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Muirfield as seen by an amateur

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In 1891, Old Tom Morris designed Muirfield, a new private course to become home for the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. Over the subsequent 122 years, the exclusive traditions of the golf club have changed very little.

To the benefit of golf aficionados, Muirfield has kept its private policies, but it has altered them to allow visitors on Tuesday and Thursday. Tee times are available from 8:30 to 10 a.m., but require years of forward-thinking and planning.

Last year, I embarked with my dad, my friend and his dad on the ultimate golf pilgrimage to watch the weekend rounds at the British Open. We then played North Berwick, Carnoustie, the New and Olde Courses at St. Andrews and with shrewd prepartion: Muirfield. Each of the five courses were dripping in tradition, but the elegance of Muirfield left it in a class on its own.

Muirfield’s swanky persona revealed itself upon arrival. Our taxi driver stopped at the end of the road that led to the club and told us that was as far as he was allowed. The membership did not want taxis to service the club’s entrance.

We were greeted by an ominous iron gate that read, “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers,” protecting history that dates back to the adolescent years of the game.

Behind the gate laid boundless rolling hills of brown and green grasses that emptied into the ocean at the horizon, interrupted by narrow strips of lush green fairways, with yellow flagsticks peeking up arbitrarily throughout the field to ensure it was indeed a golf course.

The landscape emitted a simple beauty, but the vastness made you feel nearly insignificant.

Behind the gate was a man with a clipboard, who condescendingly asked, “What are you doing here?” We clearly were not members of the Company, but with golf bags slung over our shoulder, the answer seemed obvious.

Muirfield Entrance

Our names were on the visitor tee-time list, so he begrudgingly allowed us to enter the grounds. The un-welcomed feeling was easy to get past — we were just appreciative to be there.

We didn’t arrive early enough to hit balls on the range; I’m not sure they would have let us anyway. Before our turn at the tee, we only had time to hang our suit jackets and pants in the locker room. Formal attire was necessary to eat lunch in the dining quarters after the round, and we came prepared based on a tip from the manager at North Berwick the day before. The locker room had the feel of a fine cigar club with the elegant blend of comfort and wealth, surely a room that classy American golf clubs attempt to emulate.

Our names were called to the first tee, and as we approached nerves set in. The first hole is a 448-yard par 4 into a prevailing wind with treacherous fescue on both sides. An already narrow sliver of fairway seemed to disappear as we approached the teeing area.

All four of our drives found the fescue (which didn’t make our caddy happy), but we were relieved to get underway without total disaster.

After playing some military golf (left-right-left) on the first few shots, I had an approach shot into the green from the fairway. It’s not often that I’m hesitant to take a divot with a wedge, but the grass in the fairways made me weary to disturb such perfection. A tentative swing left me in the front right bunker, and after failing to get up-and-down, I tapped in for a humbling double-bogey.

A run of pars on the next five holes allowed me to get comfortable despite the intimidation of the atmosphere early in the round. I was faring well by keeping the ball out of the thick fescue for a while, but that only lasted so long.

Our group was losing balls by the dozen. We counted 43 lost balls collectively for the round (although my friend’s father may have underestimated his tally). The caddy was collecting more ticks than golf balls.

No. 9, a par 5, was one of the most memorable of the trip (and it had heavy competition). To the left of the hole was a working sheep farm protected by an old stonewall. The sight of hundreds of sheep placed you back in time to the origins of the game, with a loud and constant “baa-ing” from the herd. I’m not sure they will obey the “Quiet Please” sign at this year’s Open Championship.

The uphill 550-yard par 5 into the teeth of the wind made it a full three-to-four-shot hole. With pot bunkers drizzled throughout the fairway and guarding the green, fescue everywhere, a stonewall marking out-of-bounds on the left and the looming clubhouse of disapproving members behind the green, the loud animals was the least of its challenges.

A driver, 3-wood and healthy pitching wedge left me with a 12-footer for birdie to break 40 on the front side — I shot 41.

Muirfield View

The back nine delivered much of the same as the front nine. It was a battle set upon a beautiful canvas, truly “a good walk spoiled.” Our caddy barely watched us struggle to hole out on No. 18 before he understandably took off for the local pub.

A 40 on the incoming 9 gave me an 81 for the round. This tied Tiger Woods’ score in the 2002 Open Championship on Saturday at Muirfield, confirming the fact that on an average day, I’m only as good as Tiger on the worst day of his professional career.

After the round, we were giddy at the opportunity to dine in the clubhouse. My hand-me-down linen 1970s suit jacket that I had bought at a local thrift store the day before worked well enough as upper-body attire, but we had forgotten to purchase dress shoes. They denied our entry to the dining quarters.

My dad quoted the movie Shawshank Redmeption, “I mean seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”

The shoe-shiner in the locker room had extras stashed away in a box for these types of situations. I wear a size 12, and the largest shoes he had were size 10. Sacrifices had to be made.

The round was all-inclusive: the bar stocked with top-shelf liquor, kitchen with every meat on the chopping blocks and dessert table with mouth-watering treats was at our expense. My only concern was utilizing the appropriate fork and spoon at the proper time. Ladies were forbidden, and the dress code was strictly enforced; it didn’t seem timely to break the rules.

The meal was fit for kings, even though we were pawns wearing used suit jackets and ill-fitting shoes. Unfavorable stares from the members followed us out of the door following our meal, but it was a memory we will never forget.

As typical tourists, we wanted to buy souvenirs at the pro shop. We asked an employee of the club where it was, and his answer embodied the experience at Muirfield: “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers does not see it fit to have a professional, therefore, we do not have a ‘pro’ shop.”

We should have expected that.

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Andrew Tursky is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX. He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Arthur J

    Jul 17, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I think the moral of the story is when you are going to one of the oldest establishments in any game (let along golf!) then you wear your ‘sunday best’.

    Turning up to any old private members club in a borrowed jacket may be ok, but not the Hon Company!!!

  2. robert horneman

    Jul 16, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Mr. Tursky ,I can see why you are getting a Masters in communication!
    Your description about your experience at Muirfield was masterfull.
    I especially enjoyed the part about dinning in used clothes.
    I had a similar experience at Woburn. Not quite as stuffy as Muirfield. We took jackets from home, but the day we but left them back at our hotel!
    We rented jackets,we brought shoes and because it was summer we did not need ties,from the locker room attendant. Like you they were out of the 70’s. I have long arms so the sleeves were above my wrists. Like you when we walked out everyone stared at us.
    I’m sure they were saying there goes a couple of goofy Ameaicans.
    Playing golf in Scotland was an experience I will never forget.

  3. Martin

    Jul 15, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    On the classic courses in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland they tend to be a little skeptic against americans, maybe that was what you experienced. I would say they regard you as a bit “loud” and without “manors” :). I have heard several times that they laugh about stories of american players doing this or that on the course (stories about japanese players are also very popular). In fact I played Castle Stuart (this years host of the Scottish open as you all know) a couple of years back with an american player. He thought that was one of the most boring courses he ever played. “Where is the water hazards”, was one of his comments… He promised me he would never play a links course again! And I believed him 🙂

  4. Drew Farron

    Jul 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Sorry that you felt so out of place, when we played there they couldn’t have been nicer. The dining room manager was a woman, the staff was very friendly and the caddies regaled us with their stories of how many pints they had consumed the night before!

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Wolfridge Golf Course in Angora, Minnesota

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s hidden gem was submitted by GolfWRX Member eboettne, and it’s called Wolfridge Golf Course located in Angora, Minnesota. Why did it make the list? Here’s what eboettne had to say:

“This 9 hole reversible course is located approximately 30 miles away from the acclaimed Giant’s Ridge and Wilderness courses that are usually the center of most MN golf trips. However, few people include this course in the itinerary and it should be. The trip to the course is memorable as you are deep in the northwoods and must drive down a long gravel road to arrive at the clubhouse. The course has elevation changes, rock outcroppings throughout, and is generally just a fun time. However, the most impressive part of the course may be that the entire thing is maintained by one man that lives in a house(the only one you’ll see) on the property. If you are going to make it up this way you’d be remiss to skip this gem.”

According to Wolfridge’s website, it’s $39 to play 18 holes with a cart any day or time of year, or $26 to walk. Twilight is $23 for unlimited holes (presumably before dark).

Do you have a favorite Hidden Gem course you think belongs on this list? Click here to submit it!

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Hidden Gem of the Day: “Sweetens Cove Golf Club” in South Pittsburg, Tennessee

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s Hidden Gem is our first ever double submission! That’s right, two GolfWRX members have now submitted Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tennessee as their favorite Hidden Gem golf course. Here’s what they both had to say below.

bogey pro

“It’s a 9 hole course that is all about the golf.  It doesn’t have a fancy club house.  It’s minimalist and pure golf.  It’s always in excellent shape and very fun.  It is a real treat to play and people come from all over to play it.  I’ve never heard a bad word about it.  Its very similar to a links style course with rolling fairways, waste bunkers, large fast undulating greens.  From the website, it is ranked 50th in Modern Course and ranked #1 course in Tennessee for the last 3 years.”

FairwayFred

“While starting to get too much publicity to be considered a hidden gem it’s hard to argue that Sweetens Cove isn’t one of the best golf values in the country.  For $40 peak season you can play 18 at the #1 ranked course you can play in TN and Golf Weeks 50th ranked modern course.  What Sweetens lack in holes (its a 9 hole course) it more than makes up for with amazing variety, incredible green complexes, firm and fast turf and in my opinion the best set of artistic bunkers I’ve ever seen anywhere.  Rob Collins the principal architect (and now the head of the management team) built the course by hand with his partner Tad King.  Rob has OVER 700 days on site working on the build.  That is almost unheard of in golf course architecture and construction and is the main reason why all the little details at Sweetens are so good.  The main thing at Sweetens is playing golf there is about FUN which is not always the case.  Definitely one to seek out regardless of budget.”

According to the Sweetens Cove website, course rates range from $25 to $65 depending on the day of the week, time of the year and time of day. Also, they have a $100 play-all-day rate (with a cart) and a $60 walk all day rate. Sweetens Cove is located approximately 25 minutes from downtown Chattanooga.

Know a local course that you can play for under $50 that deserves recognition? Submit your hidden gem here

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