With only two days to go until The Open gets underway, here’s our Inside the Ropes golf guide to Muirfield – the East Lothian Links many call best on the Open rota.
This golf guide to Muirfield is completely different to any other you’ll read – we won’t detail the hogsback running through the 14th green – we’ll reveal the only way to play Muirfield – the way the Members do, and look back on our first trip there in 2000 – where we learnt the secrets we now reveal.
Pomp and Port
Muirfield Golf Club – home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – is a little like an officer’s mess in the British Army. There is a rich smattering of pomp, regalia, plump leather furnishings, fine art depicting the great moments of the club and Britain’s history – a smoking room, and enough Port and Kummel to restore Oscar Wilde to his finest form.
The only way to dress for a day at Muirfield is in a blazer – Navy blue, tailored, with gold buttons, a crisp white or blue shirt, corduroy pants and a tie that could pass for that of a famous private school.
Invite is essential
The only real way to enjoy a day’s golf in Muirfield’s inner sanctum is to be invited by a member. When I played on the University golf team in St Andrews, I was lucky enough to be asked along for a game by a good pal called Jamie Drysdale.
Jamie’s father was a Muirfield member and an eminent financier in Edinburgh and kind enough to have two students along for a day on the links.
Forget about playing golf
The first lesson I learnt was to let go of any notions you might have of carving out a stellar round following in the footsteps of your boyhood hero Nick Faldo – winner of the 1987 and 1992 Opens at Muirfield.
Once you have swallowed a couple of stiff kummel’s (a sweet colourless German or Danish liquer flavoured with caraway seed and cumin) your focus is more on finding your way out of the locker room than finding fairways.
I was reliably told by a distinguished but grizzled member that Muirfield Golf Club, along with Prestwick Golf Club and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, are solely responsible for one third of Kummel consumption in Scotland – a sobering thought.
Plus, golf at Muirfield is usually played alternate shot – in the foursomes format – where you and a partner take turns. Unusual this may be, but it’s tradition, and it makes for “ready golf” – a quicker round and a chance to drink more Kummel afterwards.
Showers are a regular occurrence
Once you’ve changed into your golf gear you won’t be in it very long, because the only way to play Muirfield, is to play nine and then break for lunch – and of course there’s no such thing as a spike bar or hot dog hut at the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
So into the shower and back into the blazer for a soaking of red wine, a traditional Roast Beef dinner, meetings and greetings with other dining members and a mandatory top-up of Kummel.
The food and hospitality at Muirfield was second to none. As a young man from a middle class background – and hailing from Britain’s coal mining heartland – I worried about how accepted I’d feel. Not a bit, conservative and formal yes but relaxed and accepting also – especially once you retire to the Smoking Room.
There were possibly too many conversations about which school wee Alexander was attending – Fettes or Gordonstoun – for my liking, but other than that, I found the break for a lunch to be an intoxicating interlude and one that helped sharpen an appetite for the back nine.
I’d stared down onto Muirfield’s links longingly from the hill top of neighbouring Gullane Golf Club many times and dreamt about playing where my heroes had played in The Open.
Many times, I’d looked down on an empty links and wondered why no-one ever seemed to play. Now I know, they were breaking for lunch and kummel.
That day, my mind was on Faldo’s 1992 triumph and his famous final four holes, where he rescued victory from the clutches of disaster. I remembered his little punchy 5-iron to three feet at the 15th and his precision birdie at the par-five 17th, but most of all, his laser-like 3-iron into the final green which nicked the title from American John Cook.
Having played only half a round at Muirfield, and most of it under the influence of strong spirits, I single handedly failed to do anything to follow in Nick’s footsteps. I did enjoy holing a long par putt at the 18th and shaking hands on a fine and friendly match at the 15th.
I was left wanting more and someday I hope to be able to tee up sober and play all 18 holes, from start to finish, but even then – I think the only way to really play Muirfield is with a good friend and a belly full of Kummel.
For even then the bad shots please you and you are simply happy to be alive – which is a much finer way to play than beset by tension and naked ambition – as the world’s best professional golfers find out Thursday.
We hope you enjoyed this “inside the ropes” golf guide to Muirfield?
Thank you to Jamie Drysdale for inviting our editor to drink and play on the links at Muirfield