St Andrews Old Course as a single golfer : how to boost your chances of play


By Chris Toll, Ginger Beer Golf Travel


I am often asked me what are the chances of playing St Andrews as a single golfer on the day? Or, more specifically:

  • – How many single tee time slots are available each day?
  • – What is the best month to travel to St Andrews as single golfer?
  • – What is the best day of the week to queue (‘walk-up’) to get a single golfer time?

So, to help answer these questions, I have analysed around 8,900 tee times over the last 12 months and can now offer you a unique insight into Old Course tee time availability for single golfers and how best to optimise your chances of play.

I also reveal how recent changes in St Andrews Links Trust policy have increased the potential number of single slots available each day.

Play St Andrews as a Single Golfer

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.

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.

St Andrews Old Course Tee Times: 4 ways to Guarantee Success

Playing St Andrews Old Course as a single golfer using the ‘walk-up’ option

Why is the ‘walk-up’ option so popular for the single golfer?

Even though it’s a method that’s available to groups as well, the ‘walk-up’ option is especially popular for the single golfer.
This is simply because it’s more difficult to get an Old Course tee time in advance as a single golfer than in a group.
How come?

  • Authorised Providers, licensed to sell commercial advance guaranteed Old Course packages, receive their allocation from St Andrews Links Trust in tee time bundles. As each tee time is for 4 golfers, the Authorised Providers look to sell to ready-made groups of 4, 8, 12 etc.
    Result: As a single golfer you will often have to rely on seeking out a Provider who has sold a 3 ball, or a 7 ball in the hope of securing the last slot on the tee time. Easier said than done.
  • As a single golfer you can apply for a Private Advance Tee Time direct from the St Andrews Links Trust mid-August in the year prior to your intended visit (ie mid-August 2019 for play in 2020). But as things currently stand, you can only apply as a single golfer to play the Old Course between mid-April and the end of July.
    Result: If you plan to come and play golf in August or September high season months you are out of luck.
  • Golfers who are unable to source an advance guaranteed Old Course tee time often rely on the fallback of the daily ballot. This gives golfers a last-minute opportunity to apply for a tee time 48 hours prior to the day they wish to play. But the daily ballot is not open to a single golfer.

Simply put then, as a single golfer if you haven’t been lucky enough to get an advance guaranteed Old Course tee time your options are:

  • Use my BallotBuddy date match service to find an Old Course ballot partner. If you find a match then you and the second golfer will be eligible to make a ballot application. You will have 48 hours ‘heads-up’ to make alternative arrangements if you are unlucky.
  • Your last chance saloon is to take the ‘walk-up’ option.

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

The ‘walk-up’ option offers the realistic opportunity of getting to play the Old Course since…

  • St Andrews Links Trust leaves some ballot times incomplete to be filled by ‘walk-up’ golfers
  • Some advance guaranteed tee times may not have a full complement of golfers; again leaving a slot or two open for a single golfer ‘walk-up’ to fill
  • Some golfers don’t turn up for their tee time on the day, leaving slots open for a ‘walk-up’

So, it’s no surprise then that it’s such a popular option for the single golfer.

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If you are looking to plan your next golf vacation to Scotland right now, and would like some help, then get in touch with me to discuss itineraries and to request my assistance.

What is the Old Course ‘walk-up’ option?

The Pavilion: St Andrews as a single golfer

What does this mean? An early alarm call for a start, to join the orderly queue at the Old Pavilion by the Old Course first tee on the day of play. Staff will do their best to offer you a ‘walk-up’ slot (in other words to buddy you up with a two or three-ball group). It’s first-come, first-served, and only you can decide how early in the morning to arrive, but it is common for golfers to queue overnight to be near the front of the line.

The Old Pavilion staff arrive to open up at 06:00hrs in the Summer months when you will get access to some hot drinks, toilets, wi-fi etc.

Early birds – you will be pleased to hear the Old Pavilion also provides overhead heaters!

Important Notes:

  • – The ‘walk-up’ option is NOT restricted to single golfers. Groups of 2 or more golfers may also queue up to get on, although they may well be split up to fill the available slots.
  • – There is no obligation on the existing golfers to make up a four-ball but common practice is that single golfers are warmly welcomed (more on this later).
  • – Make sure you check and avoid Busy Dates when you are planning your travel dates. On ‘no ballot’ or ‘restricted ballot’ days, there will be fewer single slots available.
– Use my date match service BallotBuddy to find an Old Course ballot partner. If you get a match you and the second golfer are eligible to enter the ballot.
– Up to 48 hours prior to play, check the daily ballot results to identify gaps in the draw sheet which may be filled by a single golfer – THAT’S YOU!

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Further reading: St Andrews Old Course Ballot: Boost your chances of success
An in-depth analysis of demand, supply & success rates

‘Walk-up’ slots on the Old Course: What are the chances for a single golfer?

Rather like the daily ballot, your chances of a tee time on the Old Course as a single golfer ‘walk-up’ depend very much on demand and supply on the day you wish to play.

It’s a simple observation that the more people like you who want to queue up for a time on any given day, the greater the competition for the available slots.

BUT, unlike the daily ballot which is a lottery system, the ‘walk-up’ system is first-come, first-served.

Put simply, the earlier you arrive at the Old Pavilion and join the queue the greater your chance of being invited to fill an empty slot. Only you can decide how early in the morning you want to arrive (the Old Pavilion staff arrive at 06:00hrs in the Summer months), but it is common for golfers to queue overnight in order to be near the front of the line.

The St Andrews Links Trust doesn’t publish records of how many people queued in line each day so we have no statistics for demand. But, obviously, the more popular a day is the greater will be the demand, the longer will be the queue and therefore the earlier you should plan on arriving to join the queue.

The main contributors to popularity on any given day are unquestionably the weather and the supply of available slots:

– The high season (mid-April through mid-October) is the most popular for single golfers looking to play the Old Course, with the fairest conditions and warmest temperatures (in which to queue as well as play!)
– This period includes months with the longest daylight hours meaning everything else being equal, more tee times in the day and more available slots for single golfers without an Old Course tee time.

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Read one single golfer’s experience of an Old Course ‘walk-up’:

Just got back from the trip a couple hours ago and wanted to let you know that I was able to play the Old Course. I have been fortunate to play some pretty good courses, but playing the Old Course was like a religious experience that I am still smiling ear to ear about.

Greg F: Single golfer - St Andrews Old Course
Greg F – Playing the Old Course as a single golfer
A story of success

I had called the course two days prior and tried ballot with me and father-in-law, but did not get selected. When we arrived at St. Andrews around 11 am without a confirmed time, my father-in-law did not want to spend the day waiting as a single, so I put my name in as a single within the pavilion. … It looked as though approx 8 people were on the list in front of me. They said to check back in around 2:30 pm when there was a block of R&A times. I had lunch, did a walk around the block to check out the local shops and checked back in around two. I politely let them know that I would be putting but would be in close proximity for the next several hours.

About 2:45, someone within the pavilion hurried outside and was looking around. I waived at them and rushed over to ask if they were looking for me. They said yes and asked if I could go off with the 2:50 group. Of course I replied and rushed inside to pay the green fee and then headed to the first tee to play with some R&A members.

Absolutely marvelous time and the best golf experience of my life. When I had called for the ballot two days before, it sounded like most of the singles that had gone off the previous day were at the pavilion before 5 am. I may have had some divine intervention, but I feel being polite and probably lucky were two key ingredients. Certainly a special day.

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Scope of my analysis

– I have restricted my analysis to the latest data for the seven most popular months – April to October – in 2018 when demand for ‘walk-up’ slots 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 ‘walk-up’ slots are generally matched with good supply.

– I looked at the daily ballot draw sheet every day one was available during those 214 days.

Here’s what I found:

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The Research: results and analysis for 2018

Disclaimer: Of course, historic results should not be used as a definitive predictor for future performance. But, as the ballot draw sheet demonstrates similar patterns each year, they may be helpful at the very least to identify some of the trends which may improve the chances of a single golfer scoring a ‘walk-up’ slot.

# of available tee times and # single slots

There was a total of 214 days in the period April to October 2018 incl:

  • On 69 of these 214 days the Old Course was not available to visitors, for example:
    – Sundays (when the course is closed)
    – Tournaments (e.g. Senior Open Championship, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship)
    – Local club competitions (e.g. R&A Autumn meeting).

Which leaves 145 days when ballot times were available, or 67.8% of the time:

  • On those 147 days there were a total of 8,923 tee times.
  • Those 8,923 times provided 35,692 playing slots (4 slots per tee time)
  • 32,015 of those slots were allocated to players leaving 3,677 single slots or around 10.3% left open for walk-ups.
  • On average, that works out at just over 60 tee times or 240 slots per day
  • Of which around 25 single slots per day were left open for walk-ups
Factors that may improve the number of available slots:
The statistics do not take into account any cancellations that may occur on the day of play.
Players lucky enough to score an Open Ballot tee time only have to pay their green fee to the starter on the day. There is no cancellation fee for a ‘no show’.

So if, for example, they wake up and decide the weather isn’t to their liking they can just scratch their Old Course tee time and not turn up, without penalty. Hence, slots on the draw sheet can appear at the very last minute, especially the early morning ones. (See client personal experience, above.)

Factors that may reduce the number of available slots:
The statistics also don’t take account of any unallocated slots on ‘Dark times’ which may get filled after the ballot draw sheet is published. (More of this, below.)

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What type of tee time provides the most number of single golfer slots?

  • You can see that Open Ballot times and Dark times contributed the most single slots open for walk ups. Each type of tee time contributing approximately one-third of single slots.
  • Local Ballot times and Advance times equally contributed to the final one-third of single slots.
Does a 2 or 3-ball have to accept single golfers to make up a 4-ball?

Generally speaking there is no obligation on existing golfers to make up a 4-ball. But common practice is that single golfers are warmly welcomed. In more detail:

  • Local ticket holders (who may be playing in Local Ballot and Dark times) have the right to refuse to take single golfers with them, especially if they are playing a club tie.
  • From 2017, those who are fortunate to secure an Open Ballot tee time (as a 2 or 3-ball) are automatically paired up with single golfers.
  • Those who have a Private Advance Tee Time are expected to take single golfers with them although it is not mandatory.
  • Commercial Tee Times are sold in 4-balls. In the event that there are less than 4 golfers in the tee time, there is no expectation that the group take single golfers with them.
  • Reserved Tee Times where local golf clubs have made the reservation are generally medals, matches against other clubs or match play ties. Singles would not be paired with any of these tee times. So, in my analysis, Reserved Tee Times have not contributed any single slots.

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Which days had the most and least single golfer slots?

Date total # slots # slots allocated to players # single slots single slots as % of total
Sat July 7th 2018 292 219 73 25.00%
Sat May 19th 2018 288 226 62 21.53%
Thu July 5th 2018 292 233 59 20.21%
Fri Oct 19th 2018 156 149 7 4.49%
Wed Sept 26th 2018 184 177 7 3.80%
Mon Oct 15th 2018 156 151 5 3.21%

The table demonstrates the wide disparity of available single slots over the period. Although we have seen the daily average number of single slots was around 25, some days there have been as many as 73, some days as few as 5.

The data sheds some light on the reasons for this huge discrepancy:

  • The total number of slots available is a contributing factor. Obviously the greater the total slots the greater the number of single slots there are likely to be.
    The best days (in May and July) have up to 136 more slots available than the worst (in October). That’s around 34 tee times and reflects the longer days in May, June and July compared with September and October.
  • But, to compound the problem, the dates with the least number of total slots also coincide with dates where most times are taken up by Advance and Reserved tee times. Where there are fewer Ballot times (Open and Local), it follows there are fewer single slots.

If we look now at the availability of single slots on a month by month basis we can better to understand the wide disparity of daily single slots as well as the special impact of the recently introduced ‘Dark times’ category.

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Availability of single slots on a month by month basis

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
# Ballot days 25 22 22 20 25 13 18 20.7
# Tee Times 56.4 70.5 73.0 71.8 63.6 51.2 36.9 61.5
# Slots available 225.8 281.8 292.0 287.0 254.6 204.6 147.8 246.2
# Slots allocated to players 207.1 250.5 263.8 251.5 228.9 183.9 132.3 220.8
# Single slots ex Dark times 18.7 18.9 20.1 20.5 11.7 9.8 8.4 15.9
# Dark time single slots 0.0 12.5 8.1 15.1 14.0 10.9 7.1 9.5
Total # single slots 18.7 31.4 28.2 35.6 25.6 20.7 15.5 25.4
# Single slots as % of total # slots available 8.3% 11.1% 9.7% 12.4% 10.1% 10.1% 10.5% 10.3%

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# Ballot days

Obviously a major factor in deciding when to visit St Andrews to queue for a single slot is the number of days when the ballot is available, as the greater the number of ballot-available days, the more slots available for single golfers, all else being equal.

September was the worst month for ballot-available days – just 13 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 12 days for visitors hoping to get a ballot time.

Furthermore, on average there were around 25 tee times each day in September which were Reserved or Advance times which yielded almost no singles slots.

This is a regular occurrence and unlikely to change in the near future so try to avoid visiting in September or at least avoid dates when there are no or restricted ballot times. Check the list of Busy Dates provided by the St Andrews Links Trust.

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# Tee times

The next consideration is how many ballot tee times there are 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 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 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.

So, generally speaking with more ballot days and more tee times per day, April through August should yield a far higher number of single slots than September and October.

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# Single slots and Dark times

May through August all show at or above average total number of single slots, with July showing the most at an average of around 35 slots per day.

If you were to base availability of single slots on the number of tee times you would expect April to return a higher number than it does, and more in line with May through August.

It lags behind these other months (a total of 18.7 single slots on average each day in April versus 25.6 to 35.6 in the other months). This can be explained completely by the absence of any Dark time single slots in April . How come? It’s because Dark times were only introduced on the ballot sheet from May 2018.

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‘Dark times’

I am grateful to St Andrews Links Trust for this explanation:

  • St Andrews Links Trust have always had Dark times but they were previously not noted on the daily ballot sheet. In May 2018, their Dark time policy changed and they are now noted on the daily ballot sheet.
  • Generally Dark times are the preserve of local ticket holders.
    Previously, to secure a Dark time, a local ticket holder approached the Starter on the day of play. The Dark time was available to a ticket holder up until 30 minutes prior to the tee time when, if unclaimed, it was made available to those in the singles queue.
  • Dark times are now included in the ballot for local ticket holders.
    When entering the ballot the ticket holder is asked if they wish to be considered for a dark time should they fail to secure a local time.

    The ballot draw continues into Dark times for those that have said ‘yes’ to this question.

    Hence why you will see some days where Dark times are allocated and some days when they are not.

  • Any Dark times that are not allocated through the ballot can still be secured by a ticket holder on the day. However, there is a change of policy here too. If the ticket holder wishes to secure a Dark time they must do so by approaching the starter prior to 09:00 on the day. At 09:00, any unfilled Dark times are made available to the singles queue. The local ticket holder no longer has until 30 minutes prior to the tee time to secure the dark time.
  • Local ticket holders still have the right to refuse to take single golfers with them as they may be playing a club tie etc.

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What effect has this change in policy had?

The obvious change of including Dark times on the ballot sheet is to increase the number of published available tee times each day, and with it the number of single golfer slots available.

As many as 8 additional tee times each day were available from May 2018. That’s potentially 32 extra slots to be filled firstly by locals, and then by singles.

My analysis is based on the daily published ballot draw sheet. It takes account of local ticket holders who entered the ballot and have been allocated a slot on a Dark time. They show up on the draw sheet. So, the figure for available single slots in Dark times therefore contains only unallocated slots on the draw sheet.

But, as it’s been explained, a local ticket holder could also claim a Dark time slot by approaching the starter before 09:00 on the day of play, thus reducing the actual number of Dark time single slots available.

So, to be more accurate, the # dark time single slots each month reflect the maximum # dark time single slots available. Because we don’t have information from the St Andrews Links Trust on how many locals approached the Starter prior to 09:00, we don’t know exactly how many Dark time single slots there actually were available on any given day.

Owing to this unknown we have to be careful making sweeping observations. But I think it is clear that the introduction of Dark times onto the ballot sheet has had a very positive impact on single golfer slots both in terms of the number and as a %age of total slots available.

Indeed, in August 2018 the daily average number of Dark time single slots (14.0) contributed to a more than doubling of the total daily average number of single slots available (11.7 to 25.6).

It will only be possible to get a true month by month comparison once we have data that includes Dark time single slots data for a whole year.

However, going forward, my expectation is that when Dark times are taken into account April will be just as favourable a month for single slots as May, June, July and August.

Indeed, just as with your chances of scoring an open ballot time, April is a great month to visit because there tend to be fewer golfers in town than in later months. Especially the second half of April when days are getting longer and more tee times are available in the day.

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Availability of single slots by day of the week

Daily Averages
by Day of Week
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Period
# Ballot days 25 26 26 24 24 20 24.2
# Tee Times 61.6 60.5 60.8 61.5 64.3 60.5 61.5
# Slots available 246.6 242.2 243.1 246.0 257.0 242.0 246.2
# Slots allocated to players 224.2 216.3 221.2 215.7 236.1 209.6 220.8
# Single slots ex dark times 14.4 15.2 13.5 19.0 14.3 20.0 15.9
# Dark time single slots 7.9 10.7 8.3 11.3 6.7 12.5 9.5
Total # single slots 22.3 25.9 21.8 30.3 20.9 32.5 25.4
# Single slots as % of total # slots available 9.1% 10.7% 9.0% 12.3% 8.1% 13.4% 10.3%

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# Ballot days

Over the period, there are fewer ballot days on Saturdays (20) 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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# Tee times and # Slots available

It comes as no surprise that on average, the # tee times each day (and therefore # slots available) are broadly similar for each day of the week.

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# Allocated slots and total # single slots

Saturday and Thursday stand out as the best days of the week for single slots. They are the days with on average the fewest actual player slots allocated (within advance, reserved and ballot tee times), thus offering the most single golfer slots unallocated and available. On average 20.0 single slots (ex Dark time slots) each Saturday, and 19.0 on Thursday.

The reason is that unlike other days, on Saturdays and Thursdays every time after 12 noon is a ballot time, alternating between Open Ballot and Local. The greater the number of ballot times, the more spaces tend to be unallocated and available for single golfers. Especially so on Saturdays when there are no Advance tee times available.

In addition, although there are roughly the same number of Dark times available on Saturday and Thursday as other days of the week, locals take up fewer Dark time slots (because there are more Local ballot slots available for them to fill first) which leaves more Dark time slots available for singles to fill (on average 12.5 on Saturday and 11.3 on Thursday).

With more unallocated slots both during the day and in Dark times, it is no surprise then to see Saturday and Thursday being the 2 best days for single slot availability with an average total of 32.5 per day on Saturday and 30.3 on Thursday.

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 single walk-up slot then, all else being equal, you are more likely to succeed by queuing to play at the end of the week – Thursday through Saturday – than the start – Monday through Wednesday.

Make sure you check Busy Dates first to avoid days when ballot times are unavailable or restricted, as that will negatively impact the number of single slots available.

Be mindful though with pinning your hopes on Saturday. Being the weekend, locals who are not working may wish to approach the starter before 09:00 and claim an unallocated slot on a Dark time.

But, of course, it’s only Dark times that can be claimed on the day by locals; and on an average Saturday you can see there were more non-Dark time single slots available (20.0) than Dark ones (12.5).
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Further reading: Old Course Tee Times: Your questions answered

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