96 hours in St Andrews, The Home of Golf

How to maximise your time in Golf’s Mecca!

"I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St. Andrews, and I would still have a rich full life." - Bobby Jones.

Golf manages to evoke a certain religious devotion from its millions of followers. This manifests itself in the dedication and perseverance of practicing, but also from the traditions and routines that make the sport so unique. There is an element of spirituality to playing a game in beautiful surroundings that can transcendently be interpreted as an active metaphor for life and all its challenges.

It is therefore no surprise that St. Andrews in Scotland, the spiritual home of the game, has become something equivalent to the Vatican or Holy Land. It is a golfing Mecca, and continues to draw countless thousands of pilgrims from around the world each year. They all relish the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Old Tom Morris, or to play the holes that have defined generations of Open Championships. Merely inhaling the atmosphere of the Auld Grey Toon is intoxicating enough.

That tangible energy and vibrancy most likely comes from the town’s uniquely cosmopolitan feel, with international tourists sharing the streets and pubs with the youthful students and characterful locals.

It left a lasting impression and enough memories to satisfy a lifetime for the legendary Bobby Jones. But in four days, just how much of the St. Andrews experience could you digest? Let’s find out.

0 to 24 hours…. The New Course

On your first day in the town, it would naturally be a perfect time to explore and gain a feeling of the surroundings. Being a relatively small place, walking through the historic streets and lanes of St. Andrews would not take particularly long, and there are a number of notable attractions to keep the most ardent of explorers contented. 

The Cathedral of St. Andrews dates back to the 12th century and was the centre of the Catholic Church during the medieval age in Scotland. Covering an expansive area and incredibly atmospheric, the graveyard is home to the final resting place of both Old and Young Tom Morris. That will count as something of a pilgrimage for golf historians, and compliments the sense of period.

To the north of the town is St. Andrews Castle, which can trace its origins to almost a millennium ago and the earliest Scottish Kings. Resting on the rocky coastline overlooking a small beach called Castle Sands, the beautiful ruins offer a visual taste of national history at its purest.

After stepping back in time, you may wish to grab an ice cream from the hugely popular Jannettas Gelateria, which is a family run café that has been resident in the town for decades. This should have you all set for the opening round of your stay in St. Andrews. After all, that is why you came.

To initiate you into the traditional seaside fare on offer from the Links Trust, it would be advisable (if possible) to have a round on the New Course before playing the iconic Old Course.

Situated adjacent to its more esteemed sister, the New was designed by Old Tom in the last decade of the 19th century, and is a wonderfully varied and challenging test of links golf. It is commonly viewed as being the favourite of the locals, and it is easy to see why.

Playing the New is an opportunity to become accustomed to the unique examination of the game’s most traditional form, and it is also a welcome chance to experience the iconic vistas and landmarks that surround it, not least the Old Course itself. This should help ease much of the anxiety from later playing on the most famous layout in golf.

After your round on the New Course, it might be an idea to enjoy dinner at the Links Clubhouse, which literally sits behind the 18th green. Offering a high-quality standard of food and drink, the restaurant features panoramic views of the entirety of the St. Andrews Links.

24 to 48 Hours…. Kingbarns Golf Links

Now that you’ve rested up and sampled the town and golf, the second day might be an opportunity to sample something a little different. Just seven miles from St. Andrews is the modern classic of Kingsbarns, which has become a massive favourite with golfers from around the world since it was opened for play at the turn of the century.

Designed by Kyle Philips and one of the host-courses of the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour, Kingsbarns is a stunningly beautiful contemporary links that adds a present-day feel to the most ancient challenges in the game through some tremendously thrilling holes. On a bright summer’s day, it is a magical place to play.

When you get back into the town you might consider tasting that most British of culinary dishes; fish and chips. Cromars on Union Street arguably offers the best in the area, and you may wish to wash it all down at the iconic Dunvegan Hotel. It has become a favourite watering hole for golfers over a period of decades and a place where you’ll find a healthy dose of engaging banter.

48 to 72 Hours….. The Jubilee and Eden Courses

If there isn’t a heavy hangover to nurse after an evening in the Dunvegan, it’s time to accelerate the golfing undertaking. Returning to the hallowed ground of the St. Andrews Links, there are two largely under-appreciated courses that are worthy of your attention.

The Jubilee Course is situated to the right-side of the New, and is generally considered to be the most challenging of the seven layouts under the protection of the Trust. Having been recalibrated into a full 18-hole course only a couple of decades ago, the Jubilee funnels through a number of sand dunes and is possibly the most visually striking of all the courses.

Harry Colt’s Eden Course is sat alongside the Old and dates back to 1914. It has also undergone changes in modern times and is a much shorter and friendly layout than the others, but retains deep bunkers and some brilliantly structured greens to test even the most accomplished of players.

In the evening, have dinner at the outstanding Rocca Restaurant (overlooking the Old Course) before sampling the atmosphere of the Rascals Bar, which is a frequent home to music and live entertainment, and is unquestionably one of the most lively establishments in the town.

72 to 96 Hours…. The Old Course

You’ve made it to the final day – and the highlight of the St. Andrews experience. This is when you well retrace the footsteps of legends and etch your own memories into the legend of the most historic and famous course in the game. It is an extraordinary experience.

The Old Course at St. Andrews has hosted 29 Open Championships and crowned the likes of Jones, Snead, Thomson, Locke, Nicklaus, Ballesteros and Woods as Champion Golfer of the Year. It is a living, breathing monument and is the most treasured artefact in the sport.

Standing on that first tee before the widely-photographed R&A Clubhouse, with the widest fairway in golf facing you, is both surreal and thrilling. After navigating that anxiety, you will play a course that is both intriguingly strategic and highly natural, and possesses an array of iconic landmarks (Strath and Hell Bunker for a start) and brilliantly influential holes. It is a work of art.

Playing the legendary Road Hole is an exhilarating event, and anyone who manages to overcome its unique obstacles should have all their evening drinks bought for them. The round is then capped off by crossing the Swilcan Bridge (with the obligatory photographs) and experiencing the greatest of walks up to the 18th green.

Afterwards, digest your thoughts and memories in the famous Jigger Inn, which offers excellent food and drink options. Then head off to the beautifully vast West Sands to walk off your dinner and complete what has been a spiritual and fulfilling 96 hours in the Auld Grey Toon. 

St. Andrews. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Request a quote if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your golf vacation to Scotland with Golfbreaks.com.

Kieran Clark

Author, Derek Clements

I began playing golf at the age of five on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. It was the start of a relationship that hasn’t waned, with it becoming a mission to tick off as many courses as possible, with the Old Course at St. Andrews being my favourite. I love everything that it represents. After securing a degree in history at the University of Stirling, I have attempted to establish a career as a freelance golf journalist to express my love for the game and Scotland. And I relish any opportunity to share that adoration with anyone willing enough to read.