Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The history and course design of Muirfield in Scotland

Course history and design of Muirfield in Scotland:

Golf was first played at Muirfield in 1891 on 16 holes laid out by Old Tom Morris which was extended to 18 holes for the Open the following year. Restricted by stone walls that completely surrounded the course, the original layout occupied 117 acres. The turf was good in places but there were areas of sandy wasteland and some of the lower points were waterlogged. Over a period of thirty years, the land was drained and the sandy areas were seeded and cultivated.

Muirfield hosted the first Open Championship to be played over 72 holes in 1892 and then again in 1896. After each event, the course received some criticism and improvements were made. It was evident that the surrounding walls had limited the design and the first significant alteration was made with the purchase in 1907 of an additional 13 acres.

The Honourable Company was fortunate to have many leading amateur players amongst its membership, which provided the Club with a useful source of knowledge when course improvements were discussed. One such Member, Robert Maxwell who was an outstanding player, made a valuable contribution in the years leading up to the First World War.

In 1923, a further 50 acres were secured to the north of the course. Renowned course designer Harry Colt was consulted and his recommendations effectively produced the layout as it is today. He introduced 14 new holes and his design included two loops of nine holes, one played within the other in the opposite direction. After this the Muirfield course stood shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world.

Apart from Tom Simpson's re-modelling of the 13th hole in 1935, the only notable changes since then have been the provision of new tees to combat improvements in equipment. Significantly and importantly Colt's challenge has been preserved.

Over the winters of 2010 and 2011, changes were made at fifteen holes following a review by Martin Hawtree to ensure that Muirfield remained a suitable challenge for the world's best professional and amateur golfers. In summary those changes included the introduction of new bunkers in selected drive areas; the relocation of greenside bunkers to tighten the entrances to greens; the extension of greens to provide more championship pin positions and the introduction of six new championship tees taking the course to 7245 yards in length.

While many in number, the changes were subtle in nature and the essential characteristic of Muirfield has been carefully retained. The most noticeable difference would be the 9th Hole which is now a truly testing par 5, particularly into the prevailing wind.

The work was commissioned and completed on schedule and has received universal approval from players and commentators alike. The new championship layout will be played in competition for the first time in July 2013 at the Open.