The potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Old Course tee times in 2020 and 2021

Time of update: August 2020

Overview

Each year the routes to an Old Course tee time follow a similar pattern. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions so far in 2020 which are having a knock-on impact on planning for 2021.

Looking at 2020 first, St Andrews was closed for golf for most of April and May. When golf returned at the end of May, play was restricted to local Links Ticket holders. This was then broadened to include visiting golfers in mid-July, when Scotland moved to Phase 3 of the route map for coming out of lockdown on the 10 July 2020.

Current guidelines

Scotland is still in Phase 3 of the route map for coming out of lockdown. If you are contemplating a trip to Scotland to play golf, then you should be follow Scottish Government rules for staying safe and protecting others.

What does this mean for golf clubs and golfers on returning to golf? Here are some FAQs published by Scottish Golf.

From the point of view of golf bookings, the current guidelines state:

Once golf has resumed, the following groupings will be permitted to play golf in Scotland:

  • Tee-times should be managed and booked in advance – there should be no turn up and play allowed.
  • Daily timesheets and intervals are at the discretion of the golf club – the following groupings will be permitted during Phase 3:
    • Groups of up to four golfers with no restrictions on the number of households represented provided they adhere to the Government’s physical distancing rules.

St Andrews Links Trust have undertaken a number of measures to ensure the safety of golfers and staff. Here are their 2020 Covid-19 guidelines.

So, what is the effect of the past few months and the current Scottish Government guidelines on play on St Andrews Old Course in 2020?

St Andrews 2020

2020 Old Course advance guaranteed tee times

With all courses closed and travel restrictions and quarantine measures in place, St Andrews Links Trust (SALT) made the decision to offer 2020 reservations on any course the opportunity to reschedule to 2021 or 2022.
A large number of golfers have chosen to reschedule their guaranteed tee time, which means unexpected 2020 tee time inventory has appeared. SALT have created offers to enable golfers to secure a 2020 Old Course tee time. Here is the page for the 2020 official St Andrews Links offers which will continue to be updated with offers and packages for the 2020 season.

2020 Old Course ballot tee times

The Old Course is open for ballot applications for groups of 2, 3 or 4 golfers. Unlike pre-Covid times, groups of 2 golfers will not get paired up with another 2 ball as the current SALT policy is not to pair golfers who are not acquainted with each other on the same tee time. So if you apply as a 2 ball and get picked for a time you will have the tee time all to yourself.

In this current environment of travel restrictions and quarantine, there is a great opportunity for golfers who are free to travel, especially from the UK, to come and take their chance in the ballot. With the lack of international visitors just now, particularly from the USA, demand should be down compared with normal, which should improve the likelihood of ballot success, all else being equal.

2020 Old Course for single golfers – ‘walk up’

As you can see from the latest guidelines, Scottish Golf regulations do not permit ‘walk up’ golf and all golfers must have a pre-booked reservation. As a result, SALT is NOT operating a singles list at the Old Course so there is no option to queue on the day for a chance to play.
They are, however, allowing single golfers to book a tee time on any course 24 hours in advance by calling the Links Clubhouse the day ahead. For the Old Course this will depend on there being a cancellation after the ballot has been drawn. They are not currently pairing golfers who are not acquainted with each other so any single golfers who secure a tee time by calling the day ahead will be playing on their own whichever course they are playing.

2020 Old Course for single golfers – BallotBuddy

BallotBuddy is my unique service to pair up single golfers so they can make a joint ballot application to play the Old Course. Whilst SALT are not currently pairing golfers who are not acquainted with each other, Phase 3 allows groups of up to four golfers with no restrictions on the number of households represented provided they adhere to the Government’s physical distancing rules.

So, provided they adhere to the Government’s rules, to my mind there is no reason why a group of up to 4 single players brought together via my BallotBuddy service, who put in a single successful ballot application, should not be eligible to take up their tee time on the Old Course. In this respect they would be no different to 4 buddies from the same golf club (but different households) taking a trip to St Andrews together and submitting a ballot application.

The key point is that in both these situations SALT are not required to pair people up (which would be against their current policy), since the group is already formed before the ballot application is submitted.

You can register for BallotBuddy here and submit your available dates to play the Old Course, and I’ll try to find you a match with at least one other golfer so you can make one joint ballot application.

Let’s now look at how COVID-19 might affect Old Course tee times in 2021…

St Andrews in 2021

The decision of the R&A to postpone the Open Championship for a year means the tournament originally scheduled for July 2021 has now been rescheduled to July 2022. On the positive side, this means the Old Course will no longer be closed to visitors between 19th June and 19th July 2021.

However, with all courses closed in 2020 for several months and travel restrictions and quarantine measures in place, St Andrews Links Trust (SALT) made the decision to offer reservations on any course the opportunity to reschedule to 2021 or 2022.

Many clients have taken the opportunity to postpone their trip for a year. So assuming the proportion of tee times allocated between advance, reserved and ballot categories does not significantly alter, this will almost certainly have a negative impact on remaining 2021 Old Course tee time inventory.

2021 Old Course advance guaranteed tee times – Private Advance Tee Times (PATT)

St Andrews Links Trust have announced that PATT will NOT be open in 2020 for 2021 tee time applications. Please see here: play.standrews.com

2021 Old Course advance guaranteed tee times – Authorised Provider

The impact of COVID-19 means that with a very large number of 2020 reservations rescheduling to 2021, there is a significant reduction in the supply of golf tour operator and hotel Authorised Provider tee times for everyone else.

2021 Old Course Ballot tee times

The ballot will operate as normal as possible in 2021, but the number of tee times available may fluctuate as St Andrews Links Trust tries to accommodate all advance reservations rescheduled from 2020. i.e there may be more ballot times available on some days than others.

We will only really know how potential ballot success rates are likely to pan out once the season begins in April 2021 and we start to see the data for the supply of tee times and the number of golfers applying, allowing for a meaningful comparison with previous years.

My sense is that ballot golfers postponing their trip from 2020 until 2021 are likely to increase the overall demand for a ballot time in 2021. With a relatively similar supply of times to previous years, this is likely to mean more golfers being unsuccessful in the ballot.

To give yourself a better shot at ballot success I suggest planning to stay a day or two longer in St Andrews in 2021 and take the opportunity to ballot on a couple of extra days. Simply put, the more days you apply for a ballot tee time the greater the chance of success.

2021 Old Course for single golfers

Right now the advice for single golfers for 2021 is the same as that above for 2020. It remains to be seen whether the restriction on ‘walk up’ golf will continue into 2021. It depends whether and when the requirement to book tee times in advance gets lifted.

Unless guidelines get tightened once again, BallotBuddy still represents a great opportunity for single golfers from different households to group together, submit a joint ballot application and score a time on the Old Course.

Footnote:

This post is based on information available at the time of writing (August 2020). It is compiled in good faith to aid your understanding of the various options available to secure a tee time on the Old Course. However, Ginger Beer Golf Travel accepts no responsibility for its accuracy. You should, of course, refer to the very latest information and guidelines before planning and making your golf trip. Then whilst you are on your trip you should ensure you adhere to all the rules for staying safe and protecting others.

Covid-19 and its impact on Old Course Tee times in 2020 and 2021 (updated Aug 2020)