I played at Muirfield last week for the second time and a nagging doubt was confirmed. It’s a wonderful club, with amazing history, but the course isn’t quite as good as you are led to believe.Let’s start with the club. The welcome is warm and the clubhouse wonderful. Anne who looks after the bookings is tremendously efficient and very friendly. For many Muirfield is a bastion of snobbery and elitism. Those people have never visited. Having played Birkdale, Hoylake, Turnberry, St Andrews, Lytham and Carnoustie I can safely say Muirfield is the Open course where you are made to feel a real member for the day in a way that simply doesn’t happen, for various reasons, at the others. It’s worth taking the time to read the notices on the way into the locker room for a little insight into the club.Technically, I’m sure the course is great. I can’t pretend to be a good enough golfer to really be able to give it the critique it deserves. We played it, this time, in fairly atrocious conditions (it was June after all) and that definitely detracted from the experience a little. The rough was beyond penal. The second cut was thigh high and, if you had the misfortune to find your ball, escaping with a wrist in tact was success. Again, compared to other Open courses and links courses I have played this was in a different league of penalty. In truth, they needed to cut if back a bit. Maybe the fact that we have had one of the wettest summers on record to date was the contributory factor – it would take a combine harvester to get through it. Another victim of the wet, presumably, were the greens. Truth be told, in the third week of June, they were slow. Getting to the hole took real effort and they didn’t play like links greens. We played Gullane number 1 the next day, a few hundred yards aways, and they were a different class. Fast, breaking and fun. I understand that Muirfield are probably protecting them but for £250 for a day’s golf it was a real shame.Those criticisms could both be put down to the unseasonable wet summer in Scotland though – they are comments about the course conditions which can and will be remedied. However, I came away feeling the golf course itself isn’t quite as great an experience as some of the finest links courses around. At Turnberry every hole has its own amphitheatre and there are some truly spectacular holes; the history of St Andrews is verging on the overwhelming and Birkdale has so many memorable holes. Muirfield is, well, fine. The holes are challenging, but the setting average. The par 3s are probably the strongest aspect of the course – a really great mix of distance and challenge in a way that many modern clubs could learn from. However, there are few moments when you really find yourself catching your breath in awe. Instead, you just tee it up and say, yep, that looks like a good hole. It’s a very good test of golf but if you want to feel real links golf, walk up Gullane Hill and look at the other side. It should be said that after a round in the morning the lunch is fantastic, and again the staff great. It would be remiss of me however not to mention a gripe with the lunch. The wonderful carvery is definitely let down by the appearance of reheated Aunty Bessie Yorkshire Puddings. I can’t imagine they serve those on a Sunday lunch so why on a Tuesday and Thursday when us mere mortals pay and play? You are letting yourselves down! This site ranks Muirfield the number 1 course in Scotland but I would definitely recommend a visitor to these shores plays at least Turnberry and St Andrews before it, and probably Royal Dornoch. Those courses would give a better representation of the pure thrill and excitement of Scottish links golf in a way that Muirfield just can’t quite do.
Date: June 30, 2012