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|Muirfield remains one of the world's greatest major championship venues. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)|
GULLANE, East Lothian, Scotland -- The comment felt like a sledgehammer to the forehead.
"This is the easiest this golf course will ever play," my caddie Allan Morin told me as we trudged toward another diabolical green at Muirfield.
Easy? Muirfield? The two words just don't belong in the same sentence, especially on a day when a three-club wind came calling. Muirfield, after all, remains the site of Tiger Woods' worst round as a professional, a third-round 81 in horrific conditions at the 2002 Open.
A cold spring has kept Muirfield's nastiest rough from sprouting into its swing-wrecking, ball-snatching self. Muirfield was missing a few teeth the day I played it in March, but that likely won't be the case when Tiger, Rory, Phil and friends visit for the 2013 Open Championship from July 14-21.
Club and R&A officials say added length, renovated bunkers repositioned into near fairway landing zones and greens, and the usual steady diet of rough, sod-wall bunkers and wind will once again prove this Harry Colt design deserves its place among the best -- and fairest -- of all the world's major championship venues.
"It's immensely popular [with the players]. It is always in fantastic condition. I often say we could play an Open here any year with about three weeks' notice as far as the course condition is concerned," said Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A. "We will be setting the course up to challenge these golfers. The rough has all been cut down over the winter. It will regenerate in the coming weeks, just how strongly depends on the sort of weather we get, how warm and wet it is, but you will see the rough up."
Muirfield -- home to the The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest golf club in the world dating to 1744 -- was established in 1891. It is among the three original Open Championship hosts, along with Prestwick and Musselburgh Links.
Amateur Harold Hilton won the first Open at Muirfield in 1892. Muirfield, more than any other Open venue, seems to allow the cream of the crop to rise to the top. Not many golf fans would recognize the names of Ted Ray (1912 champion), Alf Perry (1935) and Henry Cotton (1948), but Muirfield's other Open champions are a virtual snapshot of golf legends: Harry Vardon (1896), James Braid (1901, 1906), Walter Hagen (1929), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987, 1992) and Ernie Els (2002).
"The last six winners have won 18 Opens between them and 51 major championships," club captain Robin Dow said. "To me, that says Muirfield rewards great champions. The course is fair and challenging. It doesn't give up fluky winners."
The 7,209-yard course has been lengthened by roughly 158 yards since the last Open. Architect Martin Hawtree added seven new back tees (at holes 2, 4, 9, 14, 15, 17 and 18). A land swap with The Renaissance Club next door stretched the ninth hole by 50 yards. The par 5 runs all along the stone wall that dictates out-of-bounds. Most holes at Muirfield chaotically amble in all directions, never simply playing downwind or into it. Picking yardages and proper clubs requires a guessing game at Muirfield, one that could reward the winner a Claret Jug.
The club's championship pedigree and exclusivity make Muirfield one of golf's most coveted tee times. There are more scenic links in Scotland and Ireland, but Muirfield is without peer when it comes to delivering an "experience" that is more than just a round of golf.
It's an arrive-early-and-stay-late kind of place. Jackets and ties are required just to enter the historic clubhouse, home to a treasure trove of golf artifacts. The lunch buffet served inside is legendary. Post-round drinks and dinner at the adjacent Greywalls Hotel -- where the past six Muirfield Open winners have stayed -- completes what is sure to be a magical day.
May 31, 2013
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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