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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.