Different tournament, different look for Muirfield Village

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FILE - This Wednesday, May 22, 2013, file photo shows the clubhouse and 18th fairway at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. 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.(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

DUBLIN, Ohio – The final group at the Workday Charity Open was making its way down the 13th fairway when the radio of a tournament official at Muirfield Village crackled to life with what was described as “breaking news.”

Everyone within earshot moved closer to the cart waiting for the word.

“The milkshake machine has arrived.”

Breaking news? Sure. Big news? That depends on access.

Milkshakes — buckeye is the most popular flavor — are a tradition at Muirfield Village during the Memorial, served in the clubhouse to players and tournament staff.

Except this wasn't the Memorial. That doesn't start until this week.

It was another example of the lengths to which Muirfield Village has gone to distinguish between two tournaments held on the same golf course in consecutive weeks, the first time that has happened on the PGA Tour in 63 years.

Collin Morikawa, who won Sunday in a playoff, was sipping on a milkshake as he cradled his trophy and posted on Twitter, “Muirfield Village milkshakes never tasted so good!”

That probably was a figure of speech. This was his first time playing the course. How would he know?

The real change at Muirfield Village is about far more than milkshakes. The responsibility of creating two tests for a combined 190 players falls largely to Chad Mark, the superintendent for the last three years.

There's enough pressure trying to meet the standards of Jack Nicklaus, who built and nurtured Muirfield Village and twice won his Memorial Tournament.

Mark was overseeing a bunker project on the sixth and seventh fairways just under two months ago when tournament director Dan Sullivan told him the PGA Tour was adding a second tournament the week before.

The Workday Charity Open replaced the John Deere Classic, which was canceled this year.

“We were reshaping bunkers, re-sodding, putting liners in, sand in. We still had dirt on 6 and 7. There wasn't anything there,” Mark said. “I said to Dan, ‘Have you taken a ride on the front nine?’ Part of the fairway was stripped.”

That turned out to be the easy part.

The challenge was getting the course ready to handle two full fields without the turf being battered, without some of the fastest greens on tour being so slick that the grass died before the Memorial, which is one of the premier events on the PGA Tour schedule.

That involved the PGA Tour staff, from the rules officials who dictate the setup to Thomas Bastis, the tour agronomist working at Muirfield Village.

The idea was to get the green speeds around 11 1/2 on the Stimpmeter, a little faster as the week went on, and then to ramp that up to somewhere over 13 for the Memorial. The rough would be thicker and higher for the Memorial, which is easier to achieve in the spring growing season than the heat of midsummer.

The biggest fear was a recent heat wave, which could have risked losing the greens by the second week if the staff wasn't careful. That turned out fine, and Mark said the course was where he hoped it would be when the first event ended.

And now?

Monday is so critical that tour officials were determined to make sure the Workday Charity Open finished on time, leading to an early start to the final round in case of bad weather.

It's not just about the course. Nicklaus runs an old-school event, so the 11 video scoreboards at Muirfield Village were being removed. In their place is the traditional manual white boards behind the greens.

All the signage around the tees and greens had to be replaced from Workday to the Memorial.

As for the course, Mark said workers would use rakes to fluff up the rough where carts had been driving. The fairways are mowed every day — that also helps smooth out sand-filled divots for evenness with the fairways. Only a few thick patches of rough are being cut. Otherwise, it's time to let the course go.

The U.S. Open has been moved to Sept. 17-20. Muirfield Village might be fast enough to feel like a U.S. Open. Mark suggested the greens could be at 14 or higher on the Stimpmeter before the week is over. The big concern is too much wind, which would make the greens even faster.

But there's no risk of losing the greens. A major project to redo all 18 greens, re-grass the fairways and update the bunkers is set to begin when the Memorial is over.

The course was closed Monday, even to players. That left club officials Sunday evening and all of Monday to apply any fertilizers, let the course breathe and “then we're going to let the thing go and get firm,” Mark said.

The Memorial was supposed to be the first PGA Tour event with fans until a spike in coronavirus cases forced tournament officials to be cautious and do without. Even with no fans around the 18th green, there will be one other big difference between the two weeks.

Nicklaus will be there to congratulate the winner, probably with an air fist pump, and most likely with a milkshake.