Playing the Old Course may seem a distant dream, but all it really takes is an early alarm call and the golf gods to smile on you
When I join the St Andrews Old course queue outside the Old Pavilion on an unseasonably mild Wednesday morning in October at 4.15am, I am No. 8 in line .
There is no number ticker or official line, just seven other hopeful golfers spread out across various benches who were that little bit keener to play the Old Course than me.
Not quite as prodigious in length as The Queue at Wimbledon, nor official enough to be capitalised, the queue at St Andrews is a tradition that enables single golfers to join any group on the Old Course that is anything less than a fourball.
It can offer five spots on a bad day or 25 on a very good day. One thing is for sure, come rain or shine, the queue never fails to attract numbers.
To be very first in line takes overnight dedication. Two young Canadian hopefuls, grabbing some shut-eye in their sleeping bags, were at the pavilion at 10pm the night before to achieve that honour.
By the time I come along, wrapped in too many layers despite the time of year, four Americans and a Thai are sitting comfortably before me.
Nine and 10, two more Americans, arrive 15 minutes after and share my particular bench. Along with two tall Canadians, numbers 11 and 12, we whittle away the hours with tales and stories from near and far.
The starter and office staff show up at 7.15am, at which point there are 25 giddy and hopeful souls in the queue.
When the doors open 15 minutes later, everybody takes their place in a formal line for the first time while our names and handicaps are taken.
With everyone listening intently, the starter informs us our position in the queue is assured, but there are only five guaranteed spots for the day ahead.
There are however ‘dark times’ and allotted ‘member times’ that could become free if not booked before 9am, as well as the possibility of cancellations.
Now we are free to go and have breakfast and return at our leisure. It is all very civilised.
When I return at 8.15am, just four hours after joining the queue, I am next in line. An American couple at six and seven had both got out in the same fourball while I had been away.
I am now, as the starter tells me, “in the driver’s seat”.
When 9am strikes, the unclaimed dark times become available, with four spots at 1.30pm and four at 2.00pm.
After I pick the former, my new American friends, Brian and Doug, promptly join my fourball and ensure our camaraderie in the queue will continue onto those hallowed St Andrews fairways.
It proved to be lucky No. 13 for another American, Terry, who joined the queue at 5.10am. He is last to get in and more than happy to fill up our fourball.
How badly do you want to play the Old Course? All you need to sacrifice is a few hours in bed.