Muirfield Village will look the same to those watching at home, minus the grandstands and thousands of spectators spread across the course Jack Nicklaus built.
The challenge for the PGA Tour is to make it feel different to the players who will be in Dublin, Ohio, the next two weeks.
For the first time in 63 years, two PGA Tour events are being held on the same golf course in consecutive weeks. First up is the Workday Charity Open, a tournament that didn’t even exist six weeks ago until the John Deere Classic chose to cancel this year without fans and the tour plugged the gap in the schedule with a big assist from San Francisco-based Workday.
Then it’s onto the Memorial.
It’s one thing to keep one of the elite courses on the PGA Tour from getting chewed up from 157 players this week and the 120-man field next week. It’s another to present a different test for two tournaments meant to be entirely different.
The plan is for one to be a little more gentle, the other to be a little tougher.
“I think this week we’re going to have to be a little bit cautious with the golf course, certainly out of respect to Mr. Nicklaus and the Memorial Tournament being next week,” said Gary Young, the PGA Tour rules official overseeing the Workday Charity Open.
The rough that frames the generous fairways is to be topped off at 3 1/2 inches, and then thicker and higher for the Memorial. The greens are to be running around 11 on the Stimpmeter this week before increasing to 13 and beyond for the Memorial, just the way Nicklaus likes it.
Tees will be moved around, especially on the par 3s, to keep the turf from being divot-filled. Slower greens should allow officials to use pin positions closer to some of the ridges, which would be impossible with faster green speeds.
One possibility is a front right pin position on the par-3 fourth, with a bunker to the right and a green that moves left.
Young also anticipates the tee being moved forward on the 14th hole — just as it was for one session in the 2013 Presidents Cup — allowing players to try to drive the green with water to the right, which also comes into play with anything left because the green slopes toward the water.
“I just think it’s going to give us a chance to really highlight the golf course being played in two different ways,” Young said.
Memorial has one of the strongest fields each year, largely out of respect for Nicklaus, an affinity for Muirfield Village and its place on the calendar. In non-pandemic years, the Memorial is two weeks before the U.S. Open.
The Workday Charity Open, a one-time event with the John Deere returning in 2021, didn’t do too badly. The field features five of the top 10 in the world, with Jon Rahm at No. 2 and getting another chance to replace Rory McIlroy (not playing) atop the world ranking. Also playing is Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed.
Cantlay is the defending champion at Muirfield Village, just not this tournament.
“The more weeks we can play at Muirfield Village, I’m in,” Cantlay said. “I like the golf course, so we can play there every week as far as I’m concerned.”
The last time the PGA Tour had back-to-back tournaments on the same golf course was in 1957, five years before Nicklaus turned pro. The All American Open and the World Championship of Golf was played at Tam O’Shanter in Illinois. That was the case for 10 straight years, while there was another instance of consecutive events at Preston Hollow in Dallas, a one-time deal to celebrate the centennial of Dallas.
More recently, Pinehurst No. 2 had tournaments in consecutive weeks in 2014, and not just any tournament. The U.S. Open was held one week, and the U.S. Women’s Open was held the following week. That was one of the great performances by the USGA, which used all its agronomic tools to set the tees and get the turf just the right firmness so the men and women experienced the same test.
Martin Kaymer won in a runaway. Michelle Wie won her only major.
Memorial champions in the field for the first event include Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Justin Rose.
Tiger Woods, a five-time Memorial champion who went 4-1 in the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village, still hasn’t played competitively since February. His best chance to return would be next week.