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It may be famous for the golf, but St. Andrews is a happening college town at heart.
It may be famous for the golf, but St. Andrews is a happening college town at heart. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Forget Cancun, why not a spring-break golf party over in St. Andrews ala Bill Murray

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Each winter, as thoughts to turn to spring break trips, college students ponder a timeless riddle: Cancun or the Bahamas? Acapulco or Vegas?

But before you're blinded by thoughts of booze cruises and string bikinis -- and before you get worked over by spring-break travel packagers (all-inclusive never means all-inclusive, kids) -- consider greener pastures. Namely, golf in St. Andrews.

Seriously. You won't miss much coming here to play golf instead of hitting the tropics.

Okay, you'll miss sunny beaches, barely-there swimsuits and post-all-nighter Caribbean sunrises. But St. Andrews offers plenty more.

Long before it was a golf Mecca, this was a college town, a big reason why the streets stay alive here long after sunset, in contrast with most small Scottish golf towns. University of St. Andrews co-eds from all over Europe promenade and hang out in the bars on North and South streets.

Celebrities seem to have discovered the St. Andrews scene as well. During the 2006 Dunhill Links Pro-Am, Bill Murray reportedly befriended a pair of students at Ma Bells Bar; they invited him to a house party, where he spent the night drinking vodka out of a coffee mug and even washed the dirty dishes.

"He couldn't fail to have a good time, the party was overflowing with stunning Scandinavian blondes," fellow attendee Tom Wright told the local press.

"Are you kidding? This place is awesome," a study-abroad student from Boston told me as he waited for his pizza at One-O-One Connection, a late-night take-out joint on South Street. "There's tons of bars and at the end of the night we all usually end up together at the [student] Union."

Even with its lively bar scene, St. Andrews offers parents a less worrisome destination for teen celebration than the Caribbean, where binge drinking and bad decisions are the norm.

"Sending me to St. Andrews was the only way my parents were going to keep me away from Cancun in high school," said J.O. Delancey, whose folks were less than thrilled at the thought of sending their 17-year-old south of the border with the rest of his senior class. As a result, the Michigan High School DI golf champ and his buddy got a free ride to the cradle of golf.

Golf courses in St. Andrews

Few college students think a year ahead about anything, let alone booking tee times. But if you're in St. Andrews for even a few days you've got a good chance of getting on the Old Course via the daily ballot.

"I'd say at worst odds are about one-in-four, but it's usually much better than that," said John Stewart of the St. Andrews Links Trust.

If you aren't selected, the New Course next door is first come, first served, or you can play Jubilee or Eden. For hurting mornings after, the Duke's Course rents carts -- no doctor's or bartender's note needed.

Along with the proximity of all the golf courses, another positive is the atmosphere. For all their historic cachet, the Links Trust courses are unpretentious and low-key. Even upscale Kingsbarns (staffed with numerous hotties from the university) will treat you right. No eyeballing from starters or rangers like at ritzy clubs in Florida or Scottsdale. You're one of the people when you play here.

The equally storied Carnoustie Championship Course is just a half-hour drive away, but you'll want return to St. Andrews after your round: Carnoustie is pretty dead unless the British Open or Dunhill Links is in town.

{If you're looking for value, though, Carnoustie often offers a package that justifies an overnight stay: Rounds on all three of the resort's tracks for little more than the cost of playing the Championship Course alone.)

You won't get much of a suntan and you won't come home with braided hair, but spring break in St. Andrews more than repays ditching the Caribbean crowds. Just remember to check the Old Course ballot results for your morning tee time before setting off on another long, hard night out.

Stay and play in St. Andrews

If you've got the dough, consider taking the Young Tom Morris suite at the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel overlooking the 18th green at the Old Course; it can house a foursome, albeit in cramped style, and the huge balcony is perfect for post-round cocktails. For tighter budgets St. Andrews has numerous hostels and B&Bs.

St. Andrews dining

The Dunvegan Grill features casual eats and a chatty atmosphere full of locals, students and tourists. There's always a rugby or football game on the telly and there's nachos and chicken wings on the bar menu.

West Port Cafe & Bar on South Street is a hipper but equally casual alternative that draws a younger clientele. The clued-in wait staff can point you to the best bars to hit on a given night, and there's a big-screen TV for sports.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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