An Open Preview at Scotland’s Muirfield

Muirfield (Image: Muirfield)

The scene at Muirfield during the 2002 Open Championship. (Image: Muirfield)

Scotland’s Golf Coast includes fabulous links North Berwick, Dunbar, Gullane and, of course, Muirfield, the site of this summer’s Open Championship. In fact, there are so many outstanding local courses our editor is willing to forego — just this once — a visit to St. Andrews.

 

Late last month I flew to Scotland, where I attended the R&A’s media day at Muirfield for the upcoming Open Championship and played a few local courses in the company of a group of mostly American golf writers.

The morning press conference at Muirfield produced few surprises. Peter Dawson, the R&A’s chief executive, felt certain the Open (July 18 to 22) would be a huge success, with about 160,000 fans expected to pass through Muirfield’s gates. And, yes, the old links has been slightly tweaked to make it more challenging to the pros since the Open’s last outing there in 2002.

What did catch my attention was Dawson’s confirmation during the wide-ranging press conference that Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush Golf Club is still under consideration as a potential Open site. The worry about Royal Portrush, which last hosted the Open way back in 1951, has been that the local infrastructure might not be able to accommodate the modern-day hordes. But everyone in golf from the R&A leadership on down agrees that an Open there would surely be a hit with players and fans. Tumbling down a hillside to the seaside cliffs that define Royal Portrush is an unbroken profusion of links holes as fine as any in the British Isles.

The R&A then invited us to play Muirfield, a links many regard as the best of the nine courses currently in the Open rotation. But the same screaming winds that nearly blew Tiger Woods off the course — and killed his chances — in 2002 had nothing on what was coming off the Firth of Forth when we teed off. Even the few low-handicappers among us came in with scores about 20 strokes higher than their usual.

The rest of our week included stops at Gullane No. 1, Dunbar and North Berwick, three outstanding links found along a stretch of coastline just east of Edinburgh marketed as Scotland’s Golf Coast. In fact, the golf was so spectacularly good I hardly minded that our trip’s itinerary didn’t include the usually mandatory side trip to St. Andrews, the cradle of golf and a first glimpse of heaven for every true believer.

Higher praise than that I cannot give.

 

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