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St. Andrews Golf in the Winter

By: George Peper

This morning my regular golf game was cancelled because two of the guys backed out—the weather conditions were too brutal for them: 62 degrees and intermittent light showers. I live now in Florida. A decade ago, had those same conditions prevailed on a Saturday morning, all four players would have convened cheerily at the 1st tee, agreeing it was a lovely morning for a game. I lived then in Scotland.

I’d be quite happy to be living and playing there still. Even in winter. In fact, especially in winter. Indeed, if you’re up for a different kind of golf vacation, I can do you no greater favor than to suggest a winter trip to Scotland, ideally to St. Andrews. Here are five good reasons.  

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1)   The Weather: Contrary to popular belief, winter conditions in Scotland, especially in St. Andrews and other areas of the east coast, are decidedly golfable. Yes, you’re on the same latitude as Moscow, but in contrast to Russia (and the northern tier of the U.S.,) the annual snowfall is an inch or two as opposed to a foot or five. As for rain, Edinburgh gets no more than Rome does. The average temperatures are in the 40s and 50s—chilly but not frigid. Of course, when the wind kicks up, things get a bit more challenging, but if you layer-up wisely—long silk underwear, turtleneck, V-neck (or two), wind jacket, wool cap, two all-weather gloves—you’ll be surprised how comfy you’ll be, and with minimal swing restriction. (To stay even looser, consider observing a local custom and pack your golf bag with a wee flask of Scotland’s other gift to the world.)

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2)   The Course Access: Scottish courses are open all year round, but in winter the only people playing them are the locals. That’s particularly good news at St. Andrews where a tee time on the Old Course (a 50–50 proposition from April through October) is pretty much a slam dunk at this time of year. See for yourself (https://www.standrews.com/ballot/results). The daily ballot invariably has a few open times. The only caveat: Since winter days in Scotland are short, so is the window of tee times—generally from about 8 a.m. until noon—so don’t plan on many 36-hole days. That said, another winter benefit is the pace of play. Since most of the play comes from the Scots, and everyone wants to get in before dark, there’s no mucking about. Three-and-a-half-hour rounds are the norm.

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3)   The Cost: Expect to pay half what you would in summer. Green fees on the Old are about $115 from November through March, exactly half the cost during peak season. Accommodations are even better deals. In mid-January, for instance, you can get a room at Rusacks Hotel overlooking the 18th hole of the Old Course for as little as $125, compared to $450 in mid-summer. Winter airfares tend to be a bit lower as well.

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4)   The Course Conditions:  Incredibly, the greens at links courses are almost as good in winter as in summer. With almost no grass growth, they remain tight and smooth. As for the fairways, with a “wee bone in the ground” they play harder and faster than ever. You’ll get maximum distance off the tee, and if you can gauge the extra bounce and roll on the approaches, you may just shoot the round of your life. I’ve saved only one scorecard from the 300 or so rounds I played on the Old when I lived in St. Andrews. It shows five birdies and a score of 71—and the date on it is February 12.

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5)   The Camaraderie: Show up at any Scottish golf course in mid-winter, and you’ll be welcomed warmly for your hardiness, your golf passion, and your good sense. Head over on a buddy trip, and you and your pals will return closer friends than ever, having enjoyed a special esprit de corps (similar to the bond shared by Siberian mailmen). Yes, to walk a brisk 18 holes in winter with three good friends, the wind lashing your cheeks, the crusty linksland crunching beneath your feet, is to know a noble sort of joy. 

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What's the worst weather you're willing to endure for golf? Would you risk going to Scotland for a golf trip in the winter? Let us know in the comments below!

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Feedback

  1. The day started out pretty nice, 50 with a light breeze. By the time we got to the first tee, the weather was 52, but the wind was 40 to 50 mph. You had to aim about 25 to 30 yards to the side of the green when you had that cross wind. It turned into a game of fun and adventure. Never faced those wind conditions before even playing at St. Andrews, Bally Bunion and Royal Dornoch.

    — Bill Mitchell · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  2. Never had the chance to play golf abroad but I think me and my crew in Ohio would be up to the challenge of playing in Scotland in winter.I’m sure we’d have an amazing time. We play year round and know all the courses that stay open throughout the year. In fact we’ve got tee times on Christmas Eve at a course called Carroll Meadows in Carrollton, Ohio outside of Canton.

    — A.E. Boyd · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  3. I would like to go to Scotland and play golf in the winter. I played golf in Powell, Wyoming and Butte Montana in 20 degree and sunny weather. The fairways had snow bordering them and one hole had to be skipped due to an ice lake in the fairways. I have also played golf in Boise Idaho in 10 degree weather.

    — Bill Ailes · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  4. I’ve been to Ireland three times and the first time was March. I couldn’t believe how nice the weather was however they wouldn’t let us play off the fairways at Ballybunion.

    — Kevin S · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  5. But don’t you have to carry and hit from a small mat (at least in the fairway) between November through March on the Old Course? How does that affect the experience?

    — Matt · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  6. Been looking for something to celebrate my 75th year. While only a 15 handicap at my club would love to take up this challenge. Please keep me in touch for a January 2018 golf trip. That date will correspond with my birthday and time to find some golf buddies to come with me.

    Thank you in advance for your future correspondence.

    Best regards

    Don Campbell
    (Yes still fit today and will be fit in January 2018)

    — Don Campbell · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  7. Sounds like fun to me!

    Like my corgi, I like it cold. Rule of thumb is we’re on the links if it’s above 32. Winter hat, walking, and a 20 year old lined wool sweater I bought at Dornoch circa 1992!! Fast golf, refreshing air, and the course to yourself.

    — Rob Jackson · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  8. This past spring in the Scottish Highlands I played 6 rounds and not one of them was in temperatures above 45 degrees. At Brora my caddie and I were the only ones on the course…maybe because we stopped and ducked in to wee glens and nooks 4 times because of brief but intense snow squalls…I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!

    — Scott Chelemer · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  9. Aye !!! Spent New Years Eve 2011 at the Marine Hotel in North Berwick … watched foursome after foursome brave the wind and snow … wished that I had been able to join them. Next year !!!

    — William McCalmont · Friday December 23, 2016 ·

  10. Played at Pacific Dunes on Thanksgiving – heavy winds they tied the flags to the sticks with small rope. Wind blew us sideways plus steady rain had my caddy Joey Hines along too. We had lunch and wife and I along with Joey played Bandon in the afternoon, wind laid down, temps rolled into sunny upper 50’s.
    I’ll play in the cold until I can’t loosen my back – off today to play Pine Needles – the day before Christmas forecast calls for mid 60’s…
    Gotta Love Pinehurst!

    — LARRY RINGEN · Saturday December 24, 2016 ·

  11. There is nothing better than an off-season round of golf in St. Andrews. Having been there both in-season and off-season it is hard to choose which is better! Both have their charms but you should experience both! I think the town itself is more charming in the off-season.

    — Jim Woods · Saturday December 24, 2016 ·

  12. Hello from snowy Stowe, Vermont!I am a bit reluctant to send along this note as myself and 3 golf buddies have been traveling to Dublin, Ireland for many years and enjoying late fall / early winter golf conditions on each visit. Reluctant because I’m not sure I want to let the word out about how amazing each trip has been!
    Just played 5 different courses in 5 days in and around the Dublin area, Royal Dublin, Portmarnock Old, St. Anne’s, The Island and Laytown & Bettystown. One day was 61 and brilliant sunshine and we were possibly the only Americans in Ireland golfing that week! We are treated so warmly and all the courses had locals / members playing alongside us each day. You have to go to believe it! Happy Holidaze to all, Dave O’

    — David O'Rourke · Monday December 26, 2016 ·

  13. I come by my addiction to golf genetically. My dad grew up on a golf course. Starting in 1906, my great grandfather, grandfather & uncle were head greenskeepers at that western Wisconsin course. I wished they had had the time to teach the little girl how to play par golf as they did. Like the commercial I hope to play my terrible golf as long as I live, hopefully into my 90’s. I have played 18 holes as many as 611 times in a year & I live in Michigan. Sadly, I’ve learned from experience even colored balls disappear down in the snow, but snowless winter golf is doable & fun. I have a framed picture of snow on the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews. Golf in Scotland is magnificent any season of the year.

    — Carol Niemi · Tuesday December 27, 2016 ·

  14. I enjoy winter golf in Massachusetts and play right through the winter at my club north of Boston so long as there’s no snow. Optimally the temperature hits 50 degrees as it can be damp and raw and windy with the club situated alongside a lake. I played this past Tuesday, December 27th and it hit 60 degrees. John Updike wrote a wonderful short story about the topic, “December Golf”. He played many a winter round at his club Myopia until his passing. I’ve played golf in Ireland in September and October in a wide range of weather but I’d love to experience winter golf there or in Scotland someday. Having read George Peper’s book “Two Years In St. Andrews” and exchanged a friendly letter or two with him about his time there, I would love to tee it up with him on the Old Course some winter day then enjoy a glass of red wine by the fire.

    — Michael Macklin · Thursday December 29, 2016 ·



 


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