By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
For the past decade or so, Jack Nicklaus has watched in dismay as his once-stout 18th hole at Muirfield Village was reeled in by technology.
When so many participants at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance continually blasted it over bunkers at the dogleg on the right, he added another. And another. And another. And another.
“I’ve got nine bunkers on the right side of the hole, which I hate,” Nicklaus said earlier this year. “You don’t see them from the ground, but they look terrible from the air.”
Though the bunkers remain on hand this week as Muirfield Village welcomes The Presidents Cup, a new back tee debuts at No. 18 and figures to eventually reduce the bunker population.
“It’s supposed to be the defining hole in the (contest) and that's what we really want the hole to be,” Nicklaus said this week. “I think it will be now.”
The new tee adds 40 yards to the hole, up from the 444 of previous Memorials.
A creek still runs along the entire left side, but it became less perilous as many players bunted an iron off the tee. Or they’d swing for the fences with the driver.
Two years ago, Robert Garrigus blasted a drive that came to rest 76 yards from the green. At this summer’s Memorial, he sauntered up to Nicklaus and let slip: “I drove it (to) 64 today.”
“I wanted to wring his neck, you know,” Nicklaus said.
The new tee ought to force players to narrow their choices to driver or 3-wood, needing a good poke to set up a strong second shot.
“I think it's great to have a hole that is more of a driver hole,” said reigning Memorial champion Matt Kuchar.
As with many players, Kuchar’s only quibble is that the new tee doesn’t allow him to see much of the hazards. “I think the tee might sit too low or the hillside cut in more than they would like,” he said, “or at least what I would like to see.”
Nicklaus initially was hesitant about a new tee because of concerns on how it would encroach on the par-5 15th. Superintendent Paul Latshaw points out, though, that the ground will be used as a No. 15 forward tee for members in weeks when the PGA TOUR’s best aren’t roaming the fairways.
“It’s something else really good that came out of the project,” Latshaw said.
Nicklaus, meanwhile, already is making plans to take out about five of those bunkers on No. 18 sometime next year. “The golf hole actually is just beautiful from there,” he said.