St Andrews HotelIt’s been said that you cannot consider yourself a true golfer until you’ve played the Old Course at St Andrews.

I thought that was crass assertion until I was fortunate enough to play the hallowed links myself a couple of summers ago. I’d done it the hard way, queuing up with 20 other hardy souls from 4.30am (and I was about 10th in the queue!) to hopefully grab a tee time that day from the starter. My efforts were rewarded with a 9.30am slot.

I could scarcely believe it. You cannot choose who to play with doing it this way but, luckily, I was grouped with three jovial Americans just ahead in the queue with me who I’d become firm friends over the past hour and a half. We all went off for an early breakfast at the nearby Russell Hotel before enjoying the round of our lives.

St Andrews BurnThe caddy was priceless in pointing out lines that uninitiated first-timers like us could not possibly have guessed. He also enlightened me about the value of playing the ball on the ground rather than through the air and to really think properly about strategy rather than just blast away at the target – well, I have only been playing the game for 12 years!

It really did feel like I’d been experiencing poor facsimiles of the game’s unadulterated form back home in deepest Middlesex. In fact, I’m so smitten I’m going back later this year with a small group – and I’m taking advantage of a far easier route in this time, via Your Golf Travel’s brilliant low season packages, paying just £210 for a night and breakfast at the wonderful 5-star Old Course Hotel, which overlooks the St Andrews links courses, and with a guaranteed time for four of us on the Old Course plus a round on the Duke’s course the next day.

I can’t think of a better way to experience what is arguably the best course in the world. There are other ways to book to play the Old Course in advance – you can put your name on the official advanced reservation list but this has to be done in September for a time the following year, so if you have a reasonably normal life full of demands from family or work, it isn’t particularly appealing. Alternatively, you can travel up to St Andrews and enter the daily ballot for a minimum two golfers per group but this is a lottery which guarantees nothing. Some days are booked out completely by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, or for competitions.

St Andrews Old CourseSpeaking of which, you could join the R&A itself and enjoy a plethora of tee times every week on the Old Course – but you have to know an existing member to nominate you… oh, and the waiting list is so large you’ll have to wait an estimated 12 years for an  invitation to apply!

Another way to be granted an Old Course tee time is to commit to a three-year degree course at St Andrews University – an annual student ticket costs about the same as a public green fee. Also, residents of this wonderful old town receive similar playing rights (it is a public course after all). Just so you know, property prices in the area are currently averaging £260,000.

So you pay your money and you take your choice. I know what I prefer and if you do the same just remember you can’t have “a good walk spoiled” on Sunday at the Old Course – because it’s closed!