Longer rough. Firmer greens. Jack Nicklaus’ ‘old-fashioned beliefs’ guide Muirfield Village renovation

October 2, 2019

Jack Nicklaus thinks that some PGA Tour events have lost a bit of their bite. And he’s determined not to let that happen on his turf.

Nicklaus, who hosts the Memorial every year, has announced an extensive renovation to Muirfield Village to get back to what he called his “old-fashioned beliefs” about how a course should be set up. The first phase of the renovation, which is set to begin this fall, is expected to be complete by the 2020 Memorial Tournament, held June 1-7. The first phase will include three new tee boxes (No. 8, No. 11 and No. 15) adding a total of 70 yards to the course.

After the tournament’s conclusion, Phase Two will ramp things up even further. Beginning July 6, 2020, Muirfield Village will close and all 18 greens will be rebuilt, adding sub-air heating and cooling equipment. Nicklaus is also planning to rebuild bunkers, level tees, re-grass fairways and upgrade the irrigation system.

Hole No. 5 will undergo the biggest individual facelift. The dogleg right par-5 will be transformed into a par-4 for tournament play, turning Muirfield into a par 71 for the 2021 Memorial and beyond. Nicklaus cited a desire to add some bite to the course’s easiest hole, and to force pros to execute an approach shot with a mid- to long- iron.

He expanded on the vision and philosophy that inspired the changes.

“My belief is that tournament golf should be a test to find out who is the best golfer that week,” he said in a statement. “Far too many tournaments have eliminated the rough and firmness of greens, and that is just not my idea of what the game of golf should be. So I am going to stick with my old-fashioned beliefs about how the game of golf should be played and the way golf courses should be set up.

“How the USGA’s Joe Dey used to set up courses is how I learned and how I thought golf should be played. It’s the guy who drives the ball the straightest; the guy who plays the best iron game; the guy who is best around the greens and is sometimes challenged when he doesn’t play a good shot to the green; and the guy who putts well. The whole gamut of all shots is what the game of golf is all about. The game should challenge every facet of every club in the bag.”

Longer course. Tougher rough. Firmer greens. In all, it sounds like Nicklaus will make it more difficult for a player to match the final-round 64 that last year’s winner Patrick Cantlay posted to get to 19 under for the week (just one shot off the tournament record).

Nicklaus’ comments come at an interesting time when the debate about Tour pros dismantling classic courses rages on. Rory McIlroy made plenty of headlines by criticizing the European Tour’s setups at last week’s Dunhill Links Championship.

“You know, I’m sort of honestly sick of coming back over to the European Tour and shooting 15 under par and finishing [T26],” he said after a final round at the Old Course. “I don’t think the courses are set up hard enough. There’s no penalties for bad shots.” His assertion that the Euro Tour wasn’t “a good test” exactly echoes Nicklaus’ language from his own release.

Nicklaus made it clear that this is likely to be his final mega-overhaul at Muirfield, calling it his “last bite at the apple.” The project’s timeline will have it ready in time for the 2021 Memorial Tournament.

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