The Memorial Tournament debuted on May 27, 1976, and from the start it was obvious that Nicklaus had created a truly unique PGA TOUR event that not only invited the game’s best players from the U.S. and abroad, but also sought to honor the memory of individuals living and deceased whom had distinguished themselves in the game. Bobby Jones was the first honoree. This year’s selection is two-time major winner Johnny Miller.
What professionals encountered when they arrived for the inaugural Memorial was a golf course in immaculate condition and with no detail overlooked.
“This was a tournament on another level entirely,” says CBS golf announcer Gary McCord, who was one of the 92 players who competed in ’76. “We had no idea what to expect, and we get there and we have never seen anything like it. The first time we step on the practice area, it was hard for me and for the other guys to even take a divot. It was perfect. It was in better shape than the golf courses we’d been playing.”
McCord’s experience would one day inspire a scene in the movie, “Tin Cup.” The film’s tortured hero, Roy McAvoy, played by Kevin Costner, is amazed when he finds new Titleist golf balls on the driving range at the U.S. Open. He tells his caddie, Romeo, played by Cheech Marin, to stuff a few in his golf bag when no one is looking. McCord was similarly guilty at Muirfield Village. For the first time range balls were free (they cost $5 per bag elsewhere), and McCord had his caddie slip a few new MacGregor balls in his bag. Actually, he ended up with about three dozen in the trunk of his Lincoln-Mercury courtesy car, which was another new perk for TOUR players.
“With the exception of Augusta, we’d never seen anything like Muirfield,” Lee Trevino gushed. “That son of a gun was one tough golf course, but it was also in such great condition. Typical Jack, everything was done first-class.”
The first Memorial Tournament had barely finished – with Roger Maltbie shocking Hale Irwin in a playoff – when Roberts made a point of telling Nicklaus, “Jack, you have an opportunity to do in 10 years what has taken us 40 at Augusta. Everything about this operation bespeaks quality.”
Dye recently visited Muirfield Village while in Columbus to renovate The Golf Club. It had been decades since he last saw it. “It’s his golf course entirely,” Dye says. “I was there at the very beginning, but it’s unbelievable what he has done, how he has modified it, made it stronger with the kinds of shots you have to hit. He’s made it into one of the best dang golf courses you’ll find anywhere.”
Indeed, as the years have peeled away, Nicklaus has remained occupied with managing the evolution of the golf course. There have been nips and tucks everywhere, and there have been significant changes, like the wholesale redesign of the 17th hole in 2002 and the 16th hole in 2011 in preparation for the 2013 Presidents Cup.
The course yardage at the outset was 6,969 yards, but only two years later it was stretched to 7,027 yards, with most of that additional length tacked onto the sixth hole, thanks to a suggestion from Weiskopf. It cracked 7,200 yards (7,221) in 2001 when Tiger Woods won his record third in a row, but only four years later it had grown to 7,300 yards. This week, the Tournament course can play up to 7,392 yards, with the latest changes coming at 18, including a back tee that added 40 yards (also completed in 2013) and new fairway bunkering.