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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 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.
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.