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St Andrews

I shudder to think it – but I might never play the Old Course again

The ever-increasing green fees to play the Home of Golf are in danger of pricing the average golfer out of an experience every player should have, says our club golfer

 

At the height of the Covid pandemic, with an international audience grounded, a friend and I went on a weekend summer golf spree in St Andrews.

We got a tee time in the ballot to play the Old Course and, with a 3-day pass for the rest, we went absolutely nuts. We strode round until we practically chafed as we traversed the New, Castle, Eden, and Jubilee.

There wasn’t much else to do in the Auld Grey Toun. Restaurants closed early. So we played until there wasn’t any light left.

I remember a very clear moment, looking back towards the town from the incredible 10th tee on the New, where I turned to my mate and said, ‘It’ll never be like this again’.

I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity because, as we move into 2024, it seems more and more unlikely I’ll tread such famous turf.

The price of top 100 golf has gone up inexorably since the travel barriers came down. I paid £195 to play the Old in June 2021. It’s now £320 in high season. That’s 60 per cent more than it was three years ago.

You may ask, why pick on St Andrews? The green fee prices for all the top courses in Great Britain and Ireland haven’t stopped rising.

The likes of Muirfield, Royal County Down, Turnberry – to name just a trio – all cost more than a spin around golf’s most famous links.

But what vexes me is the wider traditions that have served the Old so well down the centuries.

It was Archbishop Hamilton, in 1522, whose charter enshrined the right of the people of the town to play the course. Green fees are a relatively recent modern invention, compared with the longevity of the links.

golf courses reopening in Scotland

‘I won’t pay £320 to pay the Old Course’

You can still walk the course on a Sunday when no golf is played. But pick up an iron and deign to play a shot into the famous 1st or 18th greens? It’s starting to get eye-wateringly expensive.

On The NCG Golf Podcast, David Jones, better known as UK Golf Guy, spoke of his “naïve” romanticism that wants “average people to play their [top] courses without it being something they’ve got to save up for 10 years to do”.

I feel this particularly in the case of the Old Course, a place where every golfer who has ever glanced at a history book – or watched the Claret Jug being lifted in the shadow of the R&A Clubhouse – aspires to play.

It troubles me that a course so steeped in the heritage of the game might be becoming beyond the pockets of so many who dream of playing it.

I won’t pay £320 to play the Old Course. It’s probably not going to get any cheaper in 2025. That brings with it the sobering thought I might never play it again.

Yes, courses cost a lot of money to maintain. I know Covid and the cost-of-living crisis has affected organisations and businesses just as much as the rest of us.

I know trusts and clubs, whether private member or proprietary, have a responsibility to protect their assets and a responsibility to members.

Should golf in GB&I also be built on higher principles, though? It should never become like the United States – where most of the top courses are behind locked gates and those that are public charge exorbitant fees that make them inaccessible to all but the well-off. There have been rumours that $1,000 for Pebble Beach could soon be on the cards.

Like Jones, maybe I’m just naïve. But with a course like St Andrews, we should all be able to say, ‘one day, I’ll go and play there’.

With every steep green fee increase, that hope drifts further away for more of us. That doesn’t just make me sad for the direction of the sport’s travel, it makes my blood boil.

Listen to The NCG Golf Podcast

Dan Murphy and David Jones join Tom Irwin and Steve Carroll to consider what makes a great golf course, discuss the price of playing the top courses in GB&I, consider a value golf trip, and get stuck into golf ball roll back.

To listen to the podcast, click the banners on the top and bottom of this article. To listen to the specific episode, you can also click here.

Now have your say

What do you think of the green fees to play the Old Course, and of elite golf courses in general? Would you pay the asking price, or is it out of your reach? Let me know with a comment on X.

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