As we reach the home hole of the Eclectic 18 UK, you may be wondering, “Which courses have they not picked yet?” Or you may be swearing at us for leaving off your favorite. (Shout-out to four of the UK’s finest that somehow didn’t make it: Royal County Down, Royal St. George’s, Royal Dornoch, and Woking.)
In lieu of an apology, how about lunch? As soon as you finish up on No. 18 at Muirfield, change back into your non-golf duds—coat and tie for men—so we can sit down like honorable ladies and gentlemen and, over a delicious spread, argue about the horrendous decisions we made on this Eclectic 18. After some sticky toffee pudding and a chat about what really is Harry Colt’s least bad course, we can head back out for another bash—because 18 at Muirfield is never enough.
The home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield is one the least accessible British courses. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the course is open to outside play, and bookings should be made far in advance. The historic Open venue is not a cheap game, and if you’re lucky enough to play with a member, it’s not a slow one, either. There’s a lot of history inside the famous Muirfield gate, so it’s best to put this one on the bucket list and experience it for yourself.
The course is known for having some of the fastest greens and thickest rough in all the linksland, and for being one of the “fairest” Open venues, whatever that means.
The routing is famous. The first nine holes form a ring around the perimeter of the course, and then, instead of heading into the choppy dunes between the clubhouse and the Firth of Forth, the second nine squeezes itself inside the outer loop. Architects have replicated this outer/inner concept at a number of courses around the world, including at A. W. Tillinghast’s Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, New York, which runs “anti-clockwise,” as the Brits say.
There isn’t a bad hole at Muirfield, and any of the 18 could qualify reasonably as a favorite. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 13, and 17 are all stand-outs. No. 9, one of the world’s great par 5s, was especially hard to leave off. But the 18th, with its view of the iconic clubhouse and its association with the anticipation of stuffing one’s face, just felt right. The factors that make the architecture of the 18th compelling, though, are the effect of the crosswind on the drive, the “doughnut bunker” right of the green, and the rolling contours of the green itself.
The fairway bunker on the right is blind, but you should really worry about the two visible ones on the left. The wind, normally off the right, is going to push your tee ball toward them. The fairway is awfully narrow for a long, crosswind par 4, but it’s part of the test that scratch players relish here. If you find the fairway, you shouldn’t have much trouble with the centerline bunkers along the approach. If, however, you hit it into the fescue or the sand, these bunkers will make your next shot far more difficult.
Lurking right of the green, the doughnut bunker—aka the ringed bunker, aka “the bunker with an island in it”—makes me smile, though no doubt it has brought many others to tears. Aside from menacing all who get trapped in its narrow sliver of sand, this bunker shows that not all revetted bunkers have to be little round pots. Its stacks of sod vary in their layering, highlighting the artistry that revetment can achieve. In its boldness, this hazard ties right into the contours of the green.
While no Champion Golfers of the Year will be crowned when you putt out, we hope that you have enjoyed your round through 18 of our favorite holes in the UK. It’s a shame we couldn’t have included more, but such is the delightful torture of this exercise. We encourage you to make your own Eclectic 18, whether an all-U.S. version or one that stays within the borders of your home state. Word has it Clyde has been working on a “Way, Way Off the Radar” UK version, too.
As Patric Dickinson says in A Round of Golf Courses, there will always be: “Discovery: the one magical secret of golf!”
Explore the rest of the Eclectic 18 UK HERE.