THE much-anticipated daily ballot to play on the Old Course at St Andrews is being changed for the first time in over 100 years. Instead of being made the previous afternoon, starting next January it will be drawn 48 hours ahead.
The change is to allow disappointed golfers who miss out in the ballot more time to fix up an alternative venue and, unashamedly, the St Andrews Links Trust hopes that will be one of the six other courses that it operates in and around the town.
More than 40,000 rounds are played on the Old Course each year and the ballot is designed to give golfers who have been unable to book in advance the chance to book elsewhere. Over the course of a year, just under half of the total number of tee times go into the ballot, a proportion of which are allocated to local golfers each day.
Every time on a Saturday is balloted, but on other days of the week - Sunday apart - the figure varies, as is the case at different times of the year due to the hours of daylight.
The changeis something that has been mooted in the past but failed to receive the necessary support. However, following what has been described as "an extensive consultation exercise" with a whole host of organisations in the town, including the golf clubs, it has now decided the time is right for the significant step to be taken.
"This is an historic moment of change and one which has been carefully considered," said Euan Loudon, the new chief executive of St Andrews Links Trust.
"We hope the 48-hour ahead system will help local golfers plan their golf and encourage visiting golfers to stay longer in St Andrews and play more golf while they are here.
"The feedback from many travel operators and hotel and guest house owners suggests it will make it easier for them to plan their clients' itineraries."
The Links Trust believe the new system will dovetail with the one-day ahead booking procedure that will stay in operation on three of its other courses - the Jubilee, Eden and Strathtyrum.
"It is not the first time this (proposed change) has been raised. It is fair to say that some tourism bodies have been keen on this idea for a while," added Mike Woodcock, the Links Trust's public relations manager.
"If people don't get through the ballot for the Old Course, they will now be in a position to book another course a day ahead rather than having to scramble about the evening before, as is the case just now.
"There were some people who would have been happy to see a status quo but I think it is fair to say they were in the minority.
"It encourages people to stay for longer and play more golf. We are conscious of the Old Course's allure and attraction. It is central to Scottish golf and, if this change encourages people to stay longer in Scotland, not just St Andrews, then so much the better."The first ballot under the new system will be drawn on Saturday, 7 January 2012 for play on the Monday.