Falling for Muirfield


Im not sure how the stuffiest club in the British Open rota became my favorite venue, but it did. I had been to the Championship a number of times before, but in 1987 I traveled to Scotland and stayed in Edinburgh while working the Open for ABC Sports. Staying at a hotel across the street from the castle where Mary Queen of Scots had ruled and taking the train to the course each day, I had a chance to experience the city and the championship in the same week. Both were magnificent.
My cousin and stepbrother made that trip with me. It was their first time to Scotland, so I got to see the country for the first time again, through their eyes. A few blocks from the hotel we found a street about a half-mile long lined with pubs. At night, after play had been completed we would head down to pub row and spend time chatting with the locals and visitors, many of whom had come to watch the worlds oldest championship, fighting our way through various brogues and accents. Sometimes we understood the conversation; other times we just played along. For two New York City kids and a bayou boy in a foreign country, it was a unique trip. The city was ancient and warm, the people open and happy. I felt more comfortable there than in any city I had ever visited.
Piling on to the train each morning and heading to the course was also a new experience for me. Rather than staying in a rented house and driving to the course, I took the standard, and much quicker route. Thousands of spectators took the same train and when they got to the gate, they were assured a ticket. There was no limit to daily sales, this championship was truly open.
The venue looked to be another subtle seaside bit of treachery. Knee high fescue guarded errant tee shots, and bunkers lurked at every turn, protecting the greens and some fairways. The actual competition had a British player with a history of close calls using robotic precision to overcome a popular American challenger. When all was said and done Nick Faldo had his first major championship victory, while Paul Azinger would have to wait for his. If par is a good score at a major championship, Faldo had 18 good scores that Sunday, and the Fleet Street scribes could never again call him Foldo. He was the World Champion.
I dont know if it was the ancient venue, picturesque city or friendly people. It could have been the championship itself, the spirit of Mary Queen of Scots, or experiencing the trip with my family, but I never had quite the same sensation again at the Open. My cousin and I went to Royal Lytham and St. Annes the next year, but Blackpool was no match for Edinburgh. The championship was exciting, but the experience just wasnt the same. The 1987 Open at Muirfield was like a first love. Ive had the feeling again, just not as sweet or unique.