Muirfield Village Golf Club will look the same to those watching at home, minus the grandstands and thousands of spectators spread across the course that Jack Nicklaus built.
The challenge for the PGA Tour is to make it feel different to the players who will be in Dublin, Ohio, to compete both this week and next — and not just for a Sunday final round.
For the first time in 63 years, two PGA Tour events are being held on the same golf course in consecutive weeks. Teeing off Thursday is the Workday Charity Open, a tournament that didn't even exist six weeks ago until the John Deere Classic chose to cancel this year without fans and the tour plugged the gap in the schedule with a big assist from San Francisco-based software vendor Workday, Inc.
Then it's on to the Memorial.
It's one thing to keep one of the elite courses on golf's top circuit from getting chewed up by 157 players this week and the 120-man field next week. It's another to present a different test for two tournaments meant to be entirely different.
The plan is for one to be a little more gentle, the other to be a little tougher.
"I think this week we're going to have to be a little bit cautious with the golf course, certainly out of respect to Mr. Nicklaus and the Memorial Tournament being next week," said Gary Young, the PGA Tour rules official overseeing the Workday Charity Open.
The rough that frames the generous fairways is to be topped off at 3 1/2 inches, and then thicker and higher for the Memorial. The greens are to be running around 11 on the Stimpmeter this week before increasing to 13 and beyond for the Memorial, faster and just the way Nicklaus likes it.
Tees will be moved around, especially on the par-3 holes, to keep the turf from being divot-filled. Slower greens should allow officials to use pin positions closer to some of the ridges, which would be impossible with faster green speeds.
One possibility is a front right pin position on the par-3 fourth, with a bunker to the right and a green that moves left.
Young also anticipates the tee being moved forward on the 14th hole — just as it was for one session in the 2013 Presidents Cup — allowing players to try to drive to the green with water to the right, which also comes into play with anything left because the green slopes toward the water.
"I just think it's going to give us a chance to really highlight the golf course being played in two different ways," Young said.
Memorial has one of the strongest fields each year, largely out of respect for Nicklaus, an affinity for Muirfield Village and its place on the calendar. Most years — that is, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic — the Memorial is two weeks before the U.S. Open.
The Workday Charity Open, a one-time event with the John Deere returning in 2021, didn't do too badly. The field features five of the top 10 players in the World Golf Ranking, with Jon Rahm at No. 2 and getting another chance to replace Rory McIlroy (not playing) at No. 1. Also playing are No. 5 Justin Thomas, No. 6 Brooks Koepka, No. 8 Patrick Cantlay and No. 9 Patrick Reed.
Cantlay is a reigning champion at the course, just not for this tournament.
"The more weeks we can play at Muirfield Village, I'm in," Cantlay said. "I like the golf course, so we can play there every week as far as I'm concerned."
The last time the PGA Tour had back-to-back tournaments on the same golf course was in 1957, five years before Nicklaus turned pro and started a career that included a record 18 major championships. The All American Open and the World Championship of Golf was played at Tam O'Shanter in Illinois. That was the case for 10 straight years, while there was another instance of consecutive events at Preston Hollow in Dallas, a one-time deal to celebrate the centennial of that city.
More recently, Pinehurst Resort's Course No. 2 had tournaments in consecutive weeks in 2014, and not just any tournament. The U.S. Open was held one week at the North Carolina club, and the U.S. Women's Open was held the following week. That was one of the great performances by the United States Golf Association, which used all its agronomic tools to set the tees and get the turf just the right firmness so the men and women experienced the same test.
Martin Kaymer won in a runaway. Michelle Wie won her only major.
Memorial champions in the field for this week's event include Cantlay, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose and Steve Stricker.
Tiger Woods, a five-time Memorial champion who went 4-1 in the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village seven years ago, still hasn't played in a PGA Tour event since mid-February. The 15-time major champion — who teamed with Peyton Manning to beat rival Phil Mickelson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady in a made-for-TV charity event in May — has not publicly ruled out a return at the Memorial, which many believe is ideally suited for his return.
Three of a kind
Three players who have tested positive for the coronavirus but are no longer symptomatic will play together at the Workday Charity Open, the PGA Tour announced Wednesday in the latest revision of its COVID-19 policies.
Nick Watney — the first player to test positive since the tour returned in June — will play alongside Dylan Frittelli and Denny McCarthy during the first two rounds, the tour said.
All three players continue to test positive for the virus but have met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for returning to work, the tour said. Players in those circumstances will either be grouped together or play as singles. They will also have no access to indoor facilities at the tournament site.
Watney reported mild symptoms after he tested positive before the RBC Heritage tournament last month on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He self-isolated for 10 days before driving back home to Austin, Texas.
Frittelli tested positive after missing the cut at the Travelers Championship two weeks ago in Cromwell, Connecticut. McCarthy tested positive after the first round of the Travelers.
The tour said it made the change because players can continue to test positive even after the infectious virus is no longer present and they have met all other CDC criteria. Those include no fever for at least three days, improvement in respiratory symptoms, and a period of at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared.
Last week, the tour allowed players and caddies to return if a positive test is followed by two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and they show no symptoms. That change allowed Cameron Champ to play at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, where he tied for 12th.