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Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt and Tom Simpson
Muirfield is the course of “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers” (HCEG), the world’s oldest golf club—according to direct written evidence—formed in 1744. In those days, the members played over Leith Links, originally a five-hole course. In March 1744, the first official rules of golf were drawn up by the “Gentlemen Golfers of Leith” in readiness for a tournament which was due to be played over Leith Links the following month. These original 13 rules became the basis for the game of golf and shortly afterwards, the HCEG was formed.
Almost 150 years later, in 1891, the course at Muirfield opened for play. Old Tom Morris designed it, originally as a 16-holer. A further two holes were added a few months later. In 1928, Harry Colt and Tom Simpson were brought in to make alterations to the layout. Many golf historians believe that the course became truly great as a consequence of the changes made by Colt and Simpson.
The design layout is a masterpiece and highly unusual for links courses of this era. Most courses were laid out simply, nine out and nine back. Muirfield is different; it was the first to be designed with two concentric rings of nine holes. The outward nine holes run clockwise around the edge and the inward nine run anti-clockwise, sitting inside the outward nine. The layout ensures that the wind hits you from all directions, but Muirfield is as difficult to play downwind as it is upwind.
Host to fifteen Opens, most recently in 2013, Muirfield is considered by many top professionals to be one of the fairest Open Championship golf courses. Bernard Darwin loved Muirfield, and in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, he wrote: “There is a fine view of the sea and a delightful sea wood, with the trees all bent and twisted by the wind; then, too, it is a solitary and peaceful spot, and a great haunt of the curlews, whom one may see hovering over a championship crowd and crying eerily amid a religious silence.”
Muirfield is blessed with a collection of superb golf holes and we'll mention a couple of them: The 554-yard par five 9th hole is a tough driving hole, two bunkers lurk on the left-hand side and beyond them is a grey stone boundary wall with out-of-bounds threatening the hooked tee shot; the fairway cruelly starts to narrow at the landing area of a good solid drive, the tangly rough waiting hopefully to catch anything struck off-line. The second shot must avoid a waiting line of five cleverly placed bunkers situated short and right of the green. The 13th is one of best short holes on the open circuit, an uphill 191-yarder; five abysmal bunkers, three on the right and two on the left ferociously protect the deep and narrow green that slopes from back to front. Whatever we do, we mustn’t leave a scary downhill putt.
Muirfield is an eccentric but traditional golf links of the highest calibre. The fairways have that lovely spongy seaside turf, there’s some unbelievable bunkering (many of which are small and deep) and there’s that thick, thick rough to contend with. The greens are relatively small too, which makes you think carefully about your approach shots and once you are safely on the putting surface, you’ll need to interpret them well because the borrows are subtle and tricky to read.
In readiness for the 2013 Open Championship, following a land swap with next-door neighbour the Renaissance Club, Muirfield was lengthened, with new tees added on seven holes. Now measuring 7,192 yards from the tips, with par set at 71, Muirfield has become a stern 21st century challenge, especially when the wind blows.
In simple terms -- those who opine Muirfield is less than stellar - frankly need to examine the roster of champions the course has crowned over the years. There's no accident that such top tier players have been able to hold the Claret Jug. The reason is simple -- the design calls upon consummate skill in all phases of one's game. The Open has been contested 16 times here and the winners are as follow: Harold Hilton, Harry Vardon, James Braid (2), Ted Ray, Walter Hagen, Alf Perry, Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (2), Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
The turf conditions for the '13 Open showed conclusively what the layout is like when firm and fast conditions are at their optimum best.
Unlike so many other links courses -- which can be fairly one dimensional with a straight line out and back routing -- Muirfield is always changing looks and, as a result, so does the wind directions one encounters when playing. Adjustments are the hallmark of a player's ultimate greatness -- and Muirfield excels in showcasing players who can do that over and over again.
The topography isn't going to wow many upon their first visit, however, Muirfield eschews the zany bounces that sometimes can derail a fine shot with randomness. Fairness can be often aborted when playing links golf but at Muirfield it is the player who holds the keys to one's success -- and failure.
The constant theme when playing the course is using your mind -- the puzzles are ongoing for players to decipher. One must be ever realistic on determining one's line of play. Failure to do so will mean repeated visits to the treacherous bunkers that almost always seem to pull one's ball towards them.
The bunkers demand total respect. They are well-positioned and their overall appearance is both alluring to the eye and paralyzing to the strokes needed to extricate oneself from upon entering. At Muirfield -- the application of the word "hazard" is most apt to define these fiendish creations.
My only detraction for the layout is the inane height of the rough. Penalizing a missed tee shot is appropriate but the degree of such punishment can easily be accomplished with the usage of a scalpel and not a hacksaw. The quality of Muirfield's routing and hole diversity need not be "protected" by hay-like rough that necessitates inordinate delays from prolonged searches. Muirfield is not alone in this desire to inflict unnecessary pain and I would hope that better sense would prevail for day-to-day play.
Spending time in the clubhouse is clearly a must and if time allows the lunch is clearly sumptuous. For those able to spend a few extra pounds it's a real plus to spend a night or two at resplendent Greywalls immediately adjacent to the club.
Overall, Muirfield doesn't need all the artifice that lies at the heart of so many highly touted but clearly overrated courses. The central theme when playing is realizing what Clint Eastwood was famous for saying in one of his Dirty Harry movies, "A man's got to know his limitations." At Muirfield, you will be constantly reminded of that and you will know no greater joy when executing a shot of excellence as the reward will be swiftly supplied. The word "must" play is used to the point of silliness but Muirfield is indeed one of the rare clubs I have played in my lifetime that merits that lofty tribute.
by M. James Ward
I played Muirfield for the first time 7/9/17. As you read my review know that I am comparing this course against others in its class and not your local average muni. I am also grading it against its price tag to play. I have played about 40 top 100 clubs on this list, all of the Open venues and roughly 40 top 100 from the USA. I am a student and a fanatic of great golf course architecture. I am giving the course a rating of "Good" because of the price and for the lack of variety in the course design.
Muirfield is an interesting review. There is nothing about the course that will blow you away, there is no pro shop, no golf pros on site, and yet it is still a special place from an experience standpoint.
From the moment you arrive you are greeted by a friendly staff member who will advise you where to park and will offer you a shuttle ride down the driveway to the club. The entrance gate to Muirfield has to be one of the best in all of golf albeit a very odd set up for a club. You park "off site", travel 40 yards down a neighborhood road to reach the club gate. There is no grand entrance as you drive up. From there I was greeted by one of the staters who again was very welcoming and friendly (as was the entire staff).
First off I want to say that Muirfield from an experience perspective should be on everyones must play list but only if you stay for lunch and play the foursomes in the afternoon. It is a rare experience and one that 99% of American won't find at home. The course isn't worth the money but the day long experience is worth it at least once in your lifetime. The clubhouse is worth a look around at all of the history and artifacts.
As for the course, it is relatively flat all the entire way around, don't expect sand dunes here or big undulation changes. It is probably the fairest of the links courses I have ever played because it is so flat, if you hit to the right area you will be rewarded for plotting your way around, no bad bounces. Because of this some might say the course is boring and uninteresting. Tremendous bunkering throughout the course, they're beautiful, deep, penal and they are everywhere! There is an old stone wall that encloses three side of the course and comes into play on about 4 holes. The rough at muirfield is among the worst you will find anywhere, off the fairway is dead or lost. The greens were the best I have encountered in all my times playing in this part of the world, they rolled about a 9+ and were "tour" smooth. I took a caddie and he was nice enough but would have been better had he been trained to be more like a pro caddie given they require top pay for their work. Not once did he clean my ball, not once in the rain did he wipe dry my grips or the shafts before placing them back into my bag, I think proper training is lacking. Other than that my caddie was a good guy to spend 4 hours with.
My overall impression of the course is that it is very nice but a bit mundane, lacks any real variety in hole design, doesn't have any heroic do or die shots, most holes do allow for an easy run up shot, the first three par 3's are basically all the same which is uneventful, hole 11 (being that it is the worst on the course) needs to be dug up and rebuilt. Some of my favorite holes are 6-9 and 12-16 and of course 18.
I'd have to give Mousehold Heath pitch & putt a 6-ball rating. It's great value at just £5 a round and holds up well compared to others in its class
I'm not quite sure how to respond to this review. Muirfield is a consensus top 10 course in the world and having played over 30 of the world top 100 I would agree with it's lofty ranking. I realize that people have differences of opinion and I don't want to be harsh, but this review betrays a serious lack of appreciation for what makes a great golf course. To call Muirfield "mundane" staggers the mind. In contrast to the statement that the course "lacks any real variety in hole design" I would contend that there are 18 unique and excellent holes at Muirfield and each shot is a demanding test of strategic golf. To play Muirfield is to engage in a chess match of the highest order, pitting your abilities against the strategy of the course and the elements.
It would seem the reviewer would prefer a cheaper option and some "heroic do or die shots", and in that case I would refer him to the Myrtle Beach area where such courses can be found in abundance.
To all those that appreciate this great game and are thinking of visiting Muirfield please ignore this review. Simply, he doesn't know what he is talking about! Muirfield is a golfing heaven of strategic brilliance! SR
There are some slightly sniffy responses to this review.
I think that the reviewer is clear that his rating is based on his enjoyment of the experience not strategic merit.
Some newer courses like Castle Stuart show that fairness is not incompatible with fun.
Also, the new sea holes at Renaissance show the thrills that Muirfield is eschewing on the same land.
Alister MacKenzie says in "The Spirit of St Andrews" that courses should on no account allow their Greens Committee to become dominated by low handicap golfers otherwise quirks (aka fun) will be ironed out In favour of uniformity (aka fairness) with excessive penalties for poor play. When you see flat fairways, high rough and a lot more front right bunkers than back left you know the course design has been influenced by humourless scratch golfers.
It’s no surprise that every hole at Muirfield is a strong one, each relentlessly demanding but all accepting of good and well-thought-out shots. The position of the bunkers, on both drive and approach, is truly exceptional. I lost count of the number of times I stood on a tee and there was a hazard, or group of hazards, exactly where I wanted to drive my ball for the optimum line into the green. Add to that the wispy rough that flanks most of the holes and there is a real premium on accurate driving.
The course was slightly different to my expectations in that it wasn’t quite as flat as I had imagined and there were a few more blind and semi-blind shots than I thought there would be. I liked this aspect a lot as it gave the course some real character; a splendid mix of charm and challenge.
The charm is apparent on holes such as the second, third, sixth and 11th where respectively an interesting green complex, a funnel of duneland, an ancient stone wall and a stunning backdrop add to the charisma of the course.
The challenge is omnipresent at Muirfield but nothing is hidden, all the cards are on the table and it’s as honest a course as you will play.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Playing at the Honourable Company is one of the great experiences in golf. The storied history of the club and their adherence to rules and traditions make it a club every golfer who loves the game should experience once in their life. Wear your jacket and tie, play the alternate shot format they suggest and have the lunch in the members dining room. There are few experiences as good in golf.
The golf course itself doesn’t bowl me over. Compared to other links courses, it seems flatter with most of the holes having less character. I liked the par fourth dog-leg 8th hole, which Jack Nicklaus called his favorite par four in the world. The uphill par three 13th is also very good. Stay at the Greywalls Hotel if you can, very cool.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
I was obviously very excited to play Muirfield last Summer having read so much about the course and its exclusivity with no pro shop, conditioning, the famous lunch and the highly regarded Colt design with counter directional loops.
We were staying in North Berwick having booked ahead and had high hopes of a full day so got the traditional taxi to the green keepers' sheds outside the club.
As we approached the gate the friendly steward met us, knew our names and welcomed us into the club to check in.
The club house is quite classy, with free tees and coffees - needless to say our pockets were stuffed with red and white tees as we went out to have a putt before our game !
We were paired up with an antiques dealer and retired financier from Chelsea with whom we suggested a friendly game for a bucket of Kummel.
We are both from London so we don’t have chips on our shoulders, but given the authoritarian 18 handicap limit on applications were slightly taken aback when they claimed 20 and 24 “or so” since they aren’t members of a club but fancied a game.
Anyway, to the golf, the conditioning is indeed excellent; even the tees have three cuts !
You won’t be surprised to hear that our opponents turned out to be pretty good golfers and super competitive. Cue much sympathetic eye rolling from their caddies. We quickly moved to game mode after a couple of “lucky pars”!
The first is a relatively gentle opener bending round to the right, but you quickly find that anything off the fairway is in extremely nasty rough that can cost you half a shot. This is a difficult golf course.
The turf and greens were very good, the holes were challenging, a very good set of par 3's, and a couple of blind shots.
And ... that was that really.
Like some other links courses you don't really get many sea views, but in this case it is especially frustrating since there is fantastic duneland towards the sea but Muirfield itself is laid out over much less interesting land up by the club house. Too far to walk for lunch ?
Speaking of which, the lunch was nice enough, but held in a slightly functional dining room and the Yorkshire puddings definitely had more than a little Aunt Betty about them. Not a great wine list either. The lack of occasion led us to get an earlier taxi back than anticipated, and instead had a great night out in North Berwick as the best dressed drinkers in the pub. No-one had a nice thing to say about Muirfield especially locals who caddy there.
These might seem minor quibbles, but having heard so much about Muirfield we were underwhelmed having paid well over £200 each for a round of golf and lunch.
Compared to somewhere of an equivalent status like Prestwick we felt tolerated rather than welcomed as guests.
I don't think that a member spoke to us in our time there, and that is unique in all of the many courses that we have played, including supposedly stuffy places like RSG, St Enodoc, Rye etc that turn out to be very hospitable to friendly visitors to their lovely clubs.
Whilst happy to have played Muirfield, when we revisit East Lothian next year we will play North Berwick, Gullane and Dunbar instead.
I feel like giving Muirfield 3 balls and 2 fingers but the conditioning is excellent and the course is a true challenge, it's just not beautiful or a great experience.
Oh, and in case you were wondering the Bash Street Kids won 2 up over the Post Street Kids who retired to neighbouring Greywalls Hotel since “the food is better there” and never got us that drink. Up the Revolution !
Great review, have you done any others? It's great isn't it, these clubs charging 200pds plus for a game. I had a poor experience at Birkdale (6 ball course, 1 ball pro shop) - thanks for the 210pds, I can't help you with anything else I'm afraid. Oh actually, here's a plastic bag tag for you. No lunch included I'm afraid, sir. Help yourself to a 5pd pint though. Now there's the 1st tee, off you go, little man.
I can't understand how anyone could be disappointed to play (admittedly for a high green fee) any Open Championship venue. There are only a few US Open Championship venues that you can play and you’ll pay more money for a single round at Pebble or Pinehurst #2 than the cost of Muirfield and Birkdale combined. You simply can’t play many of the other US Open courses as you’ll need to befriend a member – thank the Lord golf in GBI is 99.9% inclusive. I can’t agree with a 4-ball rating for Muirfield, it’s an insult to its greens (subtly contoured and shaped) and its bunkers (artistic and strategic). It may not have hole-to-hole sea views but it’s an architectural masterpiece. I’m a big fan.
I should point out that I'm rating the overall experience, not the architectural merit.
We didn't actually find Birkdale unfriendly, just slow.
Of the current Open venues we have played Muirfield was our least favourite, fighting it out with Lytham (another non-scenic strategic test, draw your own inferences !)
I guess in order from #1 down the full rota would be St Andrews, Turnberry, Portrush, RSG, Prestwick, Birkdale, Carnoustie, RCP, Lytham, Princes.
Troon (won't allow visitors before mid-April when we tend to find ourselves there), Hoylake (expensive, looks boring) and Musselburgh to play.
And ref inaccessible US Open venues, I agree - how can they give the prestige to a club that doesn't allow golfers to play if they stump up the cash ? I was pleased how quickly the R&A moved on Muirfield.
Lucky to be invited to play here by a member last week. Although have played here before many times, like everytime, the day is special. You are treated by the member as if you were at their home. Lunch is a special thing here and is the golfing equivalent to having dinner in the long room at Lords. Plenty of wine and a few Kimmels and you're ready for the first tee. Two reloads later and you've chalked up a dishonourable 10 shots on the first. All is forgotten very quickly after a few pars before the scoring holes come around. Two loops of nine is a nice layout with front nine being more memorable. Clubhouse is very old fashioned with no real chance for refreshing beer to drink outside while discussing your round.
Still one of the best courses around and one of the best experiences too.
Played it on a perfect day with no wind from middle tees so always hard to judge a links in those conditions. Beautiful setting and lovely course but I have played many which are better. I struggle to remember any real feature holes. Very flat as well. Surprised it is ranked so highly but still a very good course. Keen to go back to see what I maybe missed.
All the par threes are very good and the 182-yard 4th is one of the best of the four. Anything more than a few yards short will almost certainly be bunkered as will any ball that is not hit dead straight. You can’t see many of the bunkers from the tee but they are in all the right places.
The 9th used to be a par five but now is a very tough par four of 465 yards. You are constantly aware of out of bounds which runs the full length of the left hand side. If the rough is long, you will be hard pressed to see any of the bunkers on the edge of the fairway.
The par four 18th is one of the classic finishing holes in golf. A hint of draw from the tee is ideal as the fairway proper is slightly angled from the tee. Provided you miss the two fairway bunkers on the left then you need a long second which has to avoid two fairway bunkers near the centre of the fairway.
I have read reviews that have described Muirfield as overrated or dull. Muirfield doesn’t have towering dunes, nor does it have holes alongside the sea. But it does have a brilliant layout, wonderfully disguised bunkers and greens second to none.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
Had the wonderful fortune to play here a couple of weeks ago as the guest of a member.From the moment you park your car in the garage (nothing as ordinary as a car park here) and walk through the gates of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers you realise you are in a very special place.Requirements of the day meant two rounds of fousomes with a truly wonderful lunch sandwiched in between. Weather was kind to us - light drizzle in the morning but no wind at all, bright sunshine in the afternoon with enough wind to make it sporting but not overly difficult.Playing off the members tees on fast running fairways, the course was not especially long. However, accuracy off the tee is paramount, with any ball that is anywhere near a fairway bunker being gobbled up by the pesky traps!Rough was not overly thick, but long wispy grass made it impossible to hit shots any real distance and we very quickly learned to takle our medicine. Putting surfaces were superb as you would expect 6 weeks before The Open Championship.There is a wonderful mix of holes, the par 3's being exceptionally difficult to find and hold the green on.Difficult to call my favourite hole, but 18 probably shades it, against the backdrop of the beautiful clubhouse, and a plethora of fairway bunkers requiring an extremely accurate tee shot followed by a longish second to a very well protected green.Off course, the clubhouse is absolutely fabulous, and the lunch being as good a carvery as I have ever enjoyed. Also a word about the exceptionally friendly members who are rightly proud of their beautiful club and were all very keen toshare a 'story' with us over lunch.Probably the fairest and most enjoyable venue I have had the joy to play. Birkdale is probably more intimidating and a slightly stronger test, but if I had to chosse one to play for the rest of my life, then Muirfield just about shades it.Finally, a word for our caddies - we sprayed balls to some places where we thought 'no chance', however the eagle eyed caddies ensured we never lost a single ball all day.