Last week, Jack Nicklaus stopped at Muirfield Village, on his way to a hunting trip in Canada, to discuss with his design team some major changes to the course he built and has continued to tweak almost every year since its opening in 1974.
Discussed on the practice green that day and in a 4-hour ride around the course with his team was the dramatic lengthening of two par 5s (Nos. 11 and 15) and changing the par-5 fifth hole into a long par 4. They also discussed re-grassing the greens and installing a new underground drainage system that was dramatically needed in June when 3 inches of rain fell on the course as Patrick Cantlay won the Memorial Tournament by shooting 19 under.
The more Nicklaus thought about it at the time, the more committed he became. In his battle to roll back distance in the game, Nicklaus, at age 79, wanted one more crack to roll out a defense system to hold back the likes of Cameron Champ and his generation of players who carry the ball 300-plus yards.
Other than the pond put in front of the par-3 16th green for the Presidents Cup, these will the most dramatic defensive changes of Jack’s trademark design career. He'll be doing just about everything other than a rerouting.
“I’m redoing the whole golf course,” Nicklaus told Golf Channel. “One hundred percent starting in July, I’m going to have one more bite at the apple.”
Nicklaus remembers the golden days at the U.S. Open when Joe Dey set up golf courses for the USGA and those days have inspired Nicklaus' design philosophies. He’ll turn 80 in January, so the time to act is now.
He met immediately after the Memorial with his team, and as Nicklaus said, “We were close to pulling the trigger and shutting it down then.”
All the changes will be done in two phases over the next two years. Phase I will begin this fall and be completed by May, in time for the 2020 Memorial, June 4-7. The course yardage will be increased to 7,462 yards.
Those changes will include new teeing grounds for the par-3 eighth, par-5 11th and par-5 15th. In relation to the additional yardage Nicklaus is introducing to the par 5s, he quickly mentions that most of the big hitters use 3-wood off those respective tees, and still have a chance to reach the green in two shots.
The way Dey set up a golf course was the way Nicklaus learned. Jack will be hands on in this project, right down to the shaping of greens. Fairway widths will be examined. Instead of 9-irons and wedges, players will likely be using 6- and 7-irons again at the par-3 eighth.
Once the fifth hole is converted, par will be 71. That will be part of Phase II, which will begin upon the conclusion of next year’s Memorial and be completed before the 2021 edition.
Phase II will include the rebuilding of all 18 greens and new sub-surface heating and cooling equipment. Bunkers will be re-built and new fairway widths will be created. But, as Nicklaus says, they will still be “fairly generous off the tee.”
Instead of “doing little tricks over the years” to Muirfield Village, Jack is going all-in, one final time.