Since 1892 Muirfield has hosted 42 national and international competitions, averaging about one every three years.
Seven of 13 Open Champions won their first ‘major’ over the course but only James Braid and Sir Nick Faldo have won twice at Muirfield. Of those golfers who have won four or more Opens, only Harry Vardon and Tom Watson triumphed at Muirfield where Watson also won his third Senior Open in 2007. Neither Sir Michael Bonallack (four times Amateur Champion) nor Ronnie Shade (five times Scottish Amateur Champion) ever triumphed at this East Lothian Championship test. Winning at Muirfield required a certain flamboyance as exhibited by Walter “who’s gonna be second?” – Hagen or by Amateur champion Cyril Tolley who paid his caddie the sum agreed for winning before stepping up to hole the winning birdie putt on the 37th green against Robert A Gardner in 1920. Then there was wise-cracking Lee Trevino whoever-so-casually chipped in from behind the 71st green to save an unlikely par and go on to beat Tony Jacklin in the 1972 Open.
There has been just reward for careful thought and course management by other winners at Muirfield. In 1966 when Jack Nicklaus won The Open he drove throughout with his 1-iron in order to avoid the punishing rough. In 1987 Faldo played each hole of the final round in strict par to win and Hagen and Dutchman Rolf Muntz hit across the practice ground to shorten the dog-leg eighth hole. Only Braid and South Africa’s Gary Player won the Open by shooting progressively lower scores in each of their four rounds. Emotion and tears took over when a 6 at the 72nd hole convinced Player that he had lost the1959 Open – of course he had not – and there were tears, of relief from Faldo when he staged a dramatic rally over the last few holes to edge out American John Cook in 1992.
Ladies have graced Muirfield in team matches for the 1952 and 1984 Curtis Cup, the 1963 and 1975 Vagliano Trophy and, back in 1914, the Scottish Close Championship. The Club has also twice hosted the annual Oxford versus Cambridge match, the only occasions on which this fixture has been held outside England.
In the final of the 1920 Amateur Championship at Muirfield, the sportsmanship and quality of play between Cyril Tolley and Gardner so impressed the watching USGA President, George Herbert Walker that he conceived the Walker Cup contest between the top amateurs in America and Great Britain and Ireland.
Indeed the 1959 Walker Cup match introduced Jack Nicklaus to Muirfield. He developed such a life-long love and admiration for the course that he named his own course in Ohio, Muirfield Village. Nicklaus and former Masters’ champion Tommy Aaron are the only two to have played at the course in both the Walker Cup in 1959 and the Ryder Cup in 1973.
After a four-man play-off and subsequently sudden death against Frenchman Thomas Levet, South African Ernie Els triumphed in the Open Championship in 2002. It is not surprising then that Muirfield remains the favourite course not just of Nicklaus but also of countless other international golfers around the world.
More recently, in June 2010, the Amateur Championship was won by Jin Jeong of South Korea who became the first winner of this prestigous event from Asia in beating James Byrne from Banchory.