Forty-three years ago, a design legend took the spotlight for the first time. The year was 1976, the event was the Memorial Tournament, and the place was Muirfield Village Golf Club in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. Jack Nicklaus had dabbled in architecture before—notably at Harbour Town with Pete Dye in the late '60s—but Muirfield Village would be his prime-time design debut. Needless to say, it was a smashing success.
More than 300 Nicklaus courses and 45 years after it opened, Muirfield Village remains the ultimate expression of the Golden Bear's design philosophy, and it endures as the home of the Memorial, which rolls around again this week. Jack's goal of creating an Augusta National–like experience for his hometown was realized with the help of architect/land planner Desmond Muirhead, who had a talented associate in his employ named Jay Morrish. Critics lauded "The House that Jack Built" as much for its flawless conditioning as for its design hallmarks, but every bit as impressive was how Nicklaus integrated spectator areas into the closing holes.
What continues to impress about Muirfield Village are its aesthetics, playability and strategic options. Nicklaus subscribed to the Alister MacKenzie/Augusta National ideals of ample fairway width and maximum visibility, and he routed as many holes as possible to play—or to appear to play—downhill. Moreover, the course's risk/reward strategy harkens back to St. Andrews, with the drive-and-pitch par-4 14th and the quartet of pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later par 5s serving as sterling examples. A hard golf course at inception, it has evolved, along with the Nicklaus design ethos, into one that places the emphasis on fun for less-skilled players, a trend we can all embrace.
Minimalist designers and their seaside layouts grab most of the headlines these days, but for textbook greatness, look to and learn from Muirfield Village.