With all due respect to St. Andrews, there are many in this game that feel that Muirfield is the best course in the British Isles, among them Jack Nicklaus, who won his first Open Championship there in 1966. In doing so, he completed his first career grand slam and thereafter named his course and tournament after the famed venue.
As all Open rota courses are, Muirfield is susceptible to capricious weather, but sitting on the south side of the Firth of Forth, it seems to be unusually burdened by some of the worst weather to befall the game’s oldest championship. It was there in the 2002 Open Championship that Tiger Woods shot his highest-ever round in a major (or any event tour event, for that matter), when he posted an 81 during horrific conditions in the third round. During the third round in 1987, many shot over 80, including Jack Nicklaus, and most who played that day say it was some of the worst weather they have ever played in.
Harsh weather aside, Muirfield is spectacular, but is not a traditional links, in that the course does not follow a traditional out-to-in path but rather serpentines to and fro, keeping the players forever guessing about which club to hit. Bunkering makes Muirfield all the more difficult, and there are many bunkers between the driving areas and greens that look decorative until a player gets out of place or the wind changes.
— Brandel Chamblee, Golf Channel Analyst
Hole No. 1
Par 4, 448 yards
Changes by Martin Hawtree have strengthened and lengthened Muirfield, starting at No. 1. Multiple bunkers up the left side of the fairway, including a new one at the 300-yard mark, must be avoided. The green, bracketed by bunkers back and front, is essentially flat and level with the fairway. Subtle changes, like a new depression left of the green and an extended portion in back, will make scoring tougher.
Photos by Eric Hepworth Golf Photography
Muirfield No. 2
Par 4, 365 yards
Out of bounds on the left will force many players to lay up from the new championship tee, 14 yards longer than at the 2002 Open. The greenside bunkers were tucked tighter to the putting surface, and the back of the green was reconfigured during the renovation work.
Muirfield No. 3
Par 4, 377 yards
The fairway mounding has been reshaped to allow more visibility, but it’s still a tough tee shot between bunkers. The two right-hand greenside bunkers have been pushed closer to the putting surface, while three new hollows on the right and back make getting up and down difficult.
Muirfield No. 4
Par 3, 227 yards
An elevated tee, 14 yards longer than in 2002, reveals a plateau green that is 40 yards deep. One greenside bunker has been transformed into a grassy hollow. Front bunkers will catch short shots.
DID YOU KNOW?
James Braid played a friendly round before his afternoon tee time in the second round of the 1906 British Open, a move that helped him win his third Open Championship.
Muirfield No. 5
Par 5, 559 yards
From a realigned tee, players must avoid bailing out right into a line of five fairway bunkers. Playing with the prevailing wind, much of the field will go for it in two (21 eagles were made in the 1992 Open). A herd of bunkers defend the approach.
Muirfield No. 6
Par 4, 467 yards
The four fairway bunkers are hardly in play on this semi-blind tee shot to a fairway that sweeps down and left. It’s up an uphill climb to a green that has been shortened in front and extended in back to re-create its original shape by Harry S. Colt. The backdrop of Archerfield Wood is unusual for a links.
DID YOU KNOW? Harry Vardon bogeyed the final hole in the final round of the 1896 British Open, setting in motion a 36-hole playoff against two-time defending champion J.H. Taylor that Vardon won by four strokes.
Muirfield No. 7
Par 3, 185 yards
This is one of the few holes untouched by Hawtree. The four bunkers surrounding the green, not to mention the steep slope of the right side and the wind, provide ample protection against par. It tends to play uphill into the wind.
Muirfield No. 8
Par 4, 443 yards
Hawtree reworked the cluster of bunkers up the right side of this dogleg right, transforming one bunker into a cluster of mounds and completely filling in another. Most players won’t be tempted to drive over the furthest bunker 284 yards off the tee, but will instead play for position up the left side. Only players in trouble off the tee need to worry about the cross bunkers.
Muirfield No. 9
Par 5, 556 yards
A new tee has added 46 yards to a long hole that generally plays into the wind. A wall signals out-of-bounds up the left. Two of the fairway bunkers closer to the green have been moved left to make going for the green in two even more risky.
DID YOU KNOW?
Tom Watson won the 1980 British Open at Muirfield with relative ease by four shots, although there were some great names behind him — Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus and Hubert Green.
Muirfield No. 10
Par 4, 470 yards
The fairway has been repositioned slightly left, and a new right-side fairway bunker 290 yards from the tee complements other existing traps. Two cross bunkers at the 100-yard mark hinder the view to the green. Three bunkers guard an enlarged green.
Muirfield No. 11
Par 4, 387 yards
A completely blind shot over a ridge reveals a fairway protected by a new bunker 320 yards from the tee on the right side and a repositioned bunker on the left. The green was extended on both sides, but that won’t stop many approaches from finding the seven traps surrounding it.
Muirfield No. 12
Par 4, 380 yards
Players would be wise to avoid the bunker and mounds left of an hour-glass-shaped fairway. The first of five greenside bunkers guarding the right side has been shifted left more into the path of incoming shots. The narrow green drops away long and left.
Muirfield No. 13
Par 3, 191 yards
This hole has been lengthened considerably, and the target can be tough to find: Five bunkers pinch a long narrow green that is never wider than 15 yards.
DID YOU KNOW?
Ted Ray drove both the 13th and 15th greens — both par-4s measuring more than 300 yards at the time — in winning the 1912 British Open Championship at Muirfield.
Muirfield No. 14
Par 4, 476 yards
A new, elevated tee added 28 yards to this par 4, which tends to play into the breeze. Three fairway bunkers left and one right encroach upon the fairway at its thinnest point. Approaches to the plateau green can fall off on all sides. Hawtree’s work enlarged the lone greenside bunker.
DID YOU KNOW?
Gary Player made a double-bogey six on the final hole in the final round of the 1959 British Open, but his closest pursuers all stumbled home, and Player still won by two shots to claim his first major championship victory.
Muirfield No. 15
Par 4, 445 yards
Another new tee adds 30 yards. A single bunker on either side brackets a fairway that bends to the right. The green, called the “Camel’s Back” by the members, is one of Muirfield’s toughest. Approach shots to the wrong section can lead to three putts. Hawtree worked on several bunkers that surround the green.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
A controlled half 5-iron to three feet set up birdie for Nick Faldo as he marched toward his third Claret Jug in 1992.
Muirfield No. 16
Par 3, 186 yards
This is the second untouched par-3. Seven bunkers ring the green, where misses left carom down into the rough or sand. Club selection can vary from a 6-iron to 2-iron depending upon the wind.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
Nick Faldo survived four days of brutal weather to win the 1987 British Open, one ahead of Roger Davis and Paul Azinger. It was Faldo's first major championship victory, as he famously made 18 pars on the final day to clinch the win.
Muirfield No. 17
Par 5, 576 yards
A new tee adding 30 yards is the only new feature to this classic hole. Five bunkers creep up the left side of a fairway that sweeps left. A stiff wind will bring the foursome of cross bunkers into play, even on the layup. A tiny entrance between a bunker on either side leads to a green set in the dunes.
DID YOU KNOW?
Lee Trevino thwarted a grand slam bid by Jack Nicklaus by winning the 1972 British Open. Trevino and Tony Jacklin overcame Nicklaus' final-round charge, and when they reached 17, they were tied for the lead, one ahead of Jack. There, Trevino's chip-in for an unlikely par from off the 17th green in the final round rattled Jacklin, who three-putted for bogey. Nicklaus has fond memories of the hole as well, making birdie in the final round to win his first British Open in 1966.
Muirfield No. 18
Par 4, 471 yards
Avoiding the three fairway bunkers shouldn’t be an issue for today’s bombers even though it plays 22 yards longer thanks to a new tee added by the membership (not Hawtree). The right-hand greenside bunker with an island of grass in the middle was reshaped to avoid an unplayable lie factoring into a major championship.
DO YOU REMEMBER?
Ernie Els got up and down out of a bunker to win the first four-man playoff in British Open history — Els, Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington — in 2002 to secure the Claret Jug.
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