Majesty of Muirfield untouched by modernity

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The Independent Online

When the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers open their doors, or rather their rather imposing gates, for the 131st Open Championship this July, little will have changed since the Open was last played at Muirfield in 1992, or indeed since it was first played here in 1892. This is a place where time stands still.

Not as spectacular as Turnberry, the setting nevertheless retains an enduring majesty overlooking the Firth of Forth and the course is still arguably the best in Britain. They play foursomes in under two and a half hours and 36 holes a day, fortified in between by a three-course lunch. The treacle sponge and custard can provide vital ballast to stabilise the stance in the usual gale. There are no women members, of course, and no junior members, the waiting list being such that few get in before their 30s.

In the outside world, however, the pace of change is as fast as ever and the Royal and Ancient, organisers of the Open, again announced a big increase in prize money. The total purse is now £3.8m with the winner receiving £700,000 (just over $1m), an increase of £100,000 on the cheque cashed by David Duval last year.

The winner's prize is also double that won by Paul Lawrie only three years ago. A number of tournaments now offer a $1m first prize and the R and A believes the Open should be one of them. In addition, everyone making the cut will get at least £8,500 and non-qualifiers £2,000. "This reflects the increasing costs of players coming to the UK to play," said Peter Dawson, secretary of the R and A.

In contrast with the extensive changes at Augusta National for the Masters to combat the increased distances now obtained by the biggest hitters, only two of Muirfield's par-threes have been extended, taking the total yardage to 7,034. Known as one of the fairest championship courses, Nick Faldo won the last two Opens to be played here in 1987 and 1992.

"Many of today's top golfers have not been here before and it will be interesting to see how they handle the course," Dawson said. "I have spoken to Tiger Woods and David Duval and they are both looking forward to the prospect.

"We have been anxious before the last few Opens about what would happen with the big hitters but the courses have held up well. There has been a big improvement in ball technology over the last two years but they are now right up against regulation limits."

While the R and A likes to celebrate the "openness" of the Open – it pioneered letting juniors of 16 years and under in free when accompanied by an adult – the next three venues, including Royal St George's next year and Royal Troon in 2004, do not have women members. "Our policy is to take the Open to the best links in Britain," Dawson said. "We do not believe that social engineering is part of our role." The R and A does not have women members either.

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