As we head further north the days get longer. Sun rises at 4:46am and it gets dark at 10:30pm. Golfers were hitting off at 6pm for their 18 hole round. We however were more civil with tee times set at Muirfield for 10am and North Berwick at 3:51pm.
Muirfield, or more formally known as the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is a relatively “new” golf club with golf only having been played there since 1744. Yes 1744. That is older than Australia and gives us a fuller appreciation of the real history of golf in this part of the world.
It is one of the games most private golf clubs with very limited tee times available to non members – 1.5 hours on both Tuesday and Thursday (off 1st and 10th tees). The rest of the time it is a members club and a place that both of us would gladly play every day if we could.
Finding Muirfield for the navigationally challenged is not easy. There are no signs and a discrete private road and the sign to Greywalls Hotel (which abuts the course) is the only indication that you are close.
George, the starter and marshall, greeted us at the grand gates with a warm smile and said something like “I have heard about you guys”. Not sure if this was comforting or otherwise but he had a smile on his face.
The course presents with wide fairways that give a real sense of space. This width however can be a golfers undoing as drives not placed in the correct side of the fairway will be “rewarded” with more difficult approach shots.
It is a course that is laid out in two circles. The front nine plays on the outside of the circle whereas the back nine plays inside this circle. The result is that we were faced with shots in all different directions and can safely say we used every club in our bag (including our 60 degree wedge to chip out of the deep rough!).
Over 150 bunkers, mostly revetted, are scattered through the course. The bunkers are not as deep as Royal Lytham but still make you think your way around the course. We have found that being in a fairway bunker in the UK is very much a one shot penalty with no chance to reach the green.
Whilst Muirfield is classed as a links course the water is at least 1km away. There are water views on a number of holes but no absolute ocean frontage holes. This however in no way detracts from the golfing experience.
The greens were rolling true and were relatively large.
Our respective stableford scores of 35 points each was satisfying for both of us on such a strong test of golf that Muirfield presents.
The secretary Mr Brown was very warm and we spent some time over the famous post game Muirfield lunch talking about everything from the exhorbitant golf of living in Sydney (his son lives in Sydney and is a member of Bonnie Doon GC) through to the vagaries of the handicap systems throughout the world.
A pressing tee time at North Berwick (10 minutes down the road) meant we could not graze on the vast lunch buffet as long as we would have liked however it was a remarkably memorable experience.
By way of contrast to Muirfield the links at North Berwick are absolute beachfront. You smell the ocean air, you are affected by the wind that blows off the water and you feel like you are playing on the beach itself on a number of the holes.
Secretary Chris kindly greeted us on the first tee as the rain began to fall and then we were on our way.
The course is quirky and fun to play. The front 9 holes played severely downwind where 8 irons would go 160 metres. We knew this had to end and by the time we turned back into the wind we were faced with the challenge of hitting a 3 wood 160 metres!
Quirkiness at North Berwick is defined in a number of ways – 4 holes presented approach shots we could not see with rock walls to hit over, burns to negotiate, heavily undulating greens and a green on the 18th that was within 20 metres of our parked hire car (needless to say we aimed well left of this to avoid the potential embarrassment – this did not intimidate Dave as he birdied the hole).
North Berwick is your classic Scottish golf experience. It was fun to play and in spite of the rain we encountered for 5 holes was thoroughly enjoyable.
Golf today in East Lothian (the area where Muirfield and North Berwick are located) saw us enjoying excellent playing surfaces on both courses.
Shots of the Day
Round 1 – the 6th hole at Muirfield is a tough dogleg left par 4 into the wind 400 metres. David hit a solid drive and then a wonderful rescue club into the teeth of the wind to hit the front of the green. He then proceeded to calmly hole a 45 foot birdie putt that never looked like missing.
Round 2 – the green complex on the 16th at North Berwick is amazing. Not one or two buried elephants but three. The pin placement was on the front right and the hole was playing into a strong wind. Gary hit 3 wood off the tee and then a 3 wood into the green (a green normally receptive to 8 iron or less) which stopped 5 feet from the pin. Whilst the birdie missed it was a shot to remember. This complemented a very good round of Gary’s with 40 points.
Overall Birdie Tally
David (1 birdie Muirfield, 1 birdie North Berwick, cumulative 8)
Gary (1 birdie Muirfield, 3 birdies North Berwick, cumulative 18)
Friday brings an early start with a 2 hour drive to the West Coast of Scotland and Ayrshire (south of Glasgow). Home to Royal Troon with the famous postage stamp hole we are excited. A last minute addition (yes addition) to our golf schedule will include some holes at Western Gailes – a course that many have spoken very highly about. Stay tuned…