Columbus, Ohio is a surprisingly great golf town with four golf courses currently ranked on the Golf Digest Top 100 list. For a city in the middle of Ohio with a population of just under 2 million that’s pretty impressive. I suspect that a big part of the reason a town like this has such remarkable golf is because the greatest professional golfer to ever live, Jack Nicklaus, is a native son of Columbus. Interestingly, of the four Top 100 courses in Columbus, three of them were built AFTER Jack had won at least 6 of his 18 major championships. I guess its safe to say that Jack may have exposed Columbus to the golf bug and the good people of Columbus were receptive.
Jack has had a special place in his heart for The Masters ever since (and probably before) he slipped into that first green jacket in 1963. In the ten years between 1963 and 1972 Jack won that tournament an utterly amazing four times (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972). He also put the champion’s jacket on two more times between 1973 and 1986 (1975,1986) for a total of six wins at The Masters. It’s no wonder that he was enamored with the tournament that stands as Bobby Jones’ legacy.
Nicklaus was so smitten with Bobby’s tournament that he felt inclined to create a very special tournament of his own and went about setting the wheels in motion to make it a reality. If one wishes to host a golf tournament the first thing one must have is a suitable and willing golf course. I’m sure there are hundreds of golf courses all across America who would have lined up for the opportunity to host a tournament for Mr. Nicklaus, but that’s not what he had in mind. In the spirit of Bobby Jones, Jack wanted to have the tournament at his OWN club that embodied HIS love and respect for the game, so he set about creating his own golf Shangri La – Muirfield Village Golf Club.
In the early 1970s Jack was pretty new to the whole golf course design business so he thought it best to partner up with someone to help with the project and that someone was Desmond Muirhead. After the construction was completed the club opened for play in 1974 and two years later, in 1976, the very first Memorial Tournament was played. It continues to be played to this day and the field is loaded with all the very best players in the game who make their annual pilgrimage to Columbus to “kiss the ring” and pay homage to Jack. The Memorial Tournament is clearly one of the very best non-major golf tournaments that there is and it’s obvious that the younger generations of professional golfers have a firm grasp of just how important Jack is to the game.
Knowing that I would be going to Nicklaus’ club and playing a golf course that hosts such a significant tournament I was a little punch drunk at the thought. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had feeling that it was going to be pretty good. My friend who had arranged the outing was giddy with anticipation and his excitement was rubbing off on me. I think his excitement was aptly expressed when he picked me up at my hotel in the morning and commented that he felt like he should have left cookies out for Santa the night before!
When we arrived we dropped our car off and headed into the clubhouse to meet our host and have a little bite to eat. After lunch we took a tour of the locker room and clubhouse with the highlight for me being the visit to Jack’s trophy room where I saw The Masters trophy in person for the first time . . . VERY cool. Once the clubhouse tour finished we headed out to the practice green to roll a few putts and then over to the 1st tee.
I had been bombing my driver the day before so our host thought that the best set of tees for me to experience the course would be the blues which play to 6,739 yards. I normally play 6600-6700, so I was perfectly comfortable with the decision. I should have noticed that the rating and slope for the blue tees was 74.1/148 and I might not have been so comfortable.
The 1st hole is a par 4 that we played from 419 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box and the bunkers on the right side of the fairway are in play off the tee. The best line to take is down the right side of the fairway but not too far right that the bunkers become a problem.
Below is a view of what the approach shot from the area of the fairway bunkers looks like.
The 1st green, pictured below, is also surrounded by bunkers that make for a tough up and down. Jack doesn’t waste any time letting players at Muirfield Village know that the course is going to be tough!
The photo below was taken from the tee box of the 2nd hole which is a 411 yard par 4. For the best angle into the green it’s best to favor the middle or right side of the fairway. Approach shots from the left side can be a little awkward.
The 2nd green is the first look a the water hazards found all around Murifield Village. Approach shots that go long or right are almost sure to get rinsed.
The drive at the 3rd hole is from an elevated tee box and doglegs left. We played this par 4 from from 374 yards. The further to the right a drive goes the longer the approach into the green will be. The best play here is a draw that starts in the middle and moves to the left around the tree. Anything to the left and short will likely require a lay up before being able to go for the green.
The approach to the 3rd hole pictured below is over water and will be just a short iron for players who hit a good drive. The green is two tiered and the lower hole location in the photo below is a much friendlier than when the hole is cut on the top tier.
The 4th hole, pictured below, is a par 3 that we played from 189 yards. It’s a fairly straight forward tee shot as long as the miss is short. Misses to the left, right and long are likely to end up in a bunker.
Below is a look at the 4th green. This is where my caddie started laying down Braille on the greens for me and I holed my first long putt. This one was about 35 feet and went in for par. It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
We come to the first par 5 at the 5th hole which we played from 505 yards. The best line here is out to the left half of the fairway. Drives that are too far to the right will end up with an awkward angle for the second shot.
Below is a photo of the approach into the 5th green. Anyone who is attempting to hit this green in two will need to have a high tolerance for risk. As can be seen in the photo below there is water around this green which will cause problems for approach shots that are not dialed in exactly perfect.
The 6th hole is a nice par 4 that we played from 383 yards. Avoiding the fairway bunkers on the left in the photo below is crucial here.
Below is a photo of the 6th green. The reason I believe it’s crucial to avoid the fairway bunkers on this hole is to keep from hitting an approach shot out of a bunker that must carry water to reach the green. Anyone who plays like me knows that a common miss out of a fairway bunker is to hit the shot a little heavy. A fat shot like this is going to come up short and will very likely find the water that fronts the green. This is exactly what I did.
We have another par 5 at the 7th hole and we played this one from 548 yards. In order to have the best angle for the second shot players should drive the ball up the middle or favor the right side. It’s unlikely that many people will go for this green in two so adding a little length to the hole is not going to hurt most players.
The 7th green is surrounded by bunkers and, as can be seen in the photo below, is a bit of an undulating putting surface. A good second shot will leave a short iron or wedge into this green which will hopefully set up a makeable birdie putt. I missed the green here and had a 20 footer for par that once again my caddie managed to guide into the hole. It was truly amazing.
The 8th hole is a great little par 3 that we played from 160 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box. You’ll want to hit the putting surface here or you’ll probably be making the walk to the green with your sand wedge in hand. My caddie gave another incredible read here that led to me holing a 30 footer for birdie. Sadly, the birdie could not undo the damage that I had already wreaked all over my scorecard.
To close out the first nine holes we have a 387 yard par 4 for the 9th hole. The photo below was taken from the tee box. The drive is to a blind landing area and the approach shot plays downhill and over water.
Here is a look at the approach shot to the 9th green. With the hole location at the front it makes for a dangerous approach shot for players who are flag hunting. By this point in the round I was not even thinking about hole locations and was just trying to hit the greens!!
Below is another look at the 9th green.
At the turn we stopped into the halfway hut for a drink and our host also asked for a piece of bread which I thought was a little unusual. Once we walked back outside he ripped the bread up and threw it over the railing and into the pond below. Instantly dozens of koi fish swarmed beneath us and began fighting for the bread. I’d never seen anything like it! They looked like piranha devouring a piece of meat. It was pretty amazing.
Now that we were headed to the back side I was determined to turn my fortunes around and play better on the second nine holes. At the 10th hole we start anew with a 423 yard par 4 that begins with a drive up the hill. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The approach into the 10th green plays slightly uphill with the right side guarded by very deep bunkers.
The 11th hole, pictured below, is a fantastic par 5 that we played from 522 yards. I loved this hole. The drive is best played with a draw or out to the right side of the fairway in order to set up a good angle for the second shot.
As can be seen in the photo below the right side of the fairway is flanked by a creek which needs to be considered when making the second shot here.
Below is photo of the 11th green. Clearly, long is the best miss here as the creek and bunker are going to come into play for approach shots that come up short. This was the end of my good fortune on the putting greens. I holed a 10 footer for par here and didn’t get another one to drop all day.
Now we come to the infamous 12th hole which is a 160 yard par 3. This hole is Jack Nicklaus’ homage to the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club and bears a striking resemblance to its inspiration. Like “Golden Bell” at Augusta, this hole features a very shallow green and a do or die carry over water. This hole is a just little more forgiving than Golden Bell for players who hit their tee shots long. That said, players who hit over the green will have to execute a delicate shot back towards the water in order to get on the putting surface. This is a great one shot hole and I’m pleased to say my tee shot stayed dry. One of the players in our group went “Tin Cup” and hit about 6 balls in the water before finally giving up. That was fun to watch! The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The 13th hole, pictured below, is a par 4 that we played from 405 yards. A little draw or something up the left side of the fairway is going to set up the shortest approach into the green.
Below is a look at the shot into the 13th green.
We have a nice little short par 4 at the 14th hole that played just 336 yards from the blue tees. The photo below was taken from the tee box. The creek that crosses the fairway is definitely in play off the tee. A 200 yard shot is all that is really necessary here. Big hitters can certainly hit driver and try to carry the water and get up close to the green.
The approach into the green is shown below. The water is more in play when the hole is cut at the back of the green than it is today with the hole in the middle today.
Here is a look at the green. It’s a fairy shallow affair with an upper and lower tier.
The 15th hole , pictured below from the tee box, is a short par 5 that we played from 491 yards. This one is certainly reachable in two for many players. The best play here is to bomb it up the middle as far as possible.
The approach shot into the green is pictured below and as illustrated there are sections of fairway with rough in between. Players who are laying up will need to calculate their lay up shot well so that they are sure to hit their 3rd shot from the fairway. The ground falls away very severely to the right side of the green so players going for the green in two will want to avoid a miss that goes to the right of the greenside bunkers.
The newest change at Muirfield Village is the 16th hole which is a par 3 that we played from 175 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box. This hole was renovated back in 2010 when the lake was added along with a new green and bunkers. Like the 12th hole, players here just hope to keep their ball dry. Tee shots that find the bunkers around the backside of the green are going to require very well executed bunker shots to hold the green and stay out of the water.
The 17th hole, pictured below, is a stout par 4 that we played from 428 yards. The best line is down the left side of the hole as drives that are on the right will end up in the fairway bunker and/or have an awkward angle into the green.
Below is a look at the approach into the 17th green which requires a carry over a hazard so it is best not to miss short here.
The finishing hole at Muirfield Village is a tough par 4 that plays 423 yards and goes straight uphill. The ideal shot from the tee is up the left side of the hole with a cut that brings it back to the center of the fairway.
The photo below shows the approach into the green. It plays straight uphill and there are a plethora of bunkers to catch shots that miss the putting surface.
Here is a closer look at the bunkers around the 18th green.
After we completed the round we hit the stag room to lick our wounds and enjoy the best chocolate banana milkshake I’ve ever had in my life. It was incredible! Milkshakes are a bit of a signature at Muirfield Village and they will make just about any flavor you can dream up. If you pay attention during the Memorial Tournament broadcast there will certainly be at least one mention of the milkshakes either from a player or from one of the commentators. Everyone loves them and they are legendary.
I had a really tough day on the course . . . really tough. If I wasn’t making a birdie or par I was making a triple . . . and there weren’t that many birdies or pars. Jack has created a tournament course that is relentless and punishes players who are not hitting the ball well. I had a great time, but I had to let go of any concept that I was going to score well pretty early in the round.
A long time has passed since opening day in 1974 and during that time Jack made a lot of changes to the course. I couldn’t hazard a guess as to how much of the course today is Jack and how much is Desmond Muirhead, but if I had to guess I would think that there is very little Muirhead left out there. There is no question in my mind that Muirfield Village is Jack’s place and this, as well as the Memorial Tournament, are his legacies in golf . . . and fine ones at that.