Muirfield Village challenged to make back-to-back tour events look and play differently


A view of the 12th green of Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Scott Halleran

This week’s one-time visit to Muirfield Village Golf Club for the Workday Charity Open should not be considered in any manner a warm-up for the annual Memorial Tournament that promptly follows.

They are distinct events held on the same golf course. As such, the examination for each will be different. Not vastly different, mind you. But the layout designed by Memorial Tournament founder and host Jack Nicklaus does possess versatility that will be evident starting Thursday when 157 players invade Dublin, Ohio, for the tournament that replaced the John Deere Classic on the schedule.

The three variables that will be tweaked from this week to next will be pin positions, green speeds and the length of the bluegrass rough. The Memorial usually features rough that is four-plus inches and green speeds exceeding 13 on the Stimpmeter. This week, tour players will encounter a setup with lower rough (not much more than 3½ inches at the start of the week) and slower green speeds, but pin positions that are much trickier and which many Memorial veterans never have seen before.

It’s these new pins that mandate tempering green speeds to somewhere in the neighborhood of 11-11.5 on the Stimpmeter, not much faster than what is used for member play.

“Yeah, we are trying to not overstress the greens over a two-week period,” said Chad Mark, director of grounds operations at Muirfield Village. “We do want to save the turf, but the real reason, the main reason that we want the greens slower the first week is so that we can use different spots on the greens for hole locations.

“We have to slow the greens down to promote the kind of versatility the tour wants in the setup of the golf course,” Mark said. “They want eight distinct pin positions [over two tournaments]. To do that, we have to keep the speeds down. For instance, you can’t go front-left at No. 10 or front-right on 4 if you have greens of 13-plus. So we have to temper the speeds. For the Memorial, we will use traditional tournament pins.”

There has been precious little rain in the Columbus area the last few weeks, though the forecast calls for higher chances of precipitation on Tuesday and Friday. Temperatures are expected to remain in the 90s throughout the week. Muirfield Village should play firm and fast, which shrinks the mostly generous driving areas.

Although, with some renovations, the place is not as generous as it used to be.

With extra time to prepare for the Memorial, Mark and his crew implemented suggestions from Nicklaus to make Muirfield Village more difficult off the tee. Bunkers have been moved farther from teeing grounds and brought closer to the fairway. Some fairway lines are pinched, such as left of Nos. 6 and 9. New tees were installed at the eighth, 11th and 15th holes, bringing the total length to 7,456 yards. The new tees will be saved for the Memorial.

The day after the Memorial, the course will be shut down to complete an overall course renovation, which will include rebuilding all 18 greens.

Muirfield Village is about to sustain upwards of more than 800 rounds in the coming two weeks. Mark pointed out that the fairways are going to get quite a bit more of a workout, given the higher driving accuracy tour players display, naturally, compared to club members. Between Workday and the Memorial, the grounds crew will work hard to fix as many fairway divots as possible and will go to the extraordinary length of cutting divots from the practice area and transferring them to fill some of the most worn areas on the course.

“Instead of adding sand, we’ll plug some of them. It’s like small-scale sodding,” he said. “We want to have as near a presentation during the Memorial that we’ve always had.”

Mark says that the goal is to balance things as best they can for both events. “We want to deliver a well-conditioned golf course the first week and then push hard to have a Memorial Tournament similar to the ones we’ve had in the past, even though we’re playing it in July,” he said.

It is believed this is the first time the PGA Tour has hosted official events back-to-back on the same venue. In 1974, Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, had three events, though only one, the American Golf Classic, was an official tournament, concluded in late June. The CBS Golf Classic, a made-for-TV event, followed immediately on its heels. The World Series of Golf, which was an unofficial event until 1976, was played in September.