Golf was first played at Muirfield in 1891 on 16 holes laid out by Old Tom Morris which was extended to 18 holes for the Open the following year. Restricted by stone walls that completely surrounded the course, the original layout occupied 117 acres. The turf was good in places but there were areas of sandy wasteland and some of the lower points were waterlogged. Over a period of thirty years, the land was drained and the sandy areas were seeded and cultivated.
Muirfield hosted the first Open Championship to be played over 72 holes in 1892 and then again in 1896. After each event, the course received some criticism and improvements were made. It was evident that the surrounding walls had limited the design and the first significant alteration was made with the purchase in 1907 of an additional 13 acres.
The Honourable Company was fortunate to have many leading amateur players amongst its membership, which provided the Club with a useful source of knowledge when course improvements were discussed. One such Member, Robert Maxwell who was an outstanding player, made a valuable contribution in the years leading up to the First World War.
In 1923, a further 50 acres were secured to the north of the course. Renowned course designer Harry Colt was consulted and his recommendations effectively produced the layout as it is today. He introduced 14 new holes and his design included two loops of nine holes, one played within the other in the opposite direction. After this the Muirfield course stood shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world.
In 1935, golf course architect Tom Simpson was invited to visit Muirfield and provide hole by hole advice on further improvements. His hard hitting report is on display in the Clubhouse and is well worth reading, but his contributions were limited in number. He remodelled the 13th to make it the wonderful hole it is today and also gave his name to the partially concealed fairway bunker which lies short of the 9th green.
Three years in advance of the 2013 Open, Martin Hawtree was commissioned by the R&A to recommend alterations to the course to challenge the world’s elite golfers, while ensuring that the enjoyment of Members was not compromised.
After a thorough consultation exercise with the Club, this resulted in a number of new championship tees, some tighter bunkering, fairway shaping and the enlargement of certain greens to the size of the original Colt designs. Significantly, the Champion Golfer of the Year in 2013, Phil Mickelson, was the only competitor to break par in his Open victory.
Medal Tees, Tee Boxes and Blue Tees, complemented by many pin placement choices, seasonal rough growth – not to mention the elements – provide a wide range of challenges for Members, their Guests and Visitors throughout the year.