Open Championship: Rough going at Muirfield

COMPETITORS heading to Muirfield for the 142nd Open Championship have been warned to expect “plenty of rough” despite a cold spring causing a lack of growth on most golf courses in Scotland.

That message was delivered yesterday by R&A chief executive Peter Dawson as he set the scene for the event’s return to the East Lothian course for the first time since Ernie Els claimed the Claret Jug in 2002.

“The rough has been cut down over the winter, but it will regenerate depending on the weather we get,” he said. “You will see the rough up and you’re unlikely to win an Open at Muirfield from the rough.”

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Asked if a lack of growth was a concern, Dawson claimed Muirfield had not been affected as much by that as some other courses in the home of golf.

“It’s been slightly against the trend here,” he added. “There has been some growth here. The rough has started to regenerate and there’s quite a good swarth out there.

“It (growth) tends to happen pretty quickly here in May and June most years and we’re confident it will happen again this year. It’s weather dependent, obviously, but we’ll get there. We will get plenty rough.”

The course has been lengthened by just under 160 yards since the R&A caravan last rolled into Gullane for the world’s oldest major.

In a land swap with the neighbouring Renaissance Club, a new tee has been built at the ninth while the tenth fairway has been re-aligned to create a dog-leg that has moved the hole away from the practice area.

“Here at Muirfield the golf course is laid out in front of you, you don’t get the humps and bumps you get at Royal St George’s and others,” said Dawson.

“The players love it, it’s immensely popular and it’s always in fantastic condition. I always say we could hold an Open here any year at three weeks’ notice.

“As we’ve done with all the Open venues, we’ve made alterations and upgrades. The card of the course compared to 2002 has increased about a total of 158 yards, which is about two per cent of previous length.

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“In general, the changes reflect new back tees on 2, 4, 9, 14, 15, 17, and 18. But there’s also been a considerable amount of tightening in bunkering around the greens, requiring somewhat more accurate approach play than was required previously.”

Muirfield has a history of avoiding shock winners and Dawson is confident another worthy champion will join the likes of Walter Hagen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Els when the latter defends the Claret Jug on 18-21 July.

“This course has produced some fantastic quality of champions in the past and we envisage that continuing,” he said.