The 10 Toughest Tee Times to book in 2025

The golf tourism industry in the UK & Ireland is well and truly booming. This is great news for the local economies of the most popular golf towns in Scotland, Ireland and England, which are attracting investment in the forms of new hotels, improved transport links and thirsty tourists keeping the local pubs busy. But despite significant increases in the green fees at the most popular golf courses in Scotland and Ireland,  these clubs are selling out all of their visitor tee times in record times, often within weeks of opening their diaries for the following summer. 

Increasing demand is good for our business as a luxury golf tour operator, although it does come with its challenges. To ensure we secure all desired tee times, it’s vital to plan ahead and get these bookings in early. An added challenge is some clubs don’t have a set date for when their diary opens and just an approximate timeframe, making it even more important to plan ahead, and rarely do clubs in set regions line their diaries up so their tee bookings for the following year are made available at the same time. 

In this article, we list the 10 most difficult golf courses to get a tee time. But what were the criteria we used to determine this? 

It won’t come as a surprise that this is a simple supply and demand equation. 

Visitor Demand: This is influenced by world ranking, popularity in golf publications, hosting famous tournaments and most interestingly proximity to other famous golf courses. When you have regional clusters of great golf courses, it makes the destination more attractive than visiting just 1 great course in a remote location. In the UK there are many truly world class courses which fly under the radar due to their remote location, but are always easy to acquire tee times at. Machrihanish (Scotland), Silloth (England) and Enniscrone (Ireland) are prime examples of this. 

Membership (Supply): Most of the clubs in GB&I operate as “private members clubs”, however, unlike many in America or Canada, most British private clubs still allow and depend on limited visitor play at selective times. The volume of visitor tee times up for grabs determines how easy or difficult it is to get a tee time there, and a few factors come into play here. The size of the club’s membership (more members normally means less visitor tee times), and its financial health all feed into this, determining the extent of higher yielding visiting golf they wish to permit. 

Most member clubs in the UK are not run for profit, they just need to make enough money to pay the staff, manage the course and cover any capital expenditure, for example Royal Dornoch and their new clubhouse which they’re just about to start building. Often, many clubs will opt to reduce their tee time stock, instead focussing on increasing the green fees. There really is no hard and fast rule. 

Now without further ado, the 10 toughest tee times to secure on the links of GB&I. 

#10 Royal Troon (Ayrshire)

With The Open Championship being played here in 2024, we’re expecting a huge surge in demand for Scotland golf trips including tee times at Royal Troon. On top of that, it’s been very tough to acquire tee times at Troon in 2024 due to preparations for The Open, so there’s some pent up demand there as well. The last time the Claret Jug went to Ayrshire, it produced one of the most memorable final rounds in years. Another year like that will send bookings for Troon into sheer overdrive. 

2025 Diary opening date: Late March / Early April 2024.

Visitor Days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday

Waiting list: Yes

When will tee times sell out? Mostly within a month. The occasional 2/3/4 ball can be booked later in the season or via local hotels. 

#9 TRalee (South West Ireland)

One of the most visually spectacular golf courses in Ireland, Tralee is blessed to be located close to a handful of other world class golf courses, which makes it an extremely popular venue. Ballybunion, Waterville and Lahinch are all often featured in World Top100 lists and can be played together on the same golf tour of South West Ireland. It’s worth a mention that those other Irish gems are also extremely popular and will sell out quickly, but Tralee should be the first one to book. 

2025 Diary opening date: Late March / Early April 2024.

Visitor Days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? May/June 2024 (which is when Ballybunion opens their diary)

#8 Royal Birkdale (Liverpool)

The Open will once again return here in 2026. However significant work to the course has been conducted by Mackenzie & Ebert, with particular focus on the par 3 holes to create more variance and demand even more from the world’s best. Birkdale is on a stretch of coastline where several world class courses back onto each other, which makes for an epic golf trip to North West England.  West Lancs, Hillside, Formby and Southport & Ainsdale, as well as two other Open hosts in Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham within easy reach. 

2025 Diary opening date: Opened in February 2024

Visitor Days: Monday, Wednesday, Sunday Lunchtime, & ‘Birkdale Experience’ on Thursdays

Waiting list?: Diary is already open!

When will tee times sell out? Before the end of summer 2024

#7 Sunningdale (london)

The only Heathland Golf Course on our list; Willie Park Jr laid out The Old course in 1900, and the first club secretary – revered course architect, Harry Shapland Colt – spent the next twenty years refining it as well as building The New. This is without doubt the best 36 hole day in Britain, dare I say the world. Sunningd also has fine company in nearby counties Surrey and Kent; Southern England is prime for a world class golf trip, with Sunningdale being the pinnacle. However, its well-heeled membership and only limited availability for tee times makes this a tough place to secure, especially at short notice.  

2025 Diary opening date: September 2024

Visitor Days: Monday -Thursday

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? Almost immediately.

#6 Carnoustie (angus)

Known affectionately as ‘Car-nasty’ for the course’s brutish reputation, Carnoustie operates in the same way as St Andrews and North Berwick. The links are a public facility, and no less than 7 golf clubs exist within the town and local area who have playing privileges. This means the courses (Carnoustie also have the Burnside and Buddon links) are busy, and its close proximity to St Andrews means demand is very high. 

2025 Diary opening date: 1st May, 2024

Visitor Days: Most days

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? Peak season will sell out very fast

#5 North Berwick (East Lothian)

The West Links at North Berwick, with its iconic closing stretch of holes that include ‘the pit’, ‘the redan’ and of course ‘perfection’ has been on a journey over the last 20 years which have propelled it into an extremely small category of the most coveted courses in the world. Similar to Carnoustie & St Andrew, 3 clubs within the town share access to the course, and being ideally situated in East Lothian, close to Gullane and Muirfield means this is very popular spot for Scotland golf trips. A fan’s favourite for its incredible sea views, high world ranking and quirky layout.

2025 Diary opening date: 1st April, 2024

Visitor Days: Most days

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? 4 – 8 weeks

#4 Royal Portrush (Northern Ireland)

With The Open Championship in 2025, availability will be extremely tight over the coming 18 months, and Royal Portrush is simply one of the best courses in the world. Colt is credited with much of the design, particularly the green complexes which are some of the most impressive you will see anywhere. Home to two courses, The Valley, their second course is highly underrated and heavily encouraged if you’re lucky to secure a tee time here. 

2025 Diary opening date: 1st March, 2024

Visitor Days: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri and late afternoon on weekends

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? Only very limited availability now

#3 Royal Co. Down (Northern Ireland)

Ranked by many as the #1 course in the world outside of America, there is no other experience like playing golf at ‘RCD’, with the Mourne Mountains and its dramatic dune structure. As a small and extremely private club, the club only opens a certain amount of availability to visitors, and their diary will open on the 30th April. Make sure to check out our guide to planning a golf trip to Northern Ireland if you’re planning on playing here in 2025. 

2025 Diary opening date: 30th April, 2024

Visitor Days: Limited times on Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri and Sunday

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? Almost immediately

#2 Muirfield (East Lothian)

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers were the first to draft the rules of golf, when they played their golf down the road at Musselburgh, and in the late 19th century moved to the links at Muirfield which is regarded by many as the best course on the Open rota. This is an extremely traditional club who on any non-visitor day of the week mandates 2-ball play, but they’re happy with the arrangement they have with visitors who can play as 4balls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With its world famous lunch very much part of proceedings, and green fees including 36 holes, it is easy to see why this is in second place as the toughest tee time to get hold of. 

2025 Diary opening date: February, 2024 with ballot process

Visitor Days: Tuesdays & Thursdays

Waiting list?: No. It’s a Ballot process in February for tour operators, March for regular punters.

When will tee times sell out? 99% already have

#1 The Old Course (Fife)

An anomaly and notoriously difficult to play if you want to guarantee a tee time in advance, there are many means by which you can play The Old Course however due to an incredibly high level of demand none of them are easy. 

An advance ballot is complete in September each year, whereby you can request a series of dates. Be careful to ask for tee times too close to the peak season however, or you will risk being disappointed.

Then there is the daily “48 hour ballot”, where you can apply in groups of 2-4 to play 2 days ahead of the entry date. You must apply before 12pm and the results are typically published around 5pm the same day. On a golf trip with Halcyon Golf Travel, we handle the ballot entries so you can focus on enjoying “aprés golf” and not missing the submission deadlines.

Finally, you can bag a tee time at The Old Course via ‘the singles line’. Previously, people would congregate at the starters hut in the late evening, bring sleeping bags and a coffee thermos (not always filled with just coffee…) and camp out for the daily allocation the next morning. The only condition being that people could not give up their place in the line, hence the camping. This year, St Andrew’s Links Trust have removed this, and instead, a daily singles ballot is available by entering on an iPad and taking a picture. We’re sad to see the traditional singles line disappear as it’s often one of the most memorable parts of our clients golf trip to St Andrews, but at least everyone will get a better nights sleep now!

Several clubs exist in the town, most famously the Royal & Ancient, as well as The New Club, St Andrews Golf Club and many more, so the links are certainly busy, and with the links closed on Sundays ‘to rest’, there is a very finite amount of tee times to go around. 

The Old Course is also unique by the fact authorised providers can only sell tee times as part of a 4 or 5 night St Andrews package. Please contact us for enquires to play The Old Course, we can acquire packages throughout the year as there are often cancellations and other tour operators with excess inventory from whom we can purchase from last minute.

2025 Diary opening date: September, 2024 ballot & daily singles line in town

Visitor Days: Mon – Sat

Waiting list?: Yes

When will tee times sell out? Immediately, but available later in the year via cancellations. 

So, in conclusion; with tee times going on sale all at different times of year, unprecedented demand and contracting supply, it’s really important to book early for a golf trip to Ireland, Scotland or England.  It may sound daunting trying to coordinate all of the different diary opening dates for the private courses of the UK, but that’s where Halcyon golf travel can help. 

Arranging memorable golf tours to Ireland, Scotland and England is what we do, so all you need to worry about is making your flights and getting up on time for your next tee time. Get in touch with us and see if we can do some of the heavy lifting for you!

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