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
Date: February 16, 2018