Hitting the Links

All six of the St. Andrews courses are fully owned by the municipality and open to the public on a more or less democratic basis -- ballots are polled 1 day in advance. This balloting system might be circumvented for players who reserve with the appropriate starters several days or weeks in advance. To play the hallowed Old Course, you must present a current handicap certificate and/or a letter of introduction from a bona fide golf club.

The misty and verdant golf courses are the very symbol of St. Andrews: the famous Old Course; the 6,566-yard, par-72 New Course (opened in 1896); the 6,805-yard, par-71 Jubilee Course (opened in 1897, in honor of Queen Victoria); the 6,112-yard, par-70 Eden (opened in 1914); the Balgove (a 9-hole course for children's golf training, opened in 1972); and the 5,094-yard, par-67 Strathtyrum (the newest and most far-flung, an 8-hole course opened in 1993). Encircled by all of them is the world's most prestigious golf club, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (tel. 01334/460-000; www.randa.org), founded in St. Andrews in 1754 -- it remains more or less rigidly closed as a private-membership men's club. It traditionally opens its doors to the public only on St. Andrews Day so that nonmembers may view the legendary trophy room. This usually, but not always, falls around November 30.

The Old Course, Pilmour Cottage (tel. 01334/466-666), is the world's legendary temple of golf, one whose difficulty is shaped by nature and the long-ago paths of grazing sheep. Over the centuries, stately buildings have been erected near its start and finish. Aristocrats from virtually everywhere have lent their names and reputations to enhance the course's glamour, and its nuances have been debated, usually in reverent tones, by golfers in bars and on fairways throughout the world. This fabled par-72 course hosted the 2000 British Open, when golf fans from around the world watched Tiger Woods become the youngest golfer ever to complete a grand slam (and only the fifth golfer ever to perform the feat). Greens fees are £64 to £130, a caddy costs £40 to £55 plus tip, and clubs rent for £30 to £40 per round. There are no electric carts allowed, and you can rent a trolley on afternoons only between May and September for £3.

Virtually every hotel in town maintains some kind of facility to assist golfers. The most interesting clubhouse is the Links Clubhouse, West Sand Road (tel. 01334/466-666). Owned and operated by the St. Andrews Links Trust, and located within 400 yards of the Old Course's 18th hole, it offers, without charge, lockers, showers, and changing facilities. On-site, there's also a bar and restaurant.

Two Californians, Mark Parsinen and Art Dunkley, have invaded the capital of golf and opened a championship-ready links, Kingsbarns Golf Links (tel. 01334/460-860; www.kingsbarns.com). (The land and adjoining North Sea beachfront were utilized as a rehearsal ground during the buildup for the D-day invasion of Normandy in June 1944.) During some of the uprooting of the earth, a 3,000-year-old mummy was discovered. The course, at 7,126 yards, is challenging and beautiful, with sometimes blustery winds blowing off the North Sea.

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.