Scotland golf for women: St Andrews travelogue

Planning a golf trip to Scotland? Here’s your caddie: a series of travelogue posts for the average woman golf traveler. Part II of Scotland Golf for Women.

Image of the author on St Andrews' Old Course

If I’d continued my Scotland travelogue from North Berwick to include St Andrews, I might have run out of room, even here in infinity! A visit to St Andrews feels like an indulgence for a woman who isn’t setting course records or playing the back tees with the men. Yet, it is the kind of place that can inspire passion in a new golfer or rekindle it in a lapsed golfer. A small, walkable city with historical landmarks, seaside vistas and a revered university, it nonetheless nurtures golf tourism with its shops, lodgings and pubs.

We loved our immersion in the St Andrews golf culture. Women, however, might want to heed some of the lessons I learned.

ST ANDREWS, THE HOME OF GOLF

Lodging

Doune House: Nothing could match our North Berwick Seaholm experience, and it was Doune House’s misfortune to follow. We were given a tiny top-floor room that challenged us to store all of our things, and there was no Lorena. We did have an en suite bathroom, but unlike our luxurious private bathroom in the hall at Seaholm, it was knee-bruisingly tiny. I felt like the only woman in a golf dorm. But, lodging in St Andrews seems to be generally overpriced and in high demand, so we made do by getting out each morning for breakfast, followed by easy walks to golf, shopping and more. (Note: Friends in town at the same time raved about their small bed and breakfast called the Castlemount, which is at the opposite end of town from the St Andrews Trust golf hub.)

Golf

Jubilee Course: In the ladies locker room of the wonderfully modern and public St Andrews Links Clubhouse, some women from Philadelphia were drying out and warming up after their round. They had been in town for a few days and shared information with me on my first: “The Old and New and Jubilee courses are unfair to women. Your husband will put his tee down and hit. Then you’ll walk two steps and put your tee down. They are just too long.” They raved about the Castle Course — on my list now for next time at a civilized 5,460 yards — and wished me well. As I chatted with the starter before our afternoon round, I looked at the scorecard and said, “This is terribly long for the average woman at 5,975 yards to the front of greens.” He perked up and replied, “Would you like to play the bronze tees?” I looked at the scorecard and saw no bronze tees. That’s because, ladies, they are apparently a secret! He brought out the secret bronze tee scorecard, and with my caddie John I was off and running from 5,683 yards. Even on a chilly and wet afternoon, my husband and I both loved the flat, contoured, gorse-lined Jubilee Course, which, most people don’t realize until they are there, follows along the coast. Adjacent inland is the New, flanked by the Old farther inland. The 19th hole, the Swilcan Lounge atop the clubhouse, had good food at fair prices and is open to everyone; alas, our weather did not entice us to explore the roof garden. I rate Jubilee five stars for women for its walkability, tee options, conditions and amenities (toilets on the front, toilets on the back). At about $100 a player in high season, it’s also a bargain compared to the Old.

St Andrews Ladies Putting Club: Founded in 1867 near the first tee of the Old Course, these humps and bumps known as the “Himalayas” are open to all for but a pound or three, depending on your age. The 18-hole course takes not even an hour to play, and play you must. Note that the max is eight strokes per hole. There’s no 19th hole here, but the Links Clubhouse’s Swilcan Lounge is nearby. If you can, play the course on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday, when an entirely new layout is created.

Image of the Himalayas

Old Course: We were on the 16th tee of Jubilee on Monday when I checked my St Andrews app and learned that after two days of no success in the open ballot, we’d made it to the Old Course with a 12:10 tee time on Wednesday. Because we were on after noon, my husband could roll his clubs along; I still requested a caddie to show us the way. Good thing I did. The day was chilly, with rain on and off (dreich, the Scots might say), and after a nifty bogey on the 339-yard first, I struggled to reach fairways from the 6,032-yard red tees. Davey finally asked if I’d like to play the rather hidden, more forward tees. Duh! Another St Andrews secret. It was pretty awesome walking this course where all the greats have played, especially with the Road Hole and the Swilcan Bridge to wrap things up. But it is a tough course, with many invisible bunkers (all of them with names!) because holes once were played in the opposite direction. I’ll happily say, “Been there, done that, paid my $250,” and give the Old Course just three stars for the average woman because it’s way too long and not all that scenic, with bathrooms only at the 11th. If you’re going to St  Andrews, you must at least try to play the Old Course — there’s just no need to be overly disappointed if you don’t get on.

Image of author and husband on the Swilcan Bridge

The iconic photo when playing the Old Course at St Andrews.

Other activities

We took Tuesday off from big-girl golf (sating our golf hunger with our Himalayas round) to sleep in, fall in love with the scones at Conpanna, do a bit of shopping, have my rental Ping putter regripped in one of the town’s many golf shops, and hang out at the Old Course whetting our appetites for the next day. The first tee and 18th green are next to each other and attract spectators. Alongside the first fairway is a pavilion with freshly made sandwiches and other quick treats; there’s also a golf museum and plenty of St Andrews souvenir shopping. Time went by fast here. We took the advice of friends and had drinks and appetizers at the Dunvegan, lined with golf memorabilia and photos of former co-owner Sheena Willoughby posing with golf royalty. But we also loved the contemporary dining experience at Forgan’s and Mitchell’s, drinks at the old pubs around town, and burgers and gin flights at the St Andrews Brewing Company. At about the time we tired of the Scottish cocktail practice of serving a thimble full of your chosen liquor alongside a full-size bottle of your chosen mixer, we discovered the mixology of the Kinnettles Hotel bar and indulged in espresso martinis. And we’ll always remember our walk in the drizzle to the St Andrews Botanic gardens, where we were thrilled to visit a special exhibit of exotic butterflies from all over the world. Much to my surprise, when I looked at my sleep tracker log at the end of my trip, there was no bed in Scotland where I slept more soundly than I did in the one we had at Doune House, simply because of all the walking we did to see St Andrews.

image of butterfly

What I’d do next time

If I were with a group of women, I’d want us to stay at one of the larger hotels on the golf hub side of town — Scores, Rusacks, the Old Course Hotel, Hotel du Vin — and play the Castle Course and make an outing to Crail Balcomie, a historic links course down the coast from St Andrews. I’d also like to try one of the two Fairmont courses on the outskirts of St Andrews. In short, I’d spend less on golf and more on comfortable lodging.

Next up: The Highlands
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