Muirfield’s website hails the hallowed turf outside its windows as “fair, inspiring, elegant and world-renowned”, but you could add to that list “demanding” and, at times, “desolate”.
With no towering dunes or dramatic changes of elevation, this is a layout that only reveals its true identity to those who look closely enough – and that means with clubs on your back, a ball at your feet and a scorecard in your hand. Muirfield may not be the most aesthetically pleasing of golf courses, but its credentials plumb depths far beyond beauty.
Of all the links on the Open rota, if you were forced to pick one that was most likely to serve up the most deserving of champions, it is Muirfield to which you’d turn. Quite simply, the course has a knack of separating the wheat from the chaff. The roll call of former winners reads like a Who’s Who of golf – Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Trevino, Faldo and Els are among the 13 players who have won Opens here.
Sky TV commentator Ewen Murray, having been based just down the road in Edinburgh in his early playing career, is well placed to pass comment. “When the wind whips from the west over the Gullane Sands, a different question is asked on every hole; the wind is never from the same quarter. Down the years, only the greatest players have come up with the answers and every aspect of the complete golfer is tested,” Murray says.
Martin Hawtree’s changes, in evidence for the first time at this year’s championship, have further intensified the challenge, but it has not been a question of lengthening every hole. Although the course will play 158 yards longer than when Ernie Els won here in 2002, a quirk of the redesign equation has seen more holes shortened than lengthened. OK, so eight holes have been shortened by less than two yards, but the point is that Hawtree’s changes have ensured that Muirfield remains a suitable challenge for both professional and amateur golfers.
To see the current incarnation that the world's best will face, take a look at our hole-by-hole course guide here.