Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Muirfield

Muirfield - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
Gullane, East Lothian, SCOTLAND


6728 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE SSS/SLOPE: 74/NR
COURSE ARCHITECT: Old Tom Morris (1891); Harry S. Colt (1923)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://muirfield.org.uk/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 2
LAST PLAYED: August 15, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 72 (+1)

ACCOLADES -
- Golf Club Atlas 147 Custodians of the Game: #45
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the World 2017: #10
- Golf Digest World's Greatest 100 Courses (Outside USA) 2018: #4
- Top100GolfCourses.com World's Top 100 2018: #10
- Top100GolfCourses.com Britain and Ireland Top 100 2018: #4


"Its modest topography might not win over the first time visitor, but the keen architecture student is guaranteed to find lots to admire. The greens are beautifully if subtly contoured, and the quality of the bunkering - both in its strategic placement and in the artistry of its shapes and revetments - is simply the finest on the planet."
Tom Doak, Golf Course Architect, "The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Volume 1 - Great Britain and Ireland"

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers holds the claim of being the oldest verifiable organized golf club in the world. Although the game itself is several centuries older, the club's records date back to 1744, when it produced the thirteen original Rules of Golf for its first competition, which was played at Leith Links for the Silver Club. The Company played on the five holes at Leith Links for nearly a century, but overcrowding forced a move in 1836 to Musselburgh's nine-hole Old Course, which was situated within a horse-racing track. The Musselburgh course would eventually be shared by four separate clubs and as a result, became too crowded for the liking of the Company members.

As a result, in 1891, the Company purchased The Howes, another old horse-racing track on the Archerfield Estate at Dirleton, leading cynics to claim that all the Company had done was move "from one race-course to another." The course, called Muirfield, was designed by Old Tom Morris and within a year, it hosted its first Open Championship. This situation caused some ill feeling at Musselburgh, which lost the right to hold the Open from that point forward. This new course was met with wide approval from the start and has been modified and updated several times since, most significantly in the mid-1920's by Harry S. Colt, who would introduce 14 new holes after the club purchased an additional 50 acres of land north of the existing course.

Muirfield has hosted 16 Open Championships and most recently, it was Phil Mickelson finally lifting the Claret Jug on these historic links back in 2013. Other winners at Muirfield include Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Player, Els, Faldo (twice), Vardon and Hagen. That is some list...

The club is unique for many reasons, one of which is due to the fact that the game most commonly played by members is foursomes, more commonly known as alternate shot. The club also was in the news for the wrong reasons in recent years due to the fact that it had a male-only membership policy, one that was finally abolished so that the club could maintain its spot in the Open rotation.

Muirfield is commonly ranked among the top five or ten courses in the world, with its distinctive routing and excellent bunkering being celebrated. A full day at Muirfield is one of the great experiences in golf and we were lucky enough to be playing our own ball in the morning, have the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory) and then head back out for a boozy alternate shot match in the afternoon, all while enjoying some of the finest weather during our entire trip.

After the very challenging 446 yard opening hole, one usually played into a prevailing wind, things perk up on the 365 yard 2nd, as you get your first glimpse of the Firth of Forth. An out of bounds stone wall runs down most of the left side, pushing play towards the right side of the fairway. However, you will then have a very challenging approach over the four greenside bunkers all situated on the right side of the green. This is where you quickly realize that proper placement of your tee ball is imperative if you want access to the open sides of the greens.

The 3rd, a mid-length par four measuring 375 yards, looks more menacing than it really is. The fairway narrows to the width of a walking path about 290 yards from the tee, with bunkers on both sides of the fairway. The approach will need to be played long in order to clear the two pot bunkers in the front right.

The par three 4th hole features a slightly elevated tee shot to a plateau green, with bunkers in front and short grass hollows behind and on both sides. A very challenging shot when the wind is up.

If the 5th hole is playing downwind, as it was the day we visited, it likely qualifies as the best birdie opportunity at Muirfield. At only 510 yards, this par five is eminently reachable in the right conditions but will require a long and accurate drive into an angled fairway that is very well-protected by five bunkers lining the right side. I was able to make an eagle here, one that kick-started a round that would end up being quite memorable when all was said and done.

The 6th is a very long par four, measuring 467 yards and it may just be the most demanding tee shot on the golf course, as it's played semi-blind up a hill with no discernible aiming markers. From there, the hole moves down and to the left, with the approach made more difficult by a hidden hollow short of the green, making distance that much harder to judge. Things don't get any easier on the mid-length par three 7th, a 185 yarder that is played uphill and into the prevailing wind to a perched green completely exposed to the elements.

After the 443 yard par four 8th, the par five 9th returns to the clubhouse and plays much longer than its yardage due to the fact that it too plays into the prevailing wind. It's a great second shot hole, as a cluster of bunkers protects the natural entryway into the green down the right hand side of the fairway about 50 yards from the green, forcing many to lay up short and attempt a wedge third shot. The layup is no bargain either, with a stone out of bounds wall running hard down the left hand side of the fairway right in the landing zone.

The 10th is another brute. It's a 470 yard par four with a very narrow fairway, three menacing bunkers lining the right side and a prevailing southwest wind that pushes balls in that direction. The green is partially obscured by two centre-line bunkers about 100 yards short but the green is open in front and accepts a running approach.

The 11th, a 387 yard par four, is an absolute delight. The tee shot is completely blind, essentially the only shot of its kind at Muirfield, over the top of a hill to what you'll eventually see is a pretty generous fairway. The panoramic view that awaits upon cresting the hill is one of those special moments in golf, with the sea in all its glory beautifully framing the landscape. The approach is no bargain here, with a small and very undulating heart-shaped green enveloped by seven bunkers. In my mind, this rates at the most picturesque hole at Muirfield.

The par four 12th is 380 yards long and takes you back towards the town of Gullane, with the hillside offering a lovely backdrop. It's a routine driving hole, with most of the challenge lying at the narrow green, with five bunkers lining the right and a large depression area back left.

The 13th hole is one of the world's great uphill par threes, reminiscent in some respects to the 11th at Shinnecock Hills and Sand Hills Golf Club's 13th, among others. This hole measures 191 yards from the championship tee and features a perched green that is long but extremely narrow, a mere 15 paces wide. There are two deep bunkers to the left and three to the right and any tee shots that end up in the sand usually mean a bogey at best. Truly world class in every respect.

Two long par fours come next, with the 445 yard 15th providing the most interest, especially at the green, called "Camel's Back" by the members due to its many humps and hollows. Three putts must be commonplace here. Meanwhile, the 186 yard par three 16th is yet another very challenging one-shotter to a severely sloping green protected by seven bunkers on the right and front left.

The finish at Muirfield is outstanding and the 576 yard par five 17th, which usually plays much shorter than its yardage due to the prevailing wind, is on the short list of the world's greatest three shot holes. You have plenty of room out to the right off the tee but if you want to challenge this green in two shots, you'll need to drive your ball down the left side, which brings a string of five bunkers into play. From there, you'll next notice four bunkers, including the famed "coffin bunker", lined up in the middle of the layup area between 100 and 130 yards from the green. If the hole is playing into the wind, you'll likely need to layup short but with the normal prevailing winds coming from behind, you'll likely attempt the more heroic approach and try to challenge the green. And what a green site this is, with the putting surface set back into the dunes behind bunkers left and right of a very narrow entrance. A simply exhilarating par five.

The par four 18th is one of the great finishing holes in championship golf, a 471 yarder to a narrow fairway made even tinier by the prevailing crosswinds. The approach must clear two centre-line bunkers about 40 yards short of the green and the putting surface is long and tilted sharply from back to front, with deep bunkers left and right. The historic clubhouse sits in the background on this most worthy of closing holes.

Muirfield is notoriously difficult but on this day, I was particularly inspired, making an eagle and four birdies, including the 17th and 18th holes, to fire a three under 33 on the back nine and a one over par 72 overall, one of my finest rounds in years. Making that putt on the 18th for a closing birdie was a particularly memorable and emotional experience.

However, the true "Muirfield Experience" doesn't end on the 18th green. From here, we headed for the men's locker room, showered and then changed into a coat and tie, allowing us access to the clubhouse dining room and the most spectacular lunch that you can possibly imagine. A full salad bar, carved meat stations and many other foods hot and cold await in the dining room, as you mingle with members and guests alike. From there, four of us retired to the lounge with a glass of red wine and some Kummel, where we were able to take in some of the incredible history that lines the walls in the Muirfield clubhouse.

I would have been perfectly content just hanging out here for the rest of the day but we had more golf to play!

As previously noted, most of the golf played at Muirfield is with two balls, more commonly known on this side of the pond as alternate shot. Any afternoon games at Muirfield must be played in this format so we got back into our golf gear and went out for a quick 18 holes of alternate shot action. We'd end the day on the beautiful patio in front of the clubhouse and adjacent to the 18th green, sipping on ale and telling stories about our day.

I probably looked forward to this day more than any other on this particular trip and as such, I had incredibly high expectations for my day at Muirfield. I'm happy to say that those expectations were exceeded in every way. The club has a hard-earned reputation for being a tad formal and stuffy but we were welcomed with open arms from the moment we arrived and I felt completely comfortable both on and off the golf course.

And what a golf course this is! Muirfield is on the very short list of the most ingeniously bunkered golf courses in the world, with very well-defined edge work, some incredible artistic flair and most significantly, some of the most superb and strategic bunker positioning I've ever seen. There is great variety in shot values throughout and the greens are well-contoured, very well protected and all provide great interest both on the putting surfaces themselves and in the immediate surrounds.

The fact that this was accomplished on what would normally be considered a pretty routine and unremarkable piece of land, set well-away from the sea, further accentuates the greatness of the design.

The club is steeped in history and that's never more apparent than when you are walking through the clubhouse and seeing the incredible artifacts lovingly displayed throughout. The locker room is a treat and as indicated, the famous Muirfield lunch is not to be missed.

That all said, it's the golf course that shines above all else here.

Muirfield is famously private but accepts limited outside play on Tuesday and Thursdays, assuming you book well in advance. If you have the ability to plan ahead and have the means, a day at Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is unquestionably one of the finest experiences you can have in this great game and comes with my highest recommendation.

The stately entrance gates to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The beautiful clubhouse at Muirfield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Matt S tees off the par four 1st hole at Muirfield
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The tee shot on the par four 2nd hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Bunkers line the right side of the approach area on the 2nd
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Looking back down the 2nd from behind, with the out-of-bounds stone fence menacingly close to the green
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Another view of the 2nd green, with this photo taken from the 16th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Our group makes our way up the par four 3rd hole, a 377 yard par four
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Dan stands just in front of the green on the 3rd
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The 3rd green, as seen from the 4th tee
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The tee shot on the 182 yard par three 4th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Looking back towards the tee from the 4th green, with the Gullane hillside providing a picturesque backdrop
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A deep greenside bunker on the 4th
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A panoramic view of Muirfield from the 5th tee, with the fourth green in the foreground
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The tee shot on the 510 yard, par five 5th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The uphill second shot into the 5th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The 7th hole, a par three measuring 147 yards
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Another stone out of bounds wall runs down the left side of the par five 9th hole
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A great look at the beautiful bunkering at Muirfield, as displayed near the 9th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Dan rips yet another one down the middle on the long and tough par four 10th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

An absolutely stunning vista awaits as you crest the hill on the par four 11th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A view from the right side of the fairway on the 11th
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

This is me teeing off on the 12th, a 380 yard par four
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The approach shot into the 12th at Muirfield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Four bunkers are seen and one is hidden (back right) near the green on the 12th
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The incredibly challenging uphill par three 13th at Muifield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The 13th green is perched high above the tee and offers a splendid view of the surrounding sea
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The approach shot into the par four 15th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The par three 16th, a 186 yarder
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A great look at what awaits on your second shot on the fantastic par five 17th, with four cross bunkers in the distance
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The famed coffin bunker on the 17th hole at Muirfield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The pitch shot third shot into the par five 17th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The tee shot on the 418 yard, par four closing hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A glorious view looking back toward the sea and the 18th tee at Muifield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The final approach into the 18th, with the gorgeous clubhouse in the background
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The bunkering at Muirfield, both positionally and stylistically, is among the best in all of golf
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Such artistry!
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

Enjoying a glass of wine in the clubhouse after an amazing lunch, with jacket and tie absolutely mandatory (from left: yours truly, Andrew, Ed, Matt S)
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)

The lads enjoy a post-round beverage on the beautiful patio at Muirfield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The glorious view afforded to those sitting on the patio just off the 18th green in front of the clubhouse at Muirfield
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Smiles a mile wide after enjoying one of the great experiences in world golf (from left: Andrew, Steven, Dan, Ed, yours truly, Howard, Chris and Matt S)
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)



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