Officially, the event is called the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and the place is Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, on the northwest corner of Columbus.
It’s better known as Jack’s place.
And that’s what it is.
His place, which helps explain why it annually draws one of the strongest fields of the year and why without having any special designation like World Golf Championship events the Memorial occupies its own place in professional golf’s hierarchy.
Simply put, it’s special.
Perhaps as much as any place in golf belongs to a person, the Memorial and Muirfield Village Golf Club belong to Jack Nicklaus the way Arnold Palmer and Bay Hill felt at times like one in the same.
Take what is embodied in the club and the tournament, which date back to the mid-1970s, and all of it comes back to Nicklaus, who has shepherded, massaged and invested a significant part of his heart and soul into this place and this event.
He has done it for his hometown, for the game and for the needy who benefit from the charity work associated with the tournament. He’s done it for those reasons and so many more.
It’s his way of giving back on multiple levels. It’s why he created the Captains Club that annually selects an honoree to be recognized for his or her contribution to the game. This year, it is Judy Rankin, whose brilliant playing career was followed by an equally brilliant broadcasting career.
There was a Wednesday ceremony and Rankin’s plaque joins others in a small park between the clubhouse and the first tee that’s worth strolling through should you ever find yourself at Muirfield Village. It speaks to the people who mattered to golf and to Nicklaus.
He also annually honors a member of the golf writing fraternity, recognizing the writer’s achievements and contributions, a meaningful gesture that began decades ago and continues today.
For people of a certain age, it’s strange to think that many of today’s stars weren’t born when the 46-year-old Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas … they weren’t born when Nicklaus found the magic one last time.
During tournament week, it’s not hard to find Nicklaus in his grey tournament jacket, mingling with friends and fans near the clubhouse or slipping out onto the course to get a feel for what’s going on.
He loves the golf course. He’s built literally hundreds of courses but Muirfield Village is his baby and he pays attention to the smallest details. Earlier this week, Nicklaus talked proudly of how whatever poa annua is growing in the putting surfaces, it’s essentially invisible because of a new maintenance practice. Attention to detail matters to Nicklaus.
“The greens are just real perfect. Fairways are excellent. The rough is probably a little thicker than the players would probably like it, but that’s the way it is,” Nicklaus said during his annual pre-tournament chat with the media. “It’s good. All good.”
The same goes for the locker room milk shakes for which Muirfield Village is famous (it’s no secret Nicklaus is an ice cream connoisseur), the exceptional practice facilities and the general ambiance of a tournament that involves not just Jack but much of the Nicklaus family.
Through the years, tournaments have attached themselves to celebrities but the Memorial is different. It’s not something Nicklaus lends his name to. He is fully invested and it’s reflected in how the top players come back year after year to play his event.
The tournament doesn’t get every star every year but it’s a week that matters more than most because of the man behind it.
“I’ve always been a pretty big historian of the game,” Rory McIlroy said earlier this week. “I definitely know and appreciate the people that have come before us that have paved the way for us to do what we do. (If) you’re having a trivia night on major champions back to the mid-1900s, I’m pretty good at that one.
“I’m proud that I know a lot about the game and know the people that have come before us. It took me a long time to play at Bay Hill, but I’m pretty committed to playing there every year and the same here. I think it’s to pay our respect to two of the greatest that have ever done it.”
For people of a certain age, it’s strange to think that many of today’s stars weren’t born when the 46-year-old Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters. McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas … they weren’t born when Nicklaus found the magic one last time.
As with Palmer, though, they know what Nicklaus accomplished and, perhaps more importantly, what he has meant to the game with how he has handled himself and the example he has set.
He doesn’t play much anymore but Nicklaus is 79 years old now. He still flies around the world, working on courses, making business deals and going bonefishing in the Bahamas.
The kid from Columbus, who grew up playing whatever sport was in season before finally committing to golf, talks about slowing down but appears to be in no great hurry to do so. He lives in South Florida but Muirfield Village and the Memorial Tournament are where he’s home.
It’s Jack’s place.
Bryson DeChambeau and Tiger Woods approach the 18th green on Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Photo: Stan Badz, PGA Tour
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