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  • Neil White

Muirfield - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers

Understated brilliance and one of the heartiest welcomes we have received so far on the top100 quest.

Indeed, Muirfield’s team were as delightful as its course, from the moment we arrived at the iron gate, denoting the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to the moment we departed.

So, why does it have such a bad rap?

“I have been here 15 years and there is a lot of rubbish written. When Americans come, they even stand to attention!”

The starter was only half-joking. Clearly, it grates that Muirfield is falsely known for being anti-women and not laying the mat out to visitors.

I have to say this combination of prestige and infamy had prompted my pre-round nerves – a feeling comparable to arriving for a job interview. I shouldn’t have been apprehensive. As the starter said: “This is just a golf club, like any other golf club.”

Well, yes but no. It is a club with members but Muirfield is also one of the most revered names in the game because it has a history only rivalled by St.Andrew’s and, arguably, Prestwick.

However, we were astonished at how it was hidden away – so much so, that I took three wrong turns before I alighted upon a nondescript side road leading to one of the most famous sporting arenas in the world.

Also, I had not foreseen the low-key presentation of history. For example, if there is any record of its 13 Open championships, I didn’t spot it.

Don’t expect giant photos of Nicklaus, Watson, Faldo, Mickelson and co.

Muirfield is where the original rules of golf were written and yet there was more trumpeting about that document at Royal Lytham St. Anne’s where I played last week.

Instead, the clubhouse is adorned with giant paintings of golfers of the long distant past, wielding clubs which looked more like walking sticks.

Anyway, we were greeted with a wave of enthusiasm by the lady at the registration desk, the folk in the souvenir shop, the staff serving drinks and food and the aforementioned starter.

And, after our complimentary coffees and range balls, it was time to take on the beast.

Muirfield’s course has a reputation for being very tough and it lived up to it – the rough is high and dense and there is many a nasty surprise with hidden fairway and greenside bunkers.

But it is in superb condition and the views on a clear day (the clouds parted as we arrived!) were outstanding.

The starter suggested Mrs W and I both play off the navy tees so we could enjoy ourselves (there are no ladies' tees or scorecard because Muirfield is ‘gender neutral’).

So, I felt a pang of shame as we hit off together on the first and second and I am blaming that for two duff tee shots.

I reverted to the box tees for the remainder of my round and hit straight for the following 16 holes but that wasn’t enough to secure glory.

Let me be clear. If you cannot his straight at Muirfield, there is absolutely no hope of scoring because the rough is so penalising. We struggled to find balls and play recoveries on a fine summer’s day – I tried to imagine the fall-out if it were wet and blowing a hoolie.

I am a fan of quirky holes, so the second next to the boundary wall appealed as did the third with its green nestled behind opposite dunes. It also stuck in the memory because I nailed a putt off the green for my par.

The others on the front nine which stood out for me were the eighth, a curving par four which demands an approach over a cluster of bunkers and the par-five ninth which requires careful guiding between out-of-bounds on the left and thick rough and traps on the right.

The blindest tee shot is over a hill on the 10th which I nailed only to be caught out when a gust of wind helped my approach into sand at the back of the green.

This was one of three occasions when I found myself watching what I thought was a cracking second shot bound through the putting surface because the breeze was at my back.

Mastery of the wind direction is crucial at Muirfield but the course routing means that there is barely a consecutive hole where it is the same.

Anyway, other stand-outs were the par-three 14th which is a small target carved in a hill between dunes and bunkers and, of course, the 18th.

This home hole towards Muirfield’s historic clubhouse triggers memories of Opens won and lost.

It is followed by being treated like a lord and lady in the clubhouse with its fabled lunch which we devoured with the same hunger that the rough had gobbled our golf balls.

It was about the only element of Muirfield which brought truth to a rumour. Otherwise, this was a day which was full of surprises.

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