Memorial Coverage Sponsored by TriStatePGA.com.
Dublin, OH — As the clock approaches 5 a.m. Tuesday morning at Muirfield Village Golf Club, Chad Mark has already gathered his 75-80 volunteers to discuss what is in store for the day.
“We have captains for each area that we maintain,” he said. “We meet with our captains and get everyone out the door at 5:15. Even if there are negatives, I try to keep positive. The reality of it is I try to keep everyone positive. There is a lot of sleep deprivation going on in our department right now, and I don’t want anyone to fall off, so we’re very positive with the staff right now.”
As a way to continue keeping morale up, Mark dismissed his volunteers from the grounds at 10 a.m. allowing them to have some rest before reporting back to the course at 4 p.m.
This is Mark’s second Memorial Tournament since taking over as director of grounds for Paul Latshaw who accepted an identical position at Merion Golf Club.
“I had a lot of experience as a volunteer and helping people out at tournaments including John Zimmers, I helped at every U.S. Open and amateur he was at,” Mark said. “I don’t think I was overwhelmed taking over my first Memorial Tournament. This year we did an analysis with my staff and determined what we want to do better from our side of things. We feel very comfortable going into this.”
Kenny Perry is making his 26th Memorial Tournament appearance and his first in three years, meaning this is his first time playing with Mark as director of grounds.
When asked if anything appeared different from 2015, his response was immediate.
“It’s got a lot more grass on it than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The fairways seem to have a lot more grass on them, they don’t seem to be cut as tight. The rough is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It’s probably 4-6 inches. If you hit it in the rough this week, you’re just advancing it. You’re not getting it on the green. I haven’t seen any structural changes to the greens but the greens are in great shape, running fast and holding nicely. They had an inch of rain Saturday and we’re expecting more, but this place is cherry. It is always in perfect shape.”
Perry’s comments were echoed to an extent on the par-5 11th hole when Beau Hossler and Gary Woodland both missed their drives well right.
Hossler found his ball thanks to some gallery guidance and then turned to Woodland who had a plugged lie and struggled to find his ball.
“How is your lie,” Hossler asked.
“Less than ideal,” came Woodland’s reply.
Hossler then hit his second shot with a 9-iron which landed in the water and Woodland hit an open face chop laying up past the water into the next fairway.
“We concentrated on inner seeding the rough over the fall for two reasons,” said Mark. “One to get it thicker but also because Mr. Nicklaus wanted to see us blend the rough, so we over seeded really heavily over August and September and had some good success. It is more dense for sure.”
As soon as last year’s Memorial Tournament was over, Mark gave everyone a brief list before challenging everyone to list five things that could be done better in 2018.
“Every year you can improve,” he said. “It’s nothing that’s going to be major, but it’s little things. We’re comfortable that things will be better this year and we’ll make the same list and do things better in 2019 as well.”
With the rough as thick as it already is, there now is the question of how the course will handle the rain which comes from tropical storm Alberto. Mark hopes Alberto stays west but if rain does in fact occur, then the rough will grow at a quicker pace.
“We feel strongly that our green speeds will hold, it is more about the firmness of the golf course,” Mark said. “If it does rain a lot our firmness will be affected our rough might thick up and lay over more than we want as well. We’ll have to have some guys rake it up.”
One thing does seem for certain though and that is that the Memorial Tournament will have rain as Wednesday-Friday all appear dicey with the possibility of thunderstorms also high. The event has experienced at least one rain delay in 25 of the previous 42 editions.
Mark has come to expect this and to an extent has seemed to accept it. After all, this is why he has 75-80 volunteers assisting all week long.
“I’m from this area and I went to Ohio State, so I know the history of this thing,” said Mark. “I’ve phoned Paul (Latshaw) a few times and I was here for the Presidents Cup which was really bad. We’re prepared by having volunteers here. I don’t really need 80 guys in the morning to get things done, but you sure need 80 guys if a rain delay hits. You prepare for the worst by having the people here and obviously having the squeegees and pumps ready to go.”
While there was no major overhaul done to prepare for Memorial Tournament play this year, that does not mean that Muirfield Village was left untouched.
For one, the rough was made thicker as previously mentioned, but Mark and his staff went after a few fairways to try and improve drainage, something which occurs every year.
“It is a never-ending battle and we’ll never stop,” Mark said. “We really attacked another 3-4,000 linear feet this year and tried to make it the areas we needed the most. We also have been top-dusting fairways for the better part of this decade. We have 4-5 inches of sand and that’s going to help our drainage potential as well.”
Mark and Nicklaus met earlier Tuesday to discuss potential longer-term changes to Muirfield Village but at the same time, the 18-time major champion also offered his approval.
“I think the golf course is the best it’s ever been,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to do to it with that little tropical depression coming up, but it will get us a little wet, probably. Something that Chad did here that we haven’t done in the past is he’s used a poa annua seed retardant on the plant. If you look at the greens there are no seed heads out there, so the greens are fantastic and our fairways are as good as I’ve ever seen them. The whole golf course is good, we didn’t make any changes from last year that I can recall and the golf course is there for the guys to play and enjoy. I think they will have a good week.”
Nicklaus’s approval means everything to Mark and hopes that the same can be said once Memorial Tournament play has concluded.
“The biggest compliment for me is that nothing major is noticed as changed,” said Mark. “I hope we can beat all the goals that Mr. Nicklaus has set forth for so many years. I just want to make sure we can do everything possible to make sure the players come here and say that this is close to the best conditions on the PGA TOUR that they play. That will be our goal.”