COLUMBUS (WCMH) — In about a month, PGA golf will return to Muirfield Village as the golf club hosts back-to-back tournaments with the WorkDay Open and then the Memorial Tournament, which will be the first PGA Tournament to have fans since the COVID-19 shutdown.
Officials at Muirfield Village said it’s nice to have the WorkDay Open before the Memorial so they can test out their health and safety plan with players and caddies on the course, before adding in the fan element.
“It’ll help us with bringing some volunteer leadership out here and just show them how we are setting up the golf course because we are setting it up completely differently,” said Dan Sullivan, the director of the Memorial Tournament. “So how spectators come into our property, how patrons come in, will be different. We’ll have to scan them with the temperature, we’ll have to ask them CDC questions, we have to make sure that they have a mask, then we have to scan their badge and put them through the magnetometers and make sure they aren’t bringing any weapons in, so it’s just a longer process and that takes some time to figure out how we’re going to do that.”
Once the patrons are inside the golf club, they will see some differences — like no grandstands — to assist with social distancing. They also cannot use cash at concession areas, only cards.
And of course, they will see a lot of people wearing masks; but Sullivan added while masks are a must-have, they aren’t a must-wear at all times.
“When you’re around other people you don’t know, put it on; but when you’re with your family, with some friends, and you’re eating and drinking, there’s no worry about having the mask on,” he explained. “So if you’re sedentary and you’re sitting on a hole and hanging out, you don’t need the mask on. But if you’re on the move and around people you don’t know, please put it on. That’s out of respect for everyone because everyone is handling the mask situation differently.”
It’s not just health and safety guidelines that officials at Muirfield are having to work through. They are also having to strategize the maintenance of the golf course, with holding two professional tournaments in consecutive weeks. Naturally, there is the strategic element of how to make sure the course plays differently for the two tournaments.
“The biggest adjustment we’re going to make is with the intensity of what we’re doing with the greens,” said Chad Mark, the director of grounds at Muirfield Village. “We’re going to slow the greens down a little bit for the first week, partly to save turf, partly to give us a chance to use other spots on the greens for hole locations.”
“There’ll be different tees on a couple different holes,” added Sullivan. “The greens will run a little differently from a speed standpoint. The rough will be different. But it’s a beautiful golf course? Right? So that’s going to stay the same.”
The WorkDay Open also will host more players – 156 to be exact — compared to the 120 the Memorial will welcome the following week.
Still, that’s 156 players taking on the course in week one, and the Muirfield Village grounds crew needs to make sure everything is up to par when the top 120 players in the world tee off the week after that. That preparation is already underway.
“We’re going through and we’re putting products down, plant protectants, nutrients, and we’re also doing some practices to get oxygen into the root zone. We’ll have as healthy of roots as we can have going into July, but July is always the toughest month in Columbus, Ohio,” Mark explained. “Everything we started this spring is getting shifted; once we knew the tournament was getting delayed, we shifted all our practices to peak in July and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The entire field for the Memorial hasn’t been set just yet, but three big-time players have already committed: 2-time PGA champion and 2-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka, 2017 Master’s Champion Sergio Garcia, and last year’s Memorial winner Patrick Cantlay. No word yet from five-time winner Tiger Woods.
“We go through the waiting game every year and we’ll expect to hear from him probably in the next couple of weeks,” Sullivan said. “The players are learning, too. They’re learning their schedule and what to do and so the first week, last week with Colonial, that field was tremendous and there were a bunch of players there who hadn’t’ played the event, like Rory. But you can rest assured that we are going to have players who traditionally come here, who love it here, like Rory and other players – you expect them to be here because it’s the golf course. It’s Jack Nicklaus and it’s the Memorial Tournament. So we expect a great field.”