How I Planned My Own Dream Scotland Trip

Graylyn LoomisScottish Golf Travel20 Comments

Much of this website is dedicated to planning Scottish golf trips, and while I’ve helped hundreds of people take trips of their own, I still get very excited every time I get to plan one for myself. Over the last year I’ve been piecing together a trip to Scotland with a group of my best buddies.

It will be a group of four (a perfect size for a self-planned trip) and I’m the only one who has played golf in Scotland before. My three buddies gave me a few directives that included a budget, a goal to see more than just golf courses, and a desire to see a range of links courses from ancient to modern. From there I got to planning.

The point of this article is to explain my thought process when planning a trip for myself. I’ve written extensively on all aspects of Scotland golf trips, but I still get “if this was your trip” questions all of the time. Well, here’s my trip!

The Early Stages

Our group ranges in age from 26-36 and one goal was to remain within a reasonable budget. One easy way to do that is to stick to one (or two) regions. The guys left most of the planning to me, but in all of our discussions I emphasized the need to base ourselves in a single location for the week of the trip. It’s something that I preach to almost everyone, but the dine-and-dash method of frantically driving around the country for a week leads to bad and expensive trips.

Our choice to base ourselves in St Andrews was made very easy by the fact that my wife and I own an apartment in St Andrews, Scotland. We rent the apartment out, so I just needed to block out a week for us to go and have “free” accommodation. Regardless of that apartment, I would have encouraged the group to choose St Andrews. It’s the perfect place for a week trip, particularly on a first trip to Scotland.

Once we chose St Andrews, I immediately decided to enter the group in the Advanced Ballot for tee times on the Old Course. You can read my full article on how to get a St Andrews Old Course tee time here, but long story short you enter the advanced ballot in the late summer and find out if you got a tee time in early fall for the next summer. On the submission form you provide a range of dates you’d like to play and fortunately for us, we got our first preference – early June. I’ve written another article on the best time to visit Scotland for a golf trip, but we chose early June because it’s not the peak of high season, the days are very long, and the courses are in great condition.

At that point we had our St Andrews Old Course tee time and a St Andrews Castle Course tee time (you have to play two rounds when entering through the Advanced Ballot). Those two rounds served as what I call “anchor rounds” around which we planned the rest of the trip. Read more about anchor rounds on the Scotland Golf Trip Planning To-Do List.

The Middle Stages

Once the anchor round(s) were set, we looked at where to play for the rest of the week. We decided to only book one round per day to leave plenty of time for non-golf activities, but we’ll have open mornings and afternoons during which we can squeeze in another 18.

Since our goal was to stick around St Andrews, we decided on the St Andrews Old, St Andrews Castle, St Andrews New, St Andrews Jubilee, Golf House Club Elie, and North Berwick. The courses offer a mix of old, new, stunning views, history, and budget-friendly green fees. All of those courses, apart from North Berwick, are within a 20-minute drive of St Andrews. With only a week in Scotland I wanted to spend as much of it as possible enjoying the golf and towns, not driving around in a car.

Once we had the rounds selected, I started a Google Sheet with various details about tee times, green fees, and confirmation numbers. The document is shared among the group and makes it easy to keep everyone up to date.

I was surprised that at 10 months out from our June trip most courses were almost completely booked. With that in mind I highly encourage everyone to plan their trips about a year in advance.

The Final Stages

Roughly a month before the trip I sent an email to our group that determined an arrival plan (we’re all getting in on different flights/trains). We’re are all seasoned golf travelers, but I included a packing list of things my buddies might not consider on a US-based trip. The list was:

– Rain Pants (along with your rain jacket)
– Wool hat / Beanie (or two)
– A few large Ziplock freezer bags (to keep phone, wallet, gloves dry in a rainstorm)
– More golf gloves than you think you’ll need
– Two pairs of golf shoes. If we have a heavy rain day it’ll be really nice to have a dry pair the next morning (while the other pair dries 24 hours)
– Call your credit/debit card company to let them know you’re traveling abroad

The trip is now two weeks away and the last step is to finalize our arrival plans. We’ve rented a van and I will drive us around!

General Thoughts

Because of my experience traveling and living in Scotland, we knew from the beginning that I would plan this trip for us. The alternative would have been to use a golf tour company, and I’ve written an article on how to choose one and whether they’re worth the money

If you want an even more in-depth look at any of the topics mentioned in this article, I wrote an e-book that takes a deep dive on all things Scottish golf trips. It’s called, “How to Plan a Scottish Golf Trip” and is available at Amazon.

Also, if you’re planning a trip and want to look at courses outside of St Andrews, check out this map of Scotland with all of my course reviews plotted. You can also look at a list of course reviews as well.

If you have questions about a trip, leave a comment on this article! I’ll answer it publicly so that everyone can gain some knowledge. As for our trip to St Andrews, follow along on social media (Twitter & Instagram). 

20 Comments on “How I Planned My Own Dream Scotland Trip”

  1. Graylyn,

    Looking at the same type of trip you planned. Four guys, St. Andrew’s base. Would definitely go B&B or home rental. Excluding the air fare from Boston (which would be somewhere between $900 – $1,200) can you give me a range for budget? I would definitely book with you to do a consulting session as non of us has ever been there. I am the planner in the group and enjoy doing the research and all. Need to see if its in everyone’s budget.

    1. Hi Marc, As you just read, I think it’s the best way to do the four man trip. Our golf will cost £650 and will be the most expensive element of the trip. I’d also budget roughly £1,100 for a four bedroom house/apartment for the week (total, not each). The other expensive point is the van rental. Renting a large vehicle in Scotland is tough/pricey and we ended up getting a van that will be around £500 total for the week. Those big costs are less painful when divided by four, but should all be factored into the budget.

      I’d be more than happy to help with a consulting session whenever you need it! Just shoot me an email at whenever the time is right.

      1. Got to tell you, your website and book are great. We didn’t get picked in the old Course lottery so we adjusted our itinerary. Doing St. Andrews and Ayrshire. We have a couple of days we can try for the 48 hour lottery when there so we are still hopeful to play the Old Course. I ended up getting the book rather than the consultation.

        I did have two quick (I hope) questions.

        We are four people. When you say you rented a van, what size are you talking about? Looks like there is a standard passenger van (Peugeot 5008) or an MPV nine seater. Big price difference.

        We come in from Cork to Edinburgh (we are staying in Ireland first to play Old Head) and have the whole day to get to St. Andrews, what do you think about doing Musselburgh with the hickory sticks, just nine holes.

  2. I have to say, I planned my trip in 2017 very similar to yours. That said, I had read your website a few times before. So, you get some of the credit! It’s nice to have free accommodations, but most of us don’t have that luxury. You can save money on a St. Andrews based trip by renting an apartment or cottage in one of the small towns outside St. Andrews. My son and I rented a two-bedroom cottage in Crail for 750.00 pounds for a week. It had a washer/dryer, two full baths, and all modern appliances. It was a super easy 20 min drive from downtown St. Andrews.

    As for golf, I know you’ve played most well known courses in Scotland, but I’m a little surprised by your course selection. Yes, the Jubilee and the New Course are excellent, but it looks like you’ve exhausted St. Andrews proper (did you get one of the multi-day passes they sell for St. Andrews Links, that give you a great deal if you are going to play a lot of their courses?). I also played Elie – great choice for first timers – holes 10-13 are as good as any in Scotland. We played Lundin – which I would recommend over one of your other St. Andrews courses, if for no other reason than it has a superb seaside setting (which New and Jubilee do not), and it gets the group out of St. Andrews for a day. I played badly that day, but my memories of the course are quite vivid.

    We considered North Berwick (I actually made contact with the club and was ready to book). It’s certainly one of the best and most historic courses in Scotland (and the world). But, the club Secretary scared the crap out of me, when he said we should allow three hours to get there on a weekday morning from Crail (and St. Andrews is further away), because of rush-hour traffic. Not wanting the drama and wasted time driving around Edinburg that time of day, and in the car for that long, we opted to go north instead, and we played Panmure and Montrose in Angus. These became two of my favorite courses I have ever played, and my next trip will probably be based in Carnoustie, because of it. I don’t think I would play in East Lothian unless that was my base for my trip (which it could certainly be – you can play more than enough “lifetime memory” courses there, without ever leaving the area – some are jacket-tie only clubs, though).

    One last thing. I absolutely support your decision not to “schedule” more than one round per day. For most first-timers to Scotland, they are used to riding in golf carts, and 18 holes of walking and dragging clubs in the wind and rain is much more fatiguing than they’re used to. But, more so, the weather is so unpredictable, you will sometimes be happy to get one round a day in, let alone two. Twice, we had to cancel our second round of the day, because a continuous driving rain storm arrived in the evening. In fact, it seemed to rain every single evening during our trip. The early August days were “relatively” dry, but once you’ve got a round in and are a little tired, the idea of getting wet and cold in a steady rain for the second round loses it’s luster pretty fast. Finally, since most Scottish clubs don’t operate their food service the way clubs in the US do, fitting in meals and getting meals in the Clubhouse after that second round can be a challenge. Twice at Crail they had to reopen the Kitchen for us after our second round (and that only happened because we had joined as Overseas Members).

    Good luck, and enjoy. I can’t wait for my second trip (hopefully next year). Love your website, and your articles in Links Magazine.

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Thank you for such a good and thoughtful comment! It sounds like you and your son had a great trip – pretty much exactly how I’d do it myself. I’m happy that the website was useful to you as well.

      To address a couple of your points – one of my goals for this trip was to do as little driving as possible. We’re staying right in the heart of St Andrews, so we’ll be able to walk to many of our rounds on foot. We’ll likely even add the St Andrews Eden Course on either our arrival day or one of our free afternoons. I think the New, Jubilee, and Eden are severely underrated. As for the multi-course passes, we didn’t opt for one of those, but we do have the Old and Castle booked together as part of our advanced ballot tee time package. I also have a St Andrews Links Ticket, meaning I pay an annual fee for “membership” and unlimited play on any St Andrews Links course. Even if I didn’t have that links ticket, I wouldn’t change any of the courses we’ve booked.

      Lundin Links is beautiful and is one of the courses I considered, but I weighed that against the ease of walking to the first tee. I also knew that if we decided to play a second round on any afternoon of the trip, we’d likely be able to add Lundin on short notice.

      You’re right to have been afraid of the Edinburgh morning commute traffic. It can be bad and can make the journey from St Andrews to East Lothian pretty bad. Based on your trip being in August 2017, you also would have been dealing with the opening of the new Forth Road Bridge (Queensferry Crossing) that spans the Firth of Forth. Traffic was terrible leading up to the opening, which happened officially on September 4th, 2017. With that traffic in mind, I booked our North Berwick round at 1PM, so we can take our time driving down from St Andrews and not be in a rush. We’ll have a pint after the round, catch up with a member buddy of mine once he gets off work, and meander back.

      I love the amount of thought you put into your trip – you’re going to have great subsequent trips because of it! And kudos to you for joining Crail as an overseas member. It’s so cool and fun to have that connection to the place. I’ll keep the articles coming and let me know what you decided on for your next trip!

      1. Thanks, Graylyn,

        Though I’ve only done it once, I think traveling (well, OK, I hate the “traveling” (flying) to Scotland part, and the jet lag) to Scotland to play golf is my single favorite thing to do in the entire world. The best I can do right now for time off and wife-pleasing may be every other year, but if I could, I’d come at least twice a year. I can afford it, and my game is also perfect for links golf: I don’t hit it that far off the tee, so the links bounces are a boon to my driving distance. I can hit low running iron shots, and I’m a good lag putter, especially from off the greens. I made a ton of putts at Jubilee, Montrose, Elie and Panmure.

        Because my son is still in school, I’m limited to June-August, but I plan to enter the lottery for a 2019 Old Course reserve tee time this fall. If we get one, we’ll build our trip around that (and the second mandatory St. Andrews course – probably the New). We played nine on the Eden in 2017, after our round on Jubilee, but a driving rain soaked us so badly, we had to quit after nine. I’ve never been so wet and cold playing golf in my life. Unfortunately, that is about all I remember about that course. If we get an Old Course time, we will stay in a rented flat in Carnoustie, where we’ll play all of the Carnoustie courses, plus Montrose and Monifieth. We may take a day trip to Aberdeen and play Royal Aberdeen one day, sleep over, and play Murcar the second day, before driving back to Carnoustie.

        We will probably join Panmure as Overseas Members. They have a great deal on that membership, and it’s the epitome of a traditional Scottish Golf Club – with a phenomenal course. You should review it. Panmure is one of my all-time favorite golf courses. Also, they have a thing called the “Carnoustie Country” reciprocal deal, where a member of any one of the Angus/Dundee clubs gets 50% green fees at all other member clubs, and there are a lot of clubs. This discount even applies at the Carnoustie Championship Course. That deal saves a lot of money on a week-long trip – more than paying for the membership. When you have a home club, you can get Saturday morning tee times, and special playing privileges in the evenings and weekends. They’ll get you out with no notice, and my son even played in a junior medal competition at Crail, when we were there in 2017.

        You see, I don’t travel to play golf to check off a list of famous courses so I can brag to my friends and members at my club. I hate the crowds, the cost, and the wall-to-wall tee times. Also, if I wanted to play golf sandwiched between two American four-balls, I’d stay in the US and save a lot of money. The Old Course is the exception, though (you know, Old Tom Morris, the origins of the game and all), and Carnoustie is the hardest legit championship course in the world, along with Oakmont (near where I live), so I have to play there. Other than that, I just love links golf, and I love an authentic Scottish golf experience, that doesn’t involve ducking for cover, crowded club houses full of drunk Americans, bank-breaking greens fees, persnickety playing rules, and waiting/being pushed on every shot. You might call me the definition of the hidden links golfer.

      2. Graylyn: One more thing,… If you’re looking for a second round, or even a third nine, on the day you play North Berwick, there is a club right next door called Glen. I did some research on it in 2017, and it looks inexpensive, and it plays over the same links land as North Berwick. It has some beautiful holes along the sea.

        1. The Glen is a great little course. There are a couple of holes along the back nine that reminded our group of Cabot Cliffs.

          The Glen, Dunbar and Lundin were the hidden gems that we played when we visited last summer.

  3. If you like the smell and feel of a Sea Breeze, Dunbar is a must play!!! It is my favorite links course. Very scenic and very playable.

  4. Great advice on the Final Stages on what to bring, but I have one more that I was very slow to adopt, but once I did, it made a world of difference. I’m not the type to wear winter gloves, but I can’t recommend strongly enough a pair of rain gloves. I was very skeptical, but after multiple trips to GB&I, I broke down and bought a pair, and they were worth every penny. There’s a good chance you may never need them, but if you do, they will help tremendously. They are not hard to get used to (one of my fears) and the stability they bring is tremendous. My hands did not slip, no matter how wet my grips became. If I had to pick only one thing to bring to GB&I between rain gloves or an umbrella, it’s not even close.

  5. Hi Graylyn, your site has been a wonderful help so far. We are planning on being in St. Andrews for 6 days and have a range from avid golfers looking to play 36 a day to guys with bad backs who will have to skip a few days. We are thinking about spending one day in the middle with no golf and rest up. What would be the perfect non-golf day in St. Andrews and what would be the perfect day trip from St. Andrews? Thanks!

    1. Hi Andy, great question! It all depends on your group’s interests, but considering this would be a rest day, I’m going to avoid tips like hiking the scenic Fife Coastal Path. Instead, I would explore the town of St Andrews, drive up to the Kingsbarns Distillery for a tour and whisky tasting, or travel past Kingsbarns to a series of villages called the East Neuk of Fife. Get Fish and Chips in Anstruther, get a pint at The Ship Inn in Elie, and stop in the villages for pictures and coffee. You’ll never be more than 20 minutes away from St Andrews!

  6. I was just spent a week in St. Andrews this past summer playing golf and exploring on my non golf days. You might consider contacting a company called St. Andrews Shuttle. We used them for some touring on the days off from golf. They have a nice big Van/Bus that could handle all the guys and on those days you visit a distillery you have someone to drive you home. They can make the arrangements for you ahead of time. Call Wendy or Gordon at 44 7902 488770, let them know what you are interested in doing and they can suggest some options. As tour guides they are very knowledgeable. They also run a shuttle from the Edinburgh airport to St. Andrews and back.

  7. Hello there, just a few questions here if you don’t mind;

    What do you reckon the U.S.D. cost to be for a shuttle from Edinburgh to St. Andrews . We plan on staying in St. Andrews and playing all the courses there with maybe a drive over to Panmure/Elie/Crail. Is it worth renting our own? We would only need it to and from the airport and to and from one of the outside courses. Any recommended travel companies for this ?

    Since you recommend booking 12 months in advance, let’s say we get all courses booked except the Old, roughly 1 year in advance (June 2020 trip), how do we fair with this proposition? I understand the ballot process but if we have to wait until early Fall for results, how do we maneuver the other bookings?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Dane, those are good questions. My first question is about your group size. If you are four golfers or less, I think you guys could get away with using local taxi/transportation companies for the visit and not need to rent a car. If you have more than four, the options start to get tougher and you need to look at a larger company like St Andrews Executive Travel or Woods of Tillicoultry.

      For local taxi companies with four golfers I would look at St Andrews Taxi, Golf City Taxi, or Williamsons (among others). You’re looking at around £100 for a pre-booked taxi from Edinburgh airport to St Andrews. Crail ought to be around £25, similar with Elie, and around £50 for Panmure. Hope that helps!

      As for when to book, I would stick with that one year in advance plan. You can book most of your tee times on the course websites. If they don’t have a booking system you an email the courses!

  8. I am planning a September trip to St Andrews. I would love to plan it myself for 4 golfers but I find the most difficult part is navigating tee times. Any hints? Thanks

  9. Graylyn,
    Loved stumbling upon this blog! I’ve been in the throes of planning (and twice subsequently replanning due to COVID) our ‘2020 Scotland Golf Trip’. It’s now happening in 5 weeks in 2022! This will be my 5th trip, and I’ve done it all sorts of ways (tour operator, self book staying in hotels/BnBs, self book staying in an apartment and now with this trip self booking and staying at Vine Cottage). I’ve got to say, your process and mine are nearly perfect mirrors of each other. This trip is with 3 ‘first timers’ and they wanted the full bucket list experience for St. Andrews, so we are doing Castle – Old (this was the 2 round package via the early lottery process in Fall 2019) – New – Jubilee – Carnoustie – Kingbarns – Dumbarnie.
    My first trip was a month long self booked trip in 2010. I fell in love with Scotland and links golf. A few trips in between and now this latest trip can’t get here fast enough.
    Our one worry is the weather. My other trips have all been in the heart of ‘high season’ so less risk on the wind and rain and hail and, and, and… This trip, due to 2 reschedules from 2020 to 2021 and The Open being in 2022, we’ve had to pull into early May. That’s the earliest in the year I’ll have been there… Hoping it’s not a full 7 days of wind and rain! Especially since my playing partners are all from the always sunny Phoenix, Arizona!
    Thanks again for hosting the blog – I’m checking out the other content as I continue to obsess about the upcoming trip!
    Joe Welsh
    Seattle, Washington, USA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *