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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 1923, another 50 acres were purchased to the north of the course. Harry Colt was engaged to redesign the layout and he introduced fourteen new holes, forming the course that remains in place today. Apart from Tom Simpson's re-modelling of the 13th hole in 1935, the only major changes since then have been the addition of new tees.
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.”
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) played host to the 1973 Ryder Cup matches between the USA and Great Britain & Ireland. Team Captains were Jack Burke (US) and Bernard Hunt (GB & I). This was the first Ryder Cup to be played in Scotland and players from the Republic of Ireland were eligible to join the British Team for the first time. It was a close match which may have been closer had Bernard Gallacher not gone down with food poisoning, which resulted in a last minute call for Peter Butler. In the foursomes, Butler became the first player in Ryder Cup history to hole-in-one, but his ace was not enough to win the match against Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. USA 19 - GB & I 13. The Ryder Cup was played at Old Warson in 1971 and Laurel Valley in 1975.
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.
I wrote a previous review for Muirfield having played it in the Scottish Amateur but having recently visited it again as a full fee paying visitor I thought I would describe my very different experience!
First of all the staff were friendly. I think it’s natural to feel slightly jittery when arriving at Muirfield given its reputation but everyone we came into contact with from Claire who dealt with my emails, the starter, to the shop staff and the folk working lunch was excellent. Members tended to keep themselves to themselves but I never felt unwelcome in any way at all.
The lunch itself was exceptional and I you would be mad to miss it.
The new pro shop that has been built since my last visit was well stocked. The changing rooms historic and modern at the same time.
One slight niggle was there was no one on the first tee to see us off like you get at other courses.
I’ve seen some reviews say the course has no sea views which is one of the most perplexing things I’ve ever read. They should automatically have any ratings disqualified for clearly not being able to use their eye balls properly.
The course itself is a funny one for me. Every time I’ve played it the wind has been the opposite from the prevailing one. I don’t think I’m being harsh either when I say I don’t think there are any signature holes like a 17 at the Old Course, 14 at Cruden Bay etc. but what you do get are 18, very, very good holes.
Is it the fairest links course? I’ve seen some people say it is but for me I’ve had a few too many shots land in the middle of the fairway, only for the camber to then kick it into the rough. 14 in particular has been bad for that in the past for me. 9 as well. I would argue Carnoustie is a fairer course but then I’m basing that on playing both courses a very different amount of times.
Muirfield is just a really, really good golf course. And I would argue the best experience in Scottish golf when you include the lunch as well
Understated brilliance and one of the heartiest welcomes we have received so far on the top100 quest.
Indeed, Muirfield’s team were as delightful as its course, from the moment we arrived at the iron gate, denoting the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to the moment we departed.
So, why does it have such a bad rap?
“I have been here 15 years and there is a lot of rubbish written. When Americans come, they even stand to attention!”
The starter was only half-joking. Clearly, it grates that Muirfield is falsely known for being anti-women and not laying the mat out to visitors.
I have to say this combination of prestige and infamy had prompted my pre-round nerves – a feeling comparable to arriving for a job interview. I shouldn’t have been apprehensive. As the starter said: “This is just a golf club, like any other golf club.”
Well, yes but no. It is a club with members but Muirfield is also one of the most revered names in the game because it has a history only rivalled by St.Andrew’s and, arguably, Prestwick.
However, we were astonished at how it was hidden away – so much so, that I took three wrong turns before I alighted upon a nondescript side road leading to one of the most famous sporting arenas in the world.
Also, I had not foreseen the low-key presentation of history. For example, if there is any record of its 13 Open championships, I didn’t spot it.
Don’t expect giant photos of Nicklaus, Watson, Faldo, Mickelson and co.
Muirfield is where the original rules of golf were written and yet there was more trumpeting about that document at Royal Lytham St. Anne’s where I played last week.
Instead, the clubhouse is adorned with giant paintings of golfers of the long distant past, wielding clubs which looked more like walking sticks.
Anyway, we were greeted with a wave of enthusiasm by the lady at the registration desk, the folk in the souvenir shop, the staff serving drinks and food and the aforementioned starter.
And, after our complimentary coffees and range balls, it was time to take on the beast.
Muirfield’s course has a reputation for being very tough and it lived up to it – the rough is high and dense and there is many a nasty surprise with hidden fairway and greenside bunkers.
But it is in superb condition and the views on a clear day (the clouds parted as we arrived!) were outstanding.
The starter suggested Mrs W and I both play off the navy tees so we could enjoy ourselves (there are no ladies' tees or scorecard because Muirfield is ‘gender neutral’).
So, I felt a pang of shame as we hit off together on the first and second and I am blaming that for two duff tee shots.
I reverted to the box tees for the remainder of my round and hit straight for the following 16 holes but that wasn’t enough to secure glory.
Let me be clear. If you cannot his straight at Muirfield, there is absolutely no hope of scoring because the rough is so penalising. We struggled to find balls and play recoveries on a fine summer’s day – I tried to imagine the fall-out if it were wet and blowing a hoolie.
I am a fan of quirky holes, so the second next to the boundary wall appealed as did the third with its green nestled behind opposite dunes. It also stuck in the memory because I nailed a putt off the green for my par.
The others on the front nine which stood out for me were the eighth, a curving par four which demands an approach over a cluster of bunkers and the par-five ninth which requires careful guiding between out-of-bounds on the left and thick rough and traps on the right.
The blindest tee shot is over a hill on the 10th which I nailed only to be caught out when a gust of wind helped my approach into sand at the back of the green.
This was one of three occasions when I found myself watching what I thought was a cracking second shot bound through the putting surface because the breeze was at my back.
Mastery of the wind direction is crucial at Muirfield but the course routing means that there is barely a consecutive hole where it is the same.
Anyway, other stand-outs were the par-three 14th which is a small target carved in a hill between dunes and bunkers and, of course, the 18th.
This home hole towards Muirfield’s historic clubhouse triggers memories of Opens won and lost.
It is followed by being treated like a lord and lady in the clubhouse with its fabled lunch which we devoured with the same hunger that the rough had gobbled our golf balls.
It was about the only element of Muirfield which brought truth to a rumour. Otherwise, this was a day which was full of surprises.
Another very good review Neil where my main takeaways were the phrases "falsely known for being anti-women" & "gender neutral". Perhaps the batteries in my irony radar are running low (have not changed them for 270 odd years).
What is clear is that the golf course is from the very top drawer - if Muirfield was a females rights activist, we'd be talking Emmeline Pankhurst or Susan B Anthony levels
Catching up on reviews I realised. I hadn't posted my Mirfield experience albeit pre lock down. I had a wonderful days golf 36 holes around this magnificent links. As always it was in excellent condition and yes it can be tough especially when the wind blows as I found out but played to enjoy rather than worry about score made for a great round. The dining half way around was splendid although harder to swing after all that great fayre
Muirfield is standardly spoken of as the most difficult place to play. And yet, I can go online at the appropriate far in advance timeframe and push a button and procure a teetime. I have done this 3 times. Usually the season prior to an Open as knowing the conditions would be growing in for that. Each time I was presented with a back nine first in the am and a rush around alternate shot in the afternoon. In between a lunch with all with many very welcoming members present. What a day to behold. Unlike so many links courses of out and back, Muirfield plays in circles which require astute confirmation of the wind. A must play for any golfer.
Hi Doug, I’ve also seen it written that Muirfield is one of the toughest tee times to get in golf. Usually this is referenced in US golf publications.
Muirfield offers public tee times on Tuesdays & Thursdays, and I think they were going to extend it to one other day. Perhaps this is relatively private by UK standards, but there’s a lot of lazy journalism out there...
Played this course two weeks ago and it was stunning. I am a resident of North Berwick and had always heard how stuffy and pompous the club and its members were. This could not be further from the truth. Everyone from the man at the gate, the starter, the lady in the pro shop, the other golfers on the course and the staff in the clubhouse couldn't have been more accommodating and as for the course itself, just amazing. We played in November and the greens were phenomenal and the fairways were reacting like it was the Summer. Definitely in my top 3 golf courses, ever! If you get a chance to play Muirfield you won't be disappointed.
I can honestly say I have never been more excited for a day of golf than I was for 36 holes at the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in October 2020. I had read reviews on here where a 6-ball rating was given more or less every time. I had watched coverage from Open championships; from Phil’s win which I watched in person as a 15 year old with my dad, to Faldo’s 18 par final round in 1987, learning each hole and creating a map in my head.
It is no surprise that Muirfield has the most decorated list of Champion Golfers, such is the test of golf it provides. Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Player, Braid, Cotton, Hagen, Hilton, Vardon, Els, Faldo and Mickelson have all lifted the Claret Jug in front of the famous clubhouse. The club has also hosted Walker Cups, Curtis Cups, a Ryder Cup and over a dozen British Amateurs making it arguably one of the most decorated championship courses in the world. All of these events are proudly shown off in the magnificent clubhouse, along with trophies and gifts presented by Shinnecock Hills, Augusta National, Royal Melbourne and other prestigious clubs from around the world. It is obvious when examining the walls and trophy cabinets that you are on the grounds of a very special club.
All of this is for good reason of course. Whilst the club is soaked in tradition and history, the course offers a fair test of golf over one of the best layouts in the game. The famous clockwise front nine works its way around the perimeter of the property, with the back nine weaving effortlessly inside it. Constant changes of direction make judging the wind crucial but difficult, and it is the first time I have ever played a course where angles and strategy matter on every shot, making it a 4-hour exercise in precision and patience.
I think it is important to know what to expect when playing at Muirfield, and I can sympathise when people say it is too flat or the views aren’t great. Of course, if you turn up expecting the undulation of Sandwich or the views of Turnberry, you will be disappointed as Muirfield is a different style of links. There is however more land movement than it is given credit, and the views are also better than I expected. The far corner of the course where 5, 6, 11 and 12 meet is up on a hill which creates contours for at least half of the holes. Whilst some holes like 1, 10, 15 and 18 are very flat and may appear boring or featureless at first glace, they offer perfect strategy and are still a blast to play.
The very best holes in my opinion are 2, 6, 8, 9 and 13, with none of the 18 holes being worse than a ‘very good hole’. My favourite moment of the day came on 12 where I hit 8 iron off the tee, and stiffed a 9 iron to a foot for a kick in birdie on a wonderful par 4. As I walked off the green I realised it was the same hole that Phil Mickelson threw me his ball on Saturday of the 2013 Open. Everything had come full circle for me, from a kid watching the Open with his dad to being a golf course nut playing Muirfield 7 years later. My scorecard with a circled 3 on the 12th hole now sits proudly alongside Phil’s ball in my house, a happy reminder of two memories I will cherish forever.
Whilst I didn’t get to have the famous lunch due to Covid-19 restrictions, I had one of the best golfing experiences of my life at Muirfield. The lofty expectations I had set in my mind were easily surpassed and I urge people to visit and soak it all in. The HCEG is well deserved of its ranking in the world top 20, and is unquestionably one of the most magical places in all of golf.
Wow wow wow, what an experience, played with a friend last week in fairly mild conditions but Scottish standard and managed two rounds on the same day. From the moment you walk through the gate and walk into the club house you know you are somewhere special. The history of the club is amazing but the course lived up to my high expectations.
I tend to evaluate a course by its condition, difficulty and how memorable are the holes. In terms of my first two criteria, Muirfield is quite a treat.
This course has plenty of length and a player must hit quality shots or pay the price. In addition, the high native grasses are more penal than almost any other course I played in Scotland. I don’t know if the native grasses just grow higher in this region, or if Muirfield does something different to maintain them in such a manner. The golf course when I played was also impeccably maintained. The greens rolled as true as any I have ever played and the turf condition in the fairways was just about perfect all the way around.
Although I was told by someone prior that Muirfield really has no views, that is really not true in my opinion. Muirfield has beautiful views of the North Sea, Firth of Forth and the hillsides that lay to the north toward St Andrews and Perth. But as far as memorable golf holes at Muirfield, I would have to say there are none that really stand out. Most holes are very straight forward and they are realistically all great golf holes. So maybe it’s more like 18 memorable holes on a fantastic golf course, because I will never forget playing here and Muirfield is certainly one of the best in the world.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers holds the claim of being the oldest verifiable organized golf club in the world. Although the game itself is several centuries older, the club’s records date back to 1744, when it produced the thirteen original Rules of Golf for its first competition, which was played at Leith Links for the Silver Club. The Company played on the five holes at Leith Links for nearly a century, but overcrowding forced a move in 1836 to Musselburgh’s nine-hole Old Course, which was situated within a horse-racing track. The Musselburgh course would eventually be shared by four separate clubs and as a result, became too crowded for the liking of the Company members.
As a result, in 1891, the Company purchased The Howes, another old horse-racing track on the Archerfield Estate at Dirleton, leading cynics to claim that all the Company had done was move “from one race-course to another.” The course, called Muirfield, was designed by Old Tom Morris and within a year, it hosted its first Open Championship. This situation caused some ill feeling at Musselburgh, which lost the right to hold the Open from that point forward. This new course was met with wide approval from the start and has been modified and updated several times since, most significantly in the mid-1920’s by Harry S. Colt, who would introduce 14 new holes after the club purchased an additional 50 acres of land north of the existing course.
Muirfield has hosted 16 Open Championships and most recently, it was Phil Mickelson finally lifting the Claret Jug on these historic links back in 2013. Other winners at Muirfield include Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Player, Els, Faldo (twice), Vardon and Hagen. That is some list…
The club is unique for many reasons, one of which is due to the fact that the game most commonly played by members is foursomes, more commonly known as alternate shot. The club also was in the news for the wrong reasons in recent years due to the fact that it had a male-only membership policy, one that was finally abolished so that the club could maintain its spot in the Open rotation.
Muirfield is commonly ranked among the top five or ten courses in the world, with its distinctive routing and excellent bunkering being celebrated. A full day at Muirfield is one of the great experiences in golf and we were lucky enough to be playing our own ball in the morning, have the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory) and then head back out for an alternate shot match in the afternoon, all while enjoying some of the finest weather during our entire trip.
I probably looked forward to this day more than any other on this particular trip and as such, I had incredibly high expectations for my day at Muirfield. I’m happy to say that those expectations were exceeded in every way. The club has a hard-earned reputation for being a tad formal and stuffy but we were welcomed with open arms from the moment we arrived and I felt completely comfortable both on and off the golf course.
And what a golf course this is! Muirfield is on the very short list of the most ingeniously bunkered golf courses in the world, with very well-defined edge work, some incredible artistic flair and most significantly, some of the most superb and strategic bunker positioning I’ve ever seen. There is great variety in shot values throughout and the greens are well-contoured, very well protected and all provide great interest both on the putting surfaces themselves and in the immediate surrounds.
The fact that this was accomplished on what would normally be considered a pretty routine and unremarkable piece of land, set well-away from the sea, further accentuates the greatness of the design.
The club is steeped in history and that’s never more apparent than when you are walking through the clubhouse and seeing the incredible artifacts lovingly displayed throughout. The locker room is a treat and as indicated, the famous Muirfield lunch is not to be missed.
That all said, it’s the golf course that shines above all else here.
Muirfield is famously private but accepts limited outside play on Tuesday and Thursdays, assuming you book well in advance. If you have the ability to plan ahead and have the means, a day at Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is unquestionably one of the finest experiences you can have in this great game and comes with my highest recommendation.
For a full hole-by-hole profile and pictorial, please click on the link to visit Now on the Tee: https://nowontheteegolf.com/2019/03/20/muirfield/
Doesn't the Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh pre-date the Men of Muirfield as the world's oldest?
It states 1735 on their logo ball I have one hand - admittedly not sure that this counts as verifiable evidence though in our era of fake news. There's probably also a group of Dutch Sailors somewhere with an even earlier claim
I was fortunate enough to play the course in the Scottish amateur championship in 2015. For me it was the toughest set up I’ve ever played. The par 4 6th hole in particular was played into off the left and was just horrible how hard it was. Probably the hardest hole I’ve ever played.
There’s not really a weak hole on the course. The par 3s are great as well. 18 is a brilliant finishing hole in front of the clubhouse. In my opinion, this along with Carnoustie are the best two courses in the country