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Muirfield
"The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers"
©

If I were going for brevity I could sum up this review in a few words: Muirfield is one of the finest golf courses in the world, the Solar System and probably the entire Milky Way. But that's not all Muirfield is--it's more than a great golf course and a superb example of Scottish links golf. I feel its importance lies in its connection to the history and tradition of golf. More than a golf course, Muirfield is a golf club made up of a group of individuals--The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers--who have carried on a tradition dating back to 1744. Imagine--1744! When the U.S.A. was only a dream in the mind of a few extraordinary thinkers, a group of men were already meeting in Edinburgh to draw up some rules of golf. They were meeting to discuss and codify the original thirteen rules of golf before any practical steam engine was in use. For heaven's sake, this golf club predates even the discovery and identification of hydrogen and nitrogen!

Famous Muirfield, with not a weak hole on the course
When seen from afar, the golf course looks easy...Ha!

Tom Watson says "not a weak hole on Muirfield"

Muirfield did not always occupy the site where it now majestically sits. In fact, the club used the facilities at the Old Musselburgh (Musselburgh Links) course for many years before moving to Gullane in 1892. Since then it has hosted 16 British Open Championships. Here's a lush video of the golf course.

Muirfield is the first golf course to be designed in two concentric, opposing loops. The first 9 holes proceed clockwise along the outside edge while the back 9 run counter clockwise in the inner part. It works out that only three consecutive holes (#s 3, 4 and 5) run in the same direction. That means the wind coming off the North Sea is a constant factor in club selection. And my, oh my, does this make for some interesting golf! The layout of this amazing course is difficult enough even without wind. Tom Watson feels "…there is not a weak hole on this course." With thick rough and cavernous bunkers, it's a test for even the most accomplished golfer. If you're a mid-handicapper like me, you'll feel as if you're sitting behind the wheels of a Ferrari after having driven a Volkswagen Beetle all your life.

Bring your long game

Be sure you treat the first hole with respect. Jack Nicklaus thinks it is "…as tough an opening hole as there is anywhere in championship golf." Not only is there severe rough down the sides of a narrow fairway, the green slopes front to back. Nothing less than a high approach will hold if the greens are playing their usual hard selves. And at 404 yards off the forward tees you're expected to get the ball in the hole in just 4 strokes! If the wind is in your face, the average golfer can abandon all hope of getting to the green in 2.

Muirfield #1 tee
Don't be fooled with the seeming simplicity of this 1st hole. There is OB all the way down the left and also a nasty bunker about 200 yards from the medal tees on the left. Oh, and there's quite a bit of rough on the right of this narrow fairway if you're thinking of cheating a bit right. And when you do get to go for the green, make note that it will be sloping away from you. Lots of luck!

Bring your short game!


Muirfield is a course that calls for a good short game because there are many long par 4s. For example, off the visitor's tees there are par 4s of 404, 404, 416 and 410. With a trailing wind I could make some of these greens in two but with no wind or the wind in my face, I'm struggling. That's why the short game is critical. And that is doubly true for putting. I parked myself on the 16 hole for a full day during the British Open Championship and watched golfer after golfer miss what on the TV looked to be easy 5 foot putts. What the TV did not show, however, were the diabolical undulations of the green. This is true on not just a few holes--every green is a challenge. All the more reason to get your approach close. If you don't, your scorecard can easily be filled with 3 putt greens.

Muirfield 15th

Bring your mid-iron game too


The par 3s are true works of art. They measure only 131, 133, 136, and 139 yards from the forward tees. Sounds easy, n'est ce pas? But let's look at them.

All of them have raised greens, so all of them present very tight targets where a missed shot will end up in a deep bunker. The first one you will encounter is the 4th. At 131 yards it's certainly reachable. The trouble is that it's an inverted saucer green with a huge bunker right in front so you're not going to roll one up, and three other bunkers scattered about on both sides. If you don't hold the green your second shot is a very difficult and delicate pitch. Plus, the green is sloped, so if you and the hole are on opposite sides you are probably looking at a 3 putt.

The next par three is the 7th. Okay, it's only 133 yards, but the green is another of those inverted saucers that demands you hit into a prevailing wind and hold. Again there's no rolling up because the terrain in front is very hilly. Four bunkers protect the sides as well.

Next is the 136 yard 13th, which Jack Nicklaus calls a "great par 3" for a reason. The very narrow green is protected by 5 bunkers in addition to many undulations, which means if you miss the green you've got a real chore on your hands. What fools you on this seeming easy par 3 is that it is uphill. I sat for an hour during the Open Championship in and watched player after player come up short. Take an extra club on this one.

The 13th at Muirfield
The 13th can fool you because it's uphill. Take an extra club. The green is long and so a bit of an overclubbing won't hurt you as much as underclubbing will.

Finally, you face the 139 yard 16th. This is the hole where Ernie Els took a 5 on the last day of the Open Championship in 2002. This green is protected by 7--count 'em--bunkers and steep sides where bunkers are not present. The putting surface looks like a humongous potato chip covered in green felt. As I said, bring your mid-iron game, too. While you're at it, better bring your putting!

Approaching the 18th green with the clubhouse in the background. A welcome sight after a great day of golf. But watch out for the huge island bunker on the right. It can put a real dent in your score (see photo below).

Muirfield 18th green from the side
The 18th Green showing the very nasty island bunker--a potential round spoiler.

Muirfield is one of the purest tests of links golf you can ever experience

Friend, this is one of the purest tests of links golf you will ever experience. It has regularly been voted the best golf course in the United Kingdom--and in the land where golf was invented and where there are more great golf courses per square mile than anywhere in the world, that's saying something. It is truly a fabulous layout and absolutely worth the play.

Important info -
The course is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Check out Muirfield's website for instructions on how to book a tee time.

Some other thoughts - Those who come to Scotland to play as many golf courses in the shortest amount of time do themselves a great disservice. Rather than savour the experience of playing one of the greatest golf courses in the world, some will play Muirfield then rush off to play St. Andrews or North Berwick or Gullane on the same day, not giving any of these fine golf courses time to settle into their consciousness. A better idea may be to come to Muirfield and play a round in the morning, have a leisurely lunch, then play another round here in the afternoon. In that way you immerse yourself into a more holistic experience, making it a day of golf you will never forget. Mary-Alice and I both urge you to do this so you have the opportunity to interract with the Scottish people whom we like so much.

Directions -
Muirfield is in the town of Gullane, only a few minutes drive west from North Berwick. If you are not based in North Berwick and are coming from Edinburgh, just as you leave Gullane you'll see a sign on the left for Greywalls Hotel (there is no sign for Muirfield). Make a left and go straight ahead for a few hundred yards. You've arrived!

Golf Nook Scotland rating - HOLE-IN-ONE

www.muirfield.org.uk
is their mouth-watering website.

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Mary-Alice suggests...

Muirfield Green B&B -- Highly recommended

You can stay at a beautiful B&B literally just outside of Muirfield's gate, literally just steps away from the 1st tee.
Muirfield Green is a gem. A very special place, first class all the way, Richard and I give it our highest endorsement. www.muirfieldgreen.com

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What to Do besides golf at Muirfield

In addition to the many wonderful places to visit and things to do on Scotland's Golf Coast (the East Lothian area), there is one very special place right adjacent to Muirfield Golf Course. If you like gardens and appreciate English garden history, visit Greywalls gardens.


However, the gardens are not always open, so inquire. Greywalls is a lovely Edwardian manor house designed by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and overlooks Muirfield Golf Course. Try to visit the gardens, created by the famous Gertrude Jekyll, who worked with Lutyens. Even if you are not a garden connoisseur, you will appreciate the beauty here. And while you're there, why take time for a relaxing tee break.