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Expert Advice

Magnificent Muirfield – Golf’s Sanctum Sanctorum

PGA Tour website article The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.

If there is one name in the world of golf capable of raising goose bumps on the skin of any serious player, that name is probably Muirfield, home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. St. Andrews may take the publicity and garner the sentimental attention of many, but it’s Muirfield that carries the real prestige and history of the game. If St. Andrews is The Mecca of golf, then Muirfield must surely be golf’s heaven.

Formed in 1744 as The Honourable Company of Gentleman Golfers, this is the oldest golf club in the existence. It was in that same inaugural year The Honourable Company drew up the very first rules of golf -13 articles that would be adopted ten years later by a newly created, Royal & Ancient Golf Club, forming the basis for the global rules we know today.

The public links at Leith in the Edinburgh suburbs had been The Honourable Company’s first home in 1744, a home they shared with many. Besides being used by a growing number of golfers, it was also a place used for archery practice and as a military drill ground. Cattle grazed here and horse drawn carriages regularly rumbled across the fairways.

Tolerating the intolerable for almost a century, The Honorable Company eventually decided to find more appropriate playing fields and moved to the 9-hole links at nearby Musselburgh, a task accomplished in 1836. Sharing this course with 3 other golf clubs, it would only be a matter of time before the need to find more space would become clear once more.

Determined to make this their final move, The Honourable Company purchased a stretch of glorious linksland overlooking the Firth of Forth near the East Lothian village of Gullane, an area already known for its growing collection of excellent links courses. Master architect Old Tom Morris was brought in and work began on building what was hoped would become one of Scotland’s great links courses. Muirfield golf course opened for play in 1891.

Within a year of the grand opening, Muirfield had so impressed the golf world that it was not only selected as venue for the 1892 British Open, but had been placed on the permanent rotation, an honor the course still retains — only St. Andrews and Muirfield have the distinction of hosting The Open during three consecutive centuries and to date, Muirfield has hosted the event on 16 occasions.

There are many reasons why Muirfield is ranked as one of the top 5 courses on the planet and among the world’s links courses, the best bar none.

The original 19th century design by the master of links architecture, Old Tom Morris, is not only exceptional, it was innovative, even for Mr. Morris Sr. He departed from the traditional out and back layout, instead designing a course composed of two concentric loops that run in opposing directions — the front nine take a clockwise route along the outside of the course, while the back nine travel counterclockwise on the inside.

The end result is that every hole takes off in a different direction to the one previous (apart from a brief three-hole stretch, running between the 3rd and 5th holes). This constant change in direction brings a special relevance to the wind that blusters in from the North Sea, seemingly from every point on the compass, adding to the complexity of the Muirfield equation.

It has been said that there may be no fairer links in existence, but neither is there one as demanding. Muirfield is like a stern but wise old professor who knows his subject inside and out and relishes putting every student through as thorough an examination as they have ever faced.

The big hitters may have an advantage, but only if their strength is accompanied by a healthy dose of finesse and strategy. Those who have mastered their mid and short games could also have an advantage, if they can handle a putter well and possess the ability to read greens that often refuse to be read. This is a layout with18 undulating greens that could make a sailor seasick.

For those aficionados with an appreciation for the traditions of the game and its history and who crave the opportunity to play the greatest of all links courses, Muirfield will be an experience to treasure for many years to come – and it is possible if you plan well ahead.

Bear in mind, this is one of the world’s most prestigious and private golf clubs, where golf’s traditions reign supreme. But the members have a strong sense of responsibility to provide fellow golfers with the opportunity to share in some of their club’s almost three centuries of history and experience the magnificence of their course. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers has been well named.

Two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a very limited number of times are made available to visitors. More precious than hen’s teeth, these times get snapped up very quickly and a full year ahead, or even longer is not too soon to be requesting them. This is where the services of a reputable professional golf travel company such as Golf International will be very helpful.

But take my advice, if you are fortunate enough to secure a valuable visitor time on Muirfield, make the most of it. This is going to be a very special event in your golfing life, deserving of far more than the 4 hours or so it may take to play a single round. Request a day ticket with a morning round, followed by an excellent lunch in one of the most distinguished clubhouses to be found, then refreshed and re-vitalized, tackle Muirfield for a second time in the afternoon. It really does take a full day to soak up the atmosphere, tradition and history of this, the world’s oldest golf club and the best links course in existence.

©2015 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.