Muirfield increases total yardage for golf's big-hitters at the 2013 British Open
Big changes at the ninth hole include moving the tee and adding a bunker
There have also been changes to the greenside bunkering to trap balls easier
The Scottish course has lifted its mobile phone ban for the Open
Muirfield has gone the extra mile as it prepares to host the British Open Championship – golf’s third major of 2013 – this week.
The grandstands are proudly in place, the pale greens are shorn and clipped and rakes nestle in the hollows of the bunkers waiting to smooth over sand disheveled by mishit balls.
But despite all this meticulous preening it is the extra 158 yards that matters most.
The seaside links course now unravels for 7,192 yards – when the course was first opened on the Scottish east coast in 1891 it rolled over a mere 6,200 yards.
The total yardage for the Masters at Augusta ran to 7,435, June’s U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club was 6,996 while the next major, the USPGA, is to be played on the Oak Hill course runs a total of 7,134 yards.
This year new tees have been added on seven of the holes at Muirfield to match the prowess of the game’s big-hitters and extend the overall playing distance for the 142nd British Open.
“The changes were made really just to strengthen the course,” Colin Irvine, the Muirfield course manager, told CNN. “Golfers have got better and equipment has got better.
“A lot of this work was done over a two-to-three year period and we’re now doing the final tweaking to make it look like everything has been here for years.”
The biggest change, made to spice up golf’s oldest major, lies in wait at the ninth hole.
Previously thought of as short by modern par-five standards, the tee has been moved back almost 50 yards thanks to a land swap with the neighboring Renaissance Golf Club.
A new bunker has been added to the right of the ninth fairway and the existing sand trap has also been moved closer to the green.
The sandy, new hazard was carved out with a “big digger” before the soil was put back, contoured and new turf laid down.
“It gives it a nice finish and you can’t really see that anything has been there,” said Irvine, casting a backwards glance at the grassy bumps hiding the scooped out earth.
“It was quite a wide, open area up here for hitting the second or third approach shot so the changes put a lot more thought to landing on the small green now.
“A lot of people [who have tested the new layout] have found these bunkers very difficult.
“One of the key areas we’ve changed across the course since 2002 is the greenside bunkering. We’ve brought them in a little bit tighter and made them more gathering for a ball to roll in easier.”
It is the 16th time that Muirfield has hosted the Open and the first since South African Ernie Els triumphed 11 years ago following a dramatic four-man play-off that went to sudden death on the fifth extra hole.
Els returns to Muirfield as the defending Open champion after another emotional win at Royal Lytham last year.
The East Lothian course has attempted to move with the times away from the greens and fairways too by introducing Wi-Fi zones for spectators around the course as well as LED scoreboards.
A ban on mobile phones was also lifted last year and, as there have been no complaints from the players, spectators will once again be allowed to use them, so long as they “respect the game.”
But it’s traditions that the Scottish course prides itself on as well as its knotty rough and brisk coastal breezes.
When the world’s leading male players return to joust for the honor of winning the Claret Jug, the hope is they will find very little has changed on the surface.
“It’s our duty to keep our famous links course providing the test we need to identify a champion,” said Dawson.
“Muirfield has always been a very, very strong venue. The players love it and they think it’s fair. Many of the changes you can’t see and won’t even know they’ve been done.
“When the players come here they’ll recognize the Muirfield they know and love.”