|FIRST LOOK AT MUIRFIELD
My fond memories of Muirfield began with my first visit in 1992 when I watched Sir Nick Faldo hold off John Cook to win the 121st playing of The Open Championship. I remember being impressed with the deep faced sod-revetted bunkers, the stunning views across the Firth of Forth, and the immaculately maintained walking paths through the high, wispy rough that was the demise of so many players.
I was there on the 18th hole when Faldo won, and recollect his clever acceptance speech when he thanked the fans “from the bottom of my heart” and the tabloid media “from the heart of my bottom.”
In addition to Faldo’s two wins (’87 and ’92), The Open winners at Muirfield have always identified the top players of their era: Gary Player (‘59), Jack Nicklaus (’66), Lee Trevino (’72), Tom Watson (’80), Ernie Els (’02) and Phil Mickelson (’13). There’s something about Muirfield that the cream always rises to the top.
A day at Muirfield is an experience unlike any other in Scotland. Typically, golfers will arrive at the gates and be led to the classic, old school locker room where they will hang up their lunch attire. A short walk from there is the impeccable practice facility where players can warm up before heading to either the 1st or 10th tee. Since Tuesday and Thursday tee times are only available from 08:30 until 09:50 in the morning, they use both tees to maximize the number of guests and limit the impact on the members.
On the first tee, golfers will normally be paired with experienced caddies and the inevitable advice given is to “find the short grass”. There is a good reason for that. The rough at Muirfield is often knee-high, and if you miss the fairway then par is almost certainly out of the question.
There is a joke at Muirfield that you should never set down your bag in the rough if you are looking for a lost golf ball, because you might also lose your bag!
For visitors, the back tees are not available for play so Muirfield does not play especially long, and since finding the fairways is so important, many players will leave the driver in the bag on many holes. But that does not mean the course will play easy.
The greens are normally among the fastest in Scotland. The elevated greens have slopes that often direct errant shots into the deep bunkers. Like at Pinehurst #2, players are instructed to forget about the pin and aim for the middle of the green to minimize the damage.
The course is comprised of two loops, with the outward nine encompassing the inward nine and all flowing in a circular fashion so that the wind direction changes on each subsequent hole. You have to think and plot your way around Muirfield, identifying the wind direction off the Forth and calculating the proper line to find the fairway. It’s fun, it’s demanding, and it’s among the most memorable links courses in the world.
After your morning round, it’s Pioneer Golf’s recommendation that gents return to the locker room, take a quick shower and change into jacket and tie for one of the most traditional lunches in golf. The dining room at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is steeped in nostalgia and offers a plentiful spread of dishes, including their famed carvery with roasts and other traditional delights. A room full of international golfers, all donned in proper attire, is a reminder of yesteryear when formality was de rigueur for gentlemen. To be honest, it’s a lot of fun.
But, the best is yet to come. For an additional fee paid in advance, golfers can elect to change back into golfing attire and return to the course for an afternoon round of foursomes, or alternate shot. Two players per team will pay one ball, and as one player is teeing off, the other is headed down the fairway to prepare for the next shot. This expedited sequence of play can result in 18 holes of golf being completed in just over two hours. Best yet, the camaraderie and banter between teammates is one more great memory of a day at Muirfield.
I happen to be a Panelist for the GOLF Magazine World Top 100, and Muirfield is ranked #12 in the world, although historically, it’s always been a top 10. We’ll see where it ranks in the next ballot results to be announced this coming Autumn.
In the East Lothian neighborhood are some other special links courses to pair with your Muirfield main course. North Berwick is a “must play” for many when visiting Scotland and you won’t find a course that’s as much fun to play anywhere. You will hit over stone walls, putt on a Biarritz green, and even try to figure out the original Redan H. The North Berwick West Links is such a fun day of golf for everyone. Just down the road is Gullane GC too with its #1 and #2 courses that are both outstanding and offer spectacular views across the Firth of Forth. The Renaissance Club, a Tom Doak design with a really fun layout, is located adjacent to Muirfield. A noted tournament venue itself, The Renaissance Club has recently hosted the Scottish Open for both men and women. Dunbar GC is an old school links along the sea, and never forget the newer Craigielaw GC which also features some outstanding room accommodations.