Muirfield for prestige, North Berwick for a thrill
Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.EDINBURGH, Scotland — In some ways, Muirfield is golf.
It's the home of the oldest golf club in the world, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. As such, it's extremely private and, therefore, incredibly intimate. There's no stone wall announcing its presence. There's not even a sign. The best thing is to ask directions from the guy behind the counter at the Gullane Golf Club pro shop. Muirfield has no pro shop. A coat and tie are required to dine in the clubhouse. The starter meets guests at the iron gate on days when visitors are allowed to play the course.
Jack Nicklaus loves Muirfield like no other British course.
The links holes, which rotate clockwise for the first nine and counterclockwise for the last nine, don't play any tricks on the golfer. Of course, the course never takes it easy on the golfer either.
Muirfield appears almost plain with fairways and greens cut out of dense links-land grasses. But other courses, even ones in the region that run along cliff sides, can't match the test of golf that is Muirfield.
When my dad and I played Muirfield this week, our caddies openly gushed over the chance to walk the course day after day, particularly on sunny days like the one we enjoyed.
Indeed, playing Muirfield, perhaps the most dignified of the British Open venues, is a privilege.
All of that stated, I like North Berwick better.
Just down the seaside road, North Berwick shares some golf legacy with its British Open-hosting neighbor. North Berwick serves as a Final Local Qualifying site when The Open comes to Muirfield. North Berwick has its history, too. It's where Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris played and won their final match together. It's also where they received the tragic news that Young Tom's wife was struggling mightily in childbirth. Old Tom and Young Tom rushed home together from North Berwick, only to receive bad news when they reached St. Andrews.
Looking out to sea from the shore at North Berwick, you can imagine the Morrises setting sail, rushing back home. But it's not a melancholy view. In fact, it's stirring. When I played North Berwick in 2004, my caddie told me Robert Louis Stevenson gained inspiration for Treasure Island by gazing out at the row of small isles just out to sea from North Berwick.
And oh, by the way, the golf holes make a round at North Berwick consistently fun. It's not just a classic links course, going out and then coming back in. It does so with style, forming a figure 8. Coming in offers a thrill a minute starting with a 144-yard par-3 back toward the sea at No. 10. Then comes a shot over the wall at the par-4 No. 13, and a shot at a high-posted bull's-eye target on the par-4 No. 14 (see photo, click to enlarge). At the par-3 No. 15, called Redan, you must play over bunkers and a green-front swell. There's a creek bed running through the 16th green, making putting an adventure on that par-4. Finally, looking across a wide fairway toward the green from the 18th tee, with the town on the right and straight ahead and the sea to the left, well, that just feels like standing on the home hole at The Old Course.
So if I wake up in Edinburgh and you tell me I can't play Muirfield that day but I can play North Berwick, then I'm still one smiling golfer.