A visit to Muirfield with my boss Ernie Els has turned me into a convert of the pre-preparation trip
There was a lot to ponder about the more immediate past, but even more to reminisce in last year’s victory at Lytham and his first Open win at Muirfield in 2002
Ernie Els and caddie Colin Byrne during the final round of the BMW International.
It has become fashionable in recent times for players to start their Major tournament preparations well in advance. Innocent amateurs are often amazed that professionals arrive at a tournament as early as they do in advance of the first day of play.
So when they get wind of golfers going to a venue 10 days ahead of the start they are almost dumbfounded. I used to be a little sceptical of reconnaissance trips but having spent a couple of days at Muirfield earlier this week with the defending champion, Ernie Els, I have to admit to being a convert to the pre-preparation trip.
We met on a misty Monday morning in Edinburgh Airport and made our way to East Lothian in search of the site of the 142nd Open Championship. We hadn’t seen each other since Ernie captured the BMW International title in Munich a couple of weeks ago so we had a good chat on the Edinburgh ring road about the victory and our respective breaks. There was a lot to ponder about the more immediate past, but even more to reminisce in last year’s victory at Lytham and his first Open win at Muirfield in 2002.
As we approached the coast alongside the Firth of Forth and rounded the headland and into the links land of Gullane, we were both gripped by a unique sense of Scottish golf. The road to Muirfield splits the two golf courses at Gullane and the panoramic view before us was of silhouetted figures pulling bags, scattered over a vast expanse of sunburnt land, and enjoying golfing in the exceptional heat.
Little snug bar
We arrived at the chintzy Greywalls Hotel, which backs onto the 10th tee at Muirfield, and Ernie got an instant rush of nostalgia. As we walked through the main, very understated cottage door-styled entrance, Ernie headed immediately to a little snug bar off the reception, where his friends had drowned him with champagne as he came back after all the ritual post-victory formalities 11 years ago after his first Claret Jug victory.
He recalled the people who were with him and the room he stayed in, and described the sensation of going back to a place that sounded as secure and cosy as “grandma’s house”. Despite its prestige and history, the hotel has a very familiar feel to it. At the foot of the stairs was a photo montage of Ernie’s victory in a prominent position, with scenes of the ensuing celebration. It must have been easy for him to feel like he was coming back to a warm and familiar place.
After lunch in the exquisite garden we headed out the back door of the hotel and onto the 10h tee, which is almost on the hotel property. We were in shirt sleeves and could have worn shorts; the only protection we needed to add was sun-block. A light north-east breeze was a welcome relief from the uncharacteristic heat and the course looked as inviting as any manicured seaside course can look in high summer; parched but well-defined fairways, framed by a few yards of primary rough giving to a thick cut of taller fawn fescue, with a lusher more dense and longer variety beyond that.