Blog 271, 7/18/13 - The Honourable Company Will See You Now

muirfieldWhat a day at the Open Championship. The weather was fantastic and the couse a brilliant test, suitable for a major championship, regardless of what a few whingers were saying about tough pin positions. When playing the Open, you get what you get and don't throw a fit (well, when you play any tournament actually). Muirfield, hosting its 16th Open, is the third home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, one of Britain's most exclusive golf clubs - the sort that really couldn't care less what you think about it. When I was growing up in Britain (and for decades before that), it was the hardest tee-time to get. It still is pretty tough, but the club has begun to open its gates a bit more often recently and, though you may be regarded as something of a privileged outsider rather than a valued customer whose business is essential to the upkeep of the club/course, you really should go anyway. This course is worth whatever coolness you may encounter from the members.
Here's something I wrote recently for Colorado AvidGolfer.

The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which started life in 1744 as the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith and which is currently preparing to host its 16th Open Championship, has long been regarded as Britain’s most selective (discriminatory?), most politically-incorrect golf club. Run by famously-overbearing secretaries – usually retired military personnel – the club has never felt the need to join the rest of the world in the 21st century, and is quite happy where it is thank you very much for asking. Stories illustrating its desire to keep itself to itself, and its somewhat anti-social visitor/guest/member policies are legion, and have humored some but angered more for decades. It continues to resist calls to admit female members, and not one but three major champions - Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw and Payne Stewart – have all either been instructed to leave the course or denied access altogether for not abiding by the club’s rules.
A few years ago, I met and played with a billionaire from Hong Kong (not my usual crowd you understand. He was a golf fanatic who loved playing public courses, and we just got paired together on the 1st tee) who told me his own Muirfield story, one that substantiated every anecdote about the place I’d ever heard. In Scotland for a few rounds of golf – Old Course, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Gleneagles, Royal Dornoch – he had spent the night prior to his round at Muirfield in the nearby Greywalls Hotel. In the morning, he walked to the clubhouse in good time for his round, but was told on arrival he was wearing unsuitable shoes. He quickly returned to the hotel, changed into a different pair, and retraced his steps back to the clubhouse…where he was told he was now late for his tee-time and would not be able to play even though he’d come several thousand miles for the chance to play the course, and couldn’t see another soul on it.
Golfers have a tendency to cultivate stories, allowing the passage of time to ripen them into somewhat grander, more sensational versions of the truth. But this particular gentleman had nothing to gain from spinning me, a non-billionaire, his Muirfield yarn. I had no reason to suspect he might be elaborating a little.
Because of its notoriety where outsiders are involved, most golfers perceive Muirfield as strictly out of bounds, believing there are no such things as visitor green fees and that the club doesn’t need you or your business. While the second part of that sentence is undoubtedly true, visitors are able to play the course, provided they do so on a Tuesday or Thursday, adhere to the foursomes (alternate shot) in the afternoon rule, and ideally get round in two and a half hours.
No, you’re probably not going to be given the red-carpet treatment; you may even get the impression the members have absolutely no desire whatsoever to welcome you into their 122-year-old, Hall Blyth-designed clubhouse.  But for one day you need to disregard the cool, even frosty, reception and just be happy you have the opportunity to play what is unquestionably one of the greatest courses in the world, one which most of the pros would opt for when asked to name the best course that hosts the Open.
Muirfield, originally designed by Old Tom Morris but redesigned by Harry Colt in 1923, is worthy of inter-continental travel by itself but, as with most of the great links courses in Scotland, you don’t have to travel far to find similarly enjoyable courses you’ll savor nearly as much. North Berwick’s enchanting West Links is many people’s favorite course, not just in Lothian but the entire country. Dunbar, Gullane (1, 2, and 3), Longniddry, Luffness, the nine-hole Musselburgh Links - possibly the oldest golf course in the world, Craigielaw, and the Glen Club will also keep you royally entertained.
East Lothian may not quite match Fife’s status and distinction, but you could land at Edinburgh Airport, point your rental car east toward the coast overlooking the Firth of Forth and enjoy a fantastic week-long golf adventure without once hearing the name of St Andrews or Kingsbarns. And if you do manage to arrange a game at Muirfield, and can get in and out without being told to change your shoes, play quicker, or hold your knife and fork correctly at the luncheon table, you will probably need to rearrange your personal ‘Best Courses Played’ list.

1st round scores from the Open Championship here.

Add comment

Security code