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A brief history of Muirfield and that crazy island bunker

By Kyle Porter | Golf Writer

The island bunker on No. 18 at Muirfield is one of the nearly 150 on the course. (Getty Images)
The island bunker on No. 18 at Muirfield is one of the nearly 150 on the course. (Getty Images)

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The British Open is returning to Muirfield this year for the first time since 2002, the 16th time an Open has been hosted at this great course (third most ever).

The course is a historic one (as most Scottish courses are), but it's also an epic one. Muirfield is generally ranked as one of the 10 best tracks in the world. GolfDigest has it as its No. 3 course outside the US while Golf.com has it as No. 9 overall.

Muirfield has a semi-quirk in its design in that its front nine goes in a clockwise direction while the back nine goes counter-clockwise inside the front nine. Here's a good look:

This creates a funky approach to the wind and weather coming off the North Sea. Links courses like this generally send the front nine out in one direction and come back in the other, so you get a feel for what the weather is going to do consistently on each nine holes. Not the case here.

Because of this, and the fact that Muirfield is atypically dry for this time of year, Ernie Els thinks golfers are going to have to use every shot in the bag (so to speak) this year.

"Every links shot you can imagine, you're going to play it this week."

That sounds quite lovely, doesn't it?

This has always been the case at Muirfield, though -- it's a classic course that has demanded historically great golfers as its champion. Look at the past six champions at this course -- Els, Nick Faldo (twice), Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Pretty decent names, yes?

Links Magazine described it like this back in 2002:

"Muirfield today is acknowledged as an architectural masterpiece. It's not the most natural links in the world; it isn't the most spectacular. But it is peerless when it comes to shot values."

The course itself is a beautiful collection of brown fairways, 150 bunkers and nearly no blind shots. It is often described as "an honest course" because what you see is pretty much what you get. It's just that what you see is sometimes the nastiest, filthiest conditions in the history of the sport. See below for proof:

The club's history matches its championship chops, too. According to its website (as well as other sources), Muirfield is home to the oldest golf club in the world -- The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

The club has been together since 1744 but has only resided at Muirfield since 1891. One year later, Muirfield held its first British Open and it hasn't stopped hosting them since -- 15 in all.

It's so old that Old Tom Morris once shot three rounds over 100 at a Muirfield-held Open at the age of 75 and had to withdraw before finishing his fourth.

One of the most famous features of the 7,200 yards that Muirfield takes up is the island bunker on No. 18 (photo at the top of the page). It's a strange and sort of fun blip on an otherwise fairly clean finishing hole. The island bunker is joined by another, skinnier bunker on the left side of the green, a place that Els had to get out of in 2002 to win.

Here's a look at the finishing hole:

Interestingly, Muirfield will draw its sand from an outside source for the first time in British Open championship history this year.

Despite the reach to an off-location supplier for bunker fillings, Muirfield is a great reminder of why golf on the farm land near the water of Scotland is golf at its purest.

Golf architect H.N. Wethered once said about golf next to the water: "Seaside golf is held to be the best of all because it is associated with gently moving undulations. ... To be able always to stand true to our ball can have an enormous influence on the truth of the stroke, and this explains much of the difficulty of the greater links and their suitability for the most exacting tests of all." (via geoffshackelford.com)

There is no doubt how exacting a test that Muirfield will provide this year.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter or Google+ and like us on Facebook.

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