This post is the third in a series about planning a golf trip to Scotland. The first post was How to Plan a Golf Trip to Scotland and the second covered Where to Play on a Golf Trip to Scotland – enjoy!
When golfers think about a golf trip to Scotland, “where to play” is the first thing that comes to mind. However, when to play is perhaps the even better question.
The bulk of readers that I speak to want to take their Scotland trips in June, July, or August. Their reasoning is that the weather is better in the summer. It seems like a natural choice, but each month brings with it a set of pros and cons, all of which I’ll explore in this article.
The weather can be terrible in Scotland all year round. You can have absolutely perfect days in November and you can have cold rain for a week in July. We had three weeks one April in St Andrews where I never saw a cloud in the sky. The average days with precipitation in St Andrews is lower in April than in July. Knowing that it can rain in any month, your main consideration should be temperatures.
March/April will have temperatures in the mid-40s to mid 50s (F) and July/August experience average temperatures in the 60s (F). Frost delays are a common occurrence through the winter and even into the shoulder seasons. If you have the choice, don’t book 7AM tee times because you could end up waiting until 10AM for the course to thaw. Keep in mind that on the St Andrews Old Course, frost delays don’t delay tee times – instead, the early frost-delayed tee times are cancelled.
Many of the modern links such as Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, and Trump Aberdeen actually close in November and re-open in March/April.
Light and Avoiding “Busy Dates”
Another large factor when considering off-season travel to Scotland should be light. Scotland is on a higher latitude than Nova Scotia, so the days are very short in the winter and very long in the summer. We’re talking sunrise around 8:30AM and sunset around 3:30PM in the winter. Follow that with 4:30AM sunrises and 10:30PM sunsets in the summer (mid June has the longest days of the year). This means final tee times in the summer fall as late as 5:30 or even 6PM.
Light spills into quite a few other factors when planning your trip. Playing 36 holes in a day during the off-season, or even the shoulder seasons, can be a difficult task! Shorter days also mean fewer tee times up for grabs. That being said, fewer traveling golfers means less competition for those times. If you want to enter the Old Course ballot or get a tee time at Muirfield, the shoulder seasons often provide much higher success rates.
You should also consider what are generally called “busy dates” at courses. These are days when the course is hosting an event and is closed to the public. Busy dates can be infrequent at some courses and very common at others. In all cases, check a club’s website before assuming a set of dates will be open. A great example is the St Andrews Links Trust. Check their busy dates here, but you’ll find that the St Andrews Old Course is closed for a total of one week in July, five days in August, 12 days in September, 13 days in October. You don’t want to be surprised when you enter the booking phase of your trip planning! For more about the order in which you should plan your trip, check out the Scotland Golf Trip To-Do List.
Rates and Course Conditions
Shoulder season rates can be a great way to save money on your trip. You can expect anywhere from a 20-50% discount off peak (summer) tee time rates from March to April and September to October.
One consideration is the mats that some courses make golfers use when hitting from the fairway. The small piece of artificial turf ensures that you don’t take divots that would struggle to heal through the winter. They take some getting used to, but I have found that they never ruined a round of golf for me. Mats are generally in play at courses from November 1 to March 31st, but each course is different.
A final factor is course conditioning. While many courses are in great shape over the winter and off-season, some utilize winter greens and others cut down the fescue rough substantially before it grows back in the spring and early summer. Be prepared for courses that don’t look like the postcard if you choose to play in the early shoulder season. If course conditions are important to you, but you still want to visit in a shoulder season, consider going in September or October when the courses have grown through the summer and have not yet been cut or moved to winter setups.
When I Would Go
If you don’t mind paying high season rates, I think that late May and/or early June is the best time to visit Scotland for golf. The courses and hotels aren’t too busy, the days are long, and the courses are in great shape.
If you want to take advantage of shoulder season rates, I recommend April. The days can be cold and the courses are just coming out of the winter, but you can experience tremendous trip at a massive discount.
–Scottish Golf Travel Podcast (a great site and podcast dedicated to Scottish golf travel)
–Visit St Andrews (perfect for local tips and recommendations)
–Scottish Golf Trip Planner (a section of my site dedicated to planning your own trip)
–Scottish Course Reviews (my large database of Scottish course reviews)
If you would like help planning your own golf trip to Scotland, have a look at the Scottish Golf Trip Consulting feature on the website. It provides an alternative for golfers who want to avoid costly tour companies, but don’t have the time or knowledge to plan a trip themselves. Additionally, you can always leave a comment below and I’ll respond as soon as possible.
Before I retired my annual trip was typically in October – November. Surprisingly, in total, the weather was very good. Of course, I also have played in snow flurries.
Thanks for the comment, Ron! That is a great time of year to visit Scotland. You weren’t fighting crowds, I would assume!
A very helpful article. I agree about the evening golf in the late summer – perfect especially if it’s on a classic links course whilst carrying a three-quarter set of clubs; proper golf to my mind!
Planning a retirement trip to England Scotland in 2020. Edinburg/St Andrews Old is a must. We have visited England twice in October. How is Scotland during this time? Or would April/May be better. Also I will be a single golfer and coming from USA. Do I need to apply or can I show up during the time we are staying in St Andrews and hope for the best? This will be a one time try. Also can my wife walk along?
I will be renting clubs and a caddie. Your response and help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Hi Cedric, congratulations on your retirement! This will be a trip well-earned.
The weather in Scotland can be hit or miss in October (it’s a great time for a golf trip, I think), but most importantly, October isn’t the best time to visit St Andrews. That’s because St Andrews has a range of events in September and October that close the Old Course for visitors, like the Dunhill Links Championship. The link below features all of the “busy dates” in St Andrews.
April and May have similar weather to October, but are much more open tee time-wise. Because of that, I’d recommend going then instead. The Old Course, and every course in Scotland for that matter, is very open and friendly. Your wife will be more than welcome to walk along anywhere you play. As for tee times, there are numerous ways to go about getting one, particularly since you’re planning so far in advance. Check out the link below for details, but I’d suggest first trying the Advanced Reservations Ballot, second option would be the Daily Ballot, and third would be lining up as a single very early in the morning on the day you want to play. Between those three things, you should have a darn good chance of getting on!
I guess 2020 didn’t work out, I hope you can make this happen in 2021!!
I am planning a trip to Scotland the week of the 25th with an overnight in St Andrews. Since I will be a single, I would love to play the Old Course. I have the handicap card and understand all involved…my question is how early in March should I arrive at the course…I am planning on Thursday the 29th and it looks like nothing is busy that day. What would be the odds of me playing during that time of year. I will have my gear and shoes and will need clubs and a caddy…any ideas or thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks
Hi John, I’d recommend getting there about 4-5AM. Earlier obviously provides the best chances of getting on, but you’re right about that time of year not being too busy. You should have a pretty darn good chance getting there around 4:30. Dress warm!
We’re planning a trip mid March 2019 and looking to play the old course. When can we book tee time.
Hi Kris, good question! The first thing you should do is read my article on how to get a St Andrews Old Course tee time (see the link below). There are multiple options, all of which happen on a different timeline. With that in mind, it’s hard to answer the question of when exactly you can book.
Simply put, if you want to book a guaranteed tee time through a tour company, you can book now! If you want to enter the Advanced Ballot, you’ll enter during the last week of August or first week of September 2018. Beyond that, the next best option is the daily ballot. More information on all of those things can be found at the link below.
Hi, my son and I will be in Scotland (from Canada) April 5 – 14th. We have a tee time on the Old Course on the 9th. We would like to play a couple of “warmup “ rounds in East Lothian before that, and some other Fife courses after our Old Course round. My question is should we be booking tee times now for next week and the following week, or will we likely be able to book on the day or a few days in advance? We are not necessarily looking at playing the more famous courses like Muirfield, North Berwick etc, but would be perfectly content with some lesser known links courses.
It sounds like you guys have a good trip lined up! To answer your questions, I’d consider booking now. There’s no harm in getting a head start and it may provide you a better chance at getting the tee times you want. I’d look at courses like Gullane No. 2, Dunbar, and Kilspindie. They’re all great options and while they may have open tee times on the day, I’d get on it earlier!
Hi, thanks for your reply! Following up today.
Last year, we had 14 days in Scotland with 10 days of golf, so I think it was 12 rounds. We had TWO HOLES of rain the entire time, on the Old Course. I hesitate to tell you what time of year it was as I don’t want too many people running there and making it crowded:-) It was the first two weeks in October.
Chris, you guys had the dream trip! That sounds amazing and shows how you can use the shoulder seasons to your advantage. I share in your pain about keeping that news to yourself… you’re just sacrificing for the great golf traveling good!
Hi im going to be arriving in st andrew on the 16th of july planing to play the old course on the 17th im only there for one day so i must play on the 17th what time should i get in line and how’s the weather. i need all the tips i could get im coming from los angeles california…
Hi David, First things first, check out the link below about getting a tee time on the Old Course. There’s a section in there about lining up as a single. Long story short, I recommend getting in line about 3AM this time of year.
As for the weather, it’s impossible to say! Fortunately though, it’s been dry and sunny for a couple of months in Scotland so the courses are firm, fast, and in great links condition. I’d plan for mid-60s temps, a chilly wind, and the potential for rain. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
I played the Old Course the end of March this year and arrived as a single at 5am. I was the third waiting and had no problem playing . This time of year it is more challenging. My caddy told me during the summer months there are lines of singles 50-100 long. The Old Pavilion starters told me, during the summer months, players arrive 10pm – midnight the day before. Keep in mind the starters get there at 6:30am. Overall, if I had to do it again and had to arrive at midnight, I would do it…the experience of playing the Old Course is well worth it.
We are thinking of going to Scotland to golf at the end of December into early January. Is it still possible to golf then? What are the typical weather condiotions?
That’s a good question! I would recommend against taking a trip to Scotland that time of year. The average temperature in December and January in Scotland is 40 degrees F and rain is common. Additionally, and almost more importantly, the days are very short in the dead of winter. Sunrise in early January is around 9AM and sunset is 4PM. Factor in frost delays, which are very common that time of year, and it’s very possible that you’ll have entire days where it’s impossible to play.
I suggest looking at March and April instead!
I am planning a trip to Scotland and your website has been a big help. One question I have for you is how late in the day can you play to guarantee finishing. We will be there in mid June next year and I am curious if I book a time at 2:00 or 3:00, would we finish? Just curious.
Hi Adam, I’m glad the website has been helpful! You ask a very good question. The longest days of the year in Scotland are in June, so you’ll definitely finish if you book a tee time at 2 or 3. The average sunset time mid-June is 10:30PM, so you could actually tee off much later than 3PM and still get your round in. For reference, the last “guaranteed finish” tee time at the St Andrews Old Course mid-June is 6PM.
Hope that helps!
I just received notice that I was awarded an Old Course tee time in the advance tee time process. We were assigned April 8, 2019 (1:30) on the Old Course, and April 9 on the Jubilee (I’ll probably try to get them to change the Jubilee to the New, since I’ve played the Jubilee before). What kind of weather can we expect that time of year (temp, amount of wind/rain?), and what time does it get too dark to play? When I played in Scotland before, I played in August. It was relatively warm, but it rained at least once every round we played. I am still flushing out my group, and I want to give everybody a realistic idea of what to expect. What course conditions can we expect? Will we be hitting off mats or playing to temporary greens (this would be a deal breaker)?
I’ve played in Scotland before. My son and I stayed in Fife in 2017, and played Jubilee, Eden, Crail (Balcomie and Craighead), Elie, Lundin, Panmure, and Montrose. This time, I’d like to stay in Carnoustie and play Carnoustie Champ, Burnside, Panmure (again), Monifieth, the two courses at St. Andrews, and perhaps Montrose again. My question: how good are the other two courses at Carnoustie (Burnside and Buddon)? Are they worth avoiding the drive up to Montrose (which is a wonderful, historic course, but again, I’ve played it before)? Thanks for your advice.
Hi Ryan, all good questions there. To answer them: Expect temperatures in the upper 40s. It could be warmer, could be colder, so prepare accordingly. As for rain and wind, it’s tough to say—just layer up and be ready for it all. The latest you could tee off and get in all 18 would likely be around 3-3:30 at that time of year. The good news is that fairway mats end on all of the St Andrews courses at the end of March, and pretty much every other course does the same (but you can check course websites if it is a deal breaker).
I’ve never played the Burnside and Buddon courses, so can’t comment on whether they’re worth playing or missing. I’ve always opted for other courses knowing that they’re generally flatter and less well-regarded than others. They could be great options if you guys want to tie in a second 18 any of the days!
I plan to visit in September and would like to play 2 of 4 courses: Brora, St. Andrew’s New course, Elie, and Crail’s Balcomie. Mostly interested in scenic and historical links golf that is fun to play. Which 2 do you recommend the most? Thank you.
Hi Don, I think you’d have a great time between Elie and the St Andrews New Course. Those two would give you a nice balance of different styles, different histories, and very different clubs. If you do visit Elie take time to explore the village as well and grab a pint and meal at The Ship Inn!
Hi there, i really like your site and the podcasts.
Another consideration for summer golf is the great twilight deals you can get.
Places like gleneagles, ladybank etc are half price or less, great option for a cheeky 27/36 hole day, or to fit a round in on a relocating/travelling day.
Hello! We are arriving in Edenburg in September 5 for a 5 days holiday. Since we are playing golf, I wonder what golf clothes should I pack. Can I wear shorts or golf skirt? What’s the weather like in September?
Your reply will be highly appreciated. Thank you!
Hi Graylyn, thanks for all the great information. I am wondering how far out you can/should book a golf trip to Scotland? I have a smaller group, just 3 of us, and we are looking to play during the last 2 weeks in April of 2021. I will be using your consulting site once we get more serious but for now just want to plan the timeline. Thanks in advance.
Hi Joseph, Great question! I would start thinking through everything as early as possible. I’d plan to start booking, whether through a company or on your own, as soon as possible once everyone in the group has committed. Some courses don’t open their tee sheets until one year out, but I would start booking things on a rolling basis if it was my trip. That way you get the courses and hotels you want with no compromise.
Long story short, I’d get going now for an April 2021 trip! Have a great time!
Hi Graylyn –
Firstly, great set of articles. Thank you. COVID permitting, I’ve a Scotland trip planned next year. I am sticking to two regions (per your advice) but in an attempt to squeeze in all the courses I’d like to play, I’ve one day playing 36 with a significant drive in-between (Turnberry > Kingsbarns). The day of play is in August (a long day, sunrise > sunset).
Whilst I imagine most rounds roll out to 5hrs midday in the peak of summer, what (generally) is the first tee time on Scottish courses? Or is it a mixed bag? Asking because I’ve a 7am at Turnberry and am wondering if I can bank on the round being closer to 4/4.5hrs?
Happy holidays and a happy new year.