually high figures for demand at the start of October. The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is held annually, usually in the first week in October. In 2019 it was moved to the last week in September. The R&A Golf Club typically have exclusive access to the Old Course in the middle two weeks of September each year. This means that there was a three week stretch in September when the Old Course was closed to visitors. So the spike in # ballot cards submitted in the first week in October represents pent-up demand to play.

Coming now to 2018:

  • 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, 15th August, October 18th and 20th July 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 5 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 6.3%
October 18th 2018 3 48 3 6.3%
August 15th 2018 8 138 8 5.8%

Apart for October 18th, there is a similar supply of ballot tee times on each of the other 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.

October 18th is the exception where the minimal supply accounts for the low success rate. Two local clubs had a batch of reserved tee times that day which, coupled with advance and local ballot times, reduced the number of available ballot times to 3. Diminishing daylight hours in October was also a contributing factor here. See month by month analysis below for further elaboration.

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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, and next in 2022) 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.

2019 Daily Averages
by Month
Apr
2019
May
2019
Jun
2019
Jul
2019
Aug
2019
Sep
2019
Oct
2019
Period
Average
# Ballot days 26 22 21 26 26 7 26 22
# Times 62.9 71.2 73.0 71.7 63.5 55.6 38.6 62.6
# Open ballot times 15.6 16.4 18.8 17.5 15.2 12.4 8.6 15.1
# Successful ballot cards 17.9 18.8 21.5 19.9 17.5 14.9 9.8 17.3
# Unsuccessful ballot cards 13.9 66.0 77.5 96.1 101.8 93.4 50.2 68.5
Total # ballot cards 31.8 84.8 99.0 116.0 119.3 108.3 60.0 85.8
Success rate 56.3% 22.1% 21.7% 17.2% 14.7% 13.7% 16.3% 20.2%
1 successful card in ? 1.8 4.5 4.6 5.8 6.8 7.3 6.1 5.0

2018 Daily Averages
by Month
Apr
2018
May
2018
Jun
2018
Jul
2018
Aug
2018
Sep
2018
Oct
2018
Period
Average
# Ballot days 25 22 22 20 25 13 18 21
# Times 56.4 70.5 73.0 71.8 63.6 51.2 36.9 61.5
# Open ballot times 14.6 16.1 18.1 18.0 14.0 12.4 7.7 14.7
# Successful ballot cards 17.0 18.3 20.4 20.5 15.5 13.5 9.2 16.6
# Unsuccessful ballot cards 12.5 57.1 61.5 83.0 103.4 84.8 35.4 61.4
Total # ballot cards 29.5 75.4 81.9 103.5 118.9 98.4 44.6 78.1
Success rate 57.5% 24.3% 24.9% 19.8% 13.0% 13.8% 20.5% 21.3%
1 successful card in ? 1.7 4.1 4.0 5.0 7.7 7.3 4.9 4.7

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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 7 for the whole month in 2019 and 13 in 2018. 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. Compounding this was the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship which in 2019 was held in the last week in September rather than the first week in October, rendering Old Course unavailable to visitors for a further 7 days.

TOP TIP: R&A Autumn Meeting 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.

# 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 number of daylight hours diminishing, exacerbated by the clocks moving back one hour in the middle of the month. Indeed, by the end of the month there were just 31 tee times in total for the day, with the last tee time around 13:00. 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.

# Successful ballot cards

There is a direct relationship between the # successful ballot cards and # ballot times. On average each day there are around 13-15% 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 18 and 21 on average per day in 2019, and around twice as many as October. 2018 follows a similar pattern.

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Total # 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 people are applying for a ballot tee time – we can get a much clear picture of what is contributing to the success rate. Demand = total # ballot cards = # successful ballot cards + # unsuccessful ballot cards.

Although the first 5 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. On average, August has four times as many ballot applications per day as April (119 v 32 in 2019; 119 v 30 in 2018).

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% Success rate

May and June 2019 show a broadly similar success rate at around 22% or 1 card in 4.5, and this is similar to the average rate for the whole period. But July 2019 has a success rate of just 17% or 1 card in 5.8 and this is largely because the daily average number of applicants is greater (116 for July v 99 for June) for a similar amount of available times. Then August 2019 has even more applicants than July for fewer available ballot times (because daylight hours are getting shorter) resulting in almost the worse success rate of any month – just 14.7%.

2018 follows a very similar monthly trend culminating in August posting the worst success rate of any month – just 13%.

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.

TOP 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 2019 the data shows that with fewer golfers in town competing for a ballot time the average success rate during the week of graduation (Monday 24th to Saturday 29th June 2019) was 30%, compared with 23% for the month as a whole. Similar results are seen for 2018.

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.

TOP TIP: Old Course green fees increase mid-April as we move from Shoulder to High Season. 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. However, there is actually a sweet spot in the middle of the month in the first week after the price increase when demand is flat and supply is good generating an excellent daily average success rate of 85%. Indeed, on Tuesday April 16th 2019 every single one of the 8 cards submitted was successful in getting an Old Course tee time in the ballot.

Remarkably, it’s an identical pattern in 2018 with a 77% daily average success rate that particular week. Indeed, on Tuesday April 17th 2018 every single one of the 16 cards submitted was successful in getting an Old Course tee time in the ballot!

TOP 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.

2019 Daily Averages by Day of Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Period Average
# Ballot days 26 27 27 26 26 22 25.6
Total # times 63.1 62.3 62.3 61.7 64.7 61.4 62.6
# Open ballot times 13.1 12.9 12.4 16.8 12.8 23.6 15.1
# Successful ballot cards 15.5 15.0 14.2 19.2 14.5 27.0 17.3
# Unsuccessful ballot cards 60.5 63.6 73.5 72.4 78.7 61.1 68.5
Total # ballot cards 75.9 78.6 87.7 91.6 93.2 88.1 85.8
Success rate 20.4% 19.1% 16.2% 21.0% 15.6% 30.6% 20.2%
1 successful card in ? 4.9 5.2 6.2 4.8 6.4 3.3 5.0

2018 Daily Averages by Day of Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Period Average
# Ballot days 25 26 26 24 24 20 24.2
Total # times 61.6 60.5 60.8 61.5 64.3 60.5 61.5
# Open ballot times 12.8 12.8 11.9 16.7 12.8 22.8 14.7
# Successful ballot cards 14.8 14.8 13.3 19.0 14.3 25.7 16.6
# Unsuccessful ballot cards 53.0 53.3 67.9 66.6 71.0 56.3 61.4
Total # ballot cards 67.8 68.1 81.2 85.6 85.4 82.0 78.1
Success rate 21.8% 21.7% 16.4% 22.2% 16.8% 31.3% 21.3%
1 successful card in ? 4.6 4.6 6.1 4.5 6.0 3.2 4.7
Observations
# Ballot days

In 2019, there are fewer ballot days on Saturdays (22) than the other days of the week (between 26 and 27). This is due mainly to local golf clubs who are given priority access to the Old Course on Saturdays for their seasonal club competitions. There’s similar pattern in 2018 – Saturdays (20) compared with other days (24-26).

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# Open ballot times & # Successful ballot cards

In 2019, by far the most open ballot times are available on Saturdays, with an average of 24 times contributing to 27 successful ballot cards. Next comes Thursdays with an average of 17 times and 19 successful cards. The other days have consistently fewer times – between 12 and 13, and fewer successful cards – 14 to 15. The same trend exists for 2018.

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

As with analysis on a month by month basis, by looking at demand (how many people are applying for a tee time) we can gain an understanding of what is contributing to the success rate. Demand = total # ballot cards = # successful ballot cards + # unsuccessful ballot cards.

There is much less variability in demand by day of the week rather than by month. Golfers are much more particular about which month they wish to travel to play Old Course rather than which day of the week they wish to play it on. But, for both years, Mondays and Tuesdays show lower average demand for ballot times than other days of the week; Thursday and Friday higher, with Wednesday and Saturday a little closer to the average.

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% Success rate

In 2019, 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 15-16%. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays all give average success rates around 19-21%, which also approximates to the 20% 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 31% or almost 1 in 3 success rate for Saturdays, much better than any other day of the week, owing to the relative abundance of tee times.

2018 mirrors these day-by-day comparisons almost exactly. Wednesday and Friday offer a worse than average success rate of just 16-17%. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays all give average success rates around 22%, which also approximates to the average for the whole 7 month period. But, once again, the standout stat is the 31% or almost 1 in 3 success rate for Saturdays, much better than any other day of the week.

TOP 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.

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.

How the ballot is drawn

Before looking at the results data, we should first understand how the ballot is drawn each day.

St Andrews Links Trust operate a totally fair and random policy when it comes to selecting which applications are successful.

To begin with, the ballot draw is made by a member of the St Andrews Links Trust Advance Reservations team chosen at random each day. All applications are printed off and the ballot is drawn in chronological tee time order. This means the first application card that is drawn is assigned to the first available tee time of the day, regardless of group size (2, 3 or 4 ball). The second application card that is drawn out is assigned to the second available tee time of the day, again regardless of group size; and so on until all available tee time slots that day have been allocated at least one card.

This process ensures that the group size for each tee time is randomly selected. There is no attempt to ensure an equal distribution of 2, 3 and 4 ball cards across the available tee times.

The only variation to this is for 2 ball application cards where every alternate tee time slot that draws a 2 ball card will get filled up with 2 cards, by pairing the 2 ball with another 2 ball. How does this work?

The first card drawn that is a 2 ball is allocated a tee time, and the other 2 slots on that tee time are left open and unallocated. The next card drawn that is a 2 ball is allocated a new tee time and will share the tee time with the third 2 ball card drawn. The fourth 2 ball card drawn will be allocated a tee time, with the other 2 slots left open. The fifth 2 ball card drawn will be allocated a new tee time and will share the tee time with the sixth 2 ball card drawn. And so on.

So every other tee time that draws a 2 ball card will have 2 slots left open and unallocated which ensures that there are always some slots potentially available for singles and other golfers waiting in line on the day. Of course, in addition, each tee time that has a 3 ball card drawn will have one slot potentially available for singles waiting in line.

Coming to the data then…

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# Successful ballot cards
2019 # 2 ball cards # 3 ball cards # 4 ball cards total # cards
Total # successful cards 1141 454 1067 2662
Daily Average (154 days) 7.4 2.9 6.9 17.3
Percentage 42.9% 17.1% 40.1% 100%
2018 # 2 ball cards # 3 ball cards # 4 ball cards total # cards
Total # successful cards 930 445 1039 2414
Daily Average (145 days) 6.4 3.1 7.2 16.6
Percentage 38.5% 18.4% 43.0% 100%

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Observations

For both years it shows that applying as a 4 ball or a 2 ball offers broadly similar levels of success. By which I mean there was a similar number of successful cards from 4 ball applicants and 2 balls (around 40% of successful cards each). There is no clear group size that is consistently more successful – there were 7% more 2 ball cards than 4 balls in 2019 and 12% more 4 ball cards than 2 balls in 2018.

But, both 2 and 4 balls offer significantly higher numbers of successful cards than 3 balls (with just 17-19% of successful cards).

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 mean that the 3 ball chances of success were lower. As I have outlined above, the ballot process selects cards at random, with no regard to the group size. Instead, fewer successful 3 ball cards than 2’s and 4’s may simply be explained by fewer 3 ball ballot card applications than 2’s and 4’s.

The one small caveat here is with 2 balls. As we have seen above, every second and third 2 ball picked out pairs up to fill out the entire space on that tee time. So there is the potential for a higher supply of available tee time slots for 2 balls than for 3 or 4 balls. However, in reality this 2 ball advantage would only translate into a higher success rate if demand was equal among all group sizes (highly unlikely), or if the selection process actively allocated an equal number of different group size cards to available tee times (it doesn’t).

In summary, 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, so we can see group size success in terms of the number of successful cards, but without knowing the equivalent breakdown of demand we cannot calculate a success rate percentage by group size, and therefore the actual probability of success.

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TOP 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. Yes, there may be more 2 ball tee time slots available than 4 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.

TOP TIP: Remember that ballot application cards are allocated to tee times rather than vice-versa. So the first card drawn out gets allocated to the first open ballot tee time of the day. This is important if you have specified limited availability on your ballot application.

Why so? Say you have indicated that you are only available to start play after 12:00 noon. If your card is the first one drawn out you would normally be allocated the first tee time of the day. But, since you have indicated you are only available to play after 12:00 your card will be returned into the pile, and you will have to hope it gets drawn out again when cards are drawn for tee times in the afternoon.

Conversely, if it worked the other way around instead, where tee times were allocated to ballot cards, then if your card was picked out first you would be allocated the first tee time after 12:00.

So, the simple advice is, because of the way the ballot cards are drawn, try to avoid limiting your start time availability on your application so as not to limit your chances of success.

Some further resources:

Further reading:

FAQs – Old Course tee times
Your questions answered

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

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