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St. Andrews: Golf's Hallowed Ground

The medieval royal burgh of St. Andrews in northeast Fife, about 80km (50 miles) from Edinburgh, was once filled with monasteries and ancient buildings, but only a few ruins of its early history survive. Once a revered place of Christian pilgrimage, the historic town by the sea is now best known for golf, which has been played here at least as early as the 1600s, though some believe much earlier. Today, the rules of the sport are reviewed, revised, and clarified in St. Andrews by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, while its Old Course is perhaps the most famous 18 holes in the world. Golfers consider this town to be hallowed ground.

There is no train station in St. Andrews, but there is a stop some 13km (8 miles) away at the town of Leuchars. The trip from Edinburgh takes about an hour; the fare is about £20 for a standard return (round-trip) ticket. Once at Leuchars, you can take a bus for the 10-minute ride to St. Andrews. The bus service from Edinburgh takes approximately 2 hours, and the same-day return fare is around £10. For information, call tel. 0870/608-2608. If you're driving from Edinburgh, head north across the Forth Road Bridge. Take the A921 to the junction with the A915 and continue northeast until you reach St. Andrews. Less scenic is the A92 north to the A914 via Cupar. The tourist information center is at 70 Market St. (tel. 01334/472-021). It's open Monday to Saturday all year and on Sunday, too, during the high season.

Hitting the links -- There are five 18-hole courses at St. Andrews (www.standrews.org.uk) and one course with only 9 holes for beginners and children, all owned by a trust and open to the public. They are:

1. Old Course, which is where the Open is frequently played and dates to the 15th century.

2. New Course, designed by Old Tom Morris in 1895.

3. Jubilee Course, opened in 1897 in honor of Queen Victoria.

4. Eden Course, opened in 1914.

5. Strathtyrum Course, the least testing 18 holes, designed for those with high handicaps.

6. Balgove, the 9-hole course designed for beginners and hackers. No reservations, just turn up and play (or turn up and wait during busy times at weekends and holidays).

For the New Course, you should try to reserve your tee time at least 1 month in advance. To play Jubilee, Eden, or Strathtyrum, tee times can be reserved 24 hours ahead (if you're lucky). The reservation office is at tel. 0133/446-6666. Online bookings for the New Course, Jubilee, Eden, and Strathtyrum can be made by logging on to www.linksnet.co.uk.

The Old Course, which hosted the Open in 2010, is a different kettle of fish: First you need a handicap of 24 for men and 36 for women. You apply in writing 1 year in advance and, even then, there are no guarantees. There is a daily ballot or lottery, which gives out about 50% of the tee times for the following day's play. Apply in person or by telephone before 2pm on the day before play. By post, send applications to Reservations Office, Pilmour House, St. Andrews KY16 9SF, Scotland. Single golfers wishing to play the Old Course should contact the reservations department at reservations@standrews.org.uk.

Greens fees vary from course to course and depending on the time of year. Generally speaking, for the 18-hole courses expect to pay between £16 to £125. From November to March, it costs around £70 to play the Old Course, using mats that protect the fairways.

Facilities for golfers in St. Andrews are legion. Virtually every hotel in town provides assistance to golfers. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, remains more or less rigidly closed as a private-membership men's club, however. It does traditionally open the doors to the public on St. Andrews Day to view the trophy room. This usually falls on November 30.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.