A BEAUTIFUL BEAST, MR. NICKLAUS

The course you built, Jack, is pleasing to the eye, but the guys who had to go out and play it were lucky to escape alive
June 06, 1976

The betting was that Barbara Nicklaus wouldn't get the last plaque hung in the Muirfield Village clubhouse until Sunday evening, shortly after the presentation ceremonies concluding her husband's personal golf tournament. That the hammer and picture hooks wouldn't go back in her purse until after the sole survivor of the punishing golf course had accepted the $40,000 winner's check. That in the midst of his final back-swing Jack Nicklaus himself would stop and tell one last worker to do one last chore—paint this, move that, trim something else—to help glamorize an event called the Memorial Tournament, which last week borrowed just about everything from Augusta, Ga. except peach pie and magnolia blossoms.

If it was the Nicklaus Masters, so to speak, the Master did not play like one on his own turf, but that was understandable. He had so much on his mind, worrying about every conceivable detail, you could almost see him scribbling a note to Barbara between putts: "Build a handrail on the cart path at the baked Alaska for the dinner on the TV tower. Replace spectator steps at 12th with better sand and turn sprinklers on Bobby Jones' portrait."

The tournament had been talked about for a year in terms of where was it, why was it and what was it. So the fact that the course Jack built was finally unveiled to the world with a classy new tournament on it became, overall, more important than Roger Maltbie's victory over Hale Irwin in a four-hole playoff, both men having struggled in at even par 288, highest first-place score of the year. Somebody had to win it, of course, if he did not drop out of sight into one of the creeks or get lost in the trees or choke to death from the sand he would dig up in the bunkers nobody could get out of. Or slip down and suffer permanent injury on the Formica-slick greens.

A new event on the PGA tour with Nicklaus' name attached to it would naturally be a special happening, and this one surely was. Nicklaus had designed and built the course in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, his hometown, with a slightly gigantic idea in mind—a tournament that might perhaps in time take its place alongside the other major championships. With all of the other good names taken, such as the Masters and the British Open, Jack had to settle for Memorial, the gimmick being that each year the tournament would be dedicated to a golfing immortal who had passed into history. Last week it was Bobby Jones.

To properly christen the affair, the following showed up: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Clifford Roberts, Joe Dey, Deane Beman, Bobby Jones' daughter-in-law and grandson, a cluster of USGA tycoons and more CBS cameramen and announcers than the network normally has at Augusta. Strangely enough, the only people missing were some of the game's better players. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player had been excused by the sponsor—Nicklaus—to go to Britain. Other absentees were Ray Floyd, the Masters champion, Tom Watson, the British Open champion, Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Dave Hill, John Mahaffey, Don January—in all, 10 of the current top 30 players. They were absent for a variety of reasons ranging from sore hands to matters of principle—"If Jack can pass up the Tournament of Champions, we can pass up Jack"—and maybe some of them had already heard that the Muirfield Village course was so tough that it would be more fun to have lunch with Dracula.

There are no statistics on such things, but the Memorial surely must have set a record for double, triple and quadruple bogeys. It produced 40 rounds in the 80s but only seven in the 60s, and the highest 36-hole cut within anyone's memory. Shoot 78-79—157 and you still made it. The scores that didn't make it looked as if they came out of Prestwick in 1894. The reason was that Nicklaus has created a layout with extreme penalties for indifferent shotmaking. Jerry McGee said it best: "There are no windows and doors here." Good shots would get you a spree of birdies, but then one bad one would get you a 6, a 7, even an 8. Trees, water and sand were everywhere. And then came the sloping and relentlessly slick greens. Typical of how Muirfield could jump up and grab you by the throat was what happened to Hubert Green. After rounds of 69 and 72, he was the 36-hole leader, and the Memorial had a normal look, for Green has been the winner of three tournaments this year. Then came Saturday. Hubie quickly took a double bogey, followed by a triple bogey, and before the afternoon was over he had shot an atrocious 79 and disappeared.

Nicklaus himself was a good enough example. In Thursday's opening round, while preoccupied with all he had to do socially, Jack made six birdies and one eagle in 18 holes but reported a modest one-under 71 when it was all over. Despite his second-round 75, Jack was still a contender, and when he got to three under par through 11 holes on Saturday, everybody was about ready to decide that only the architect could play his own course over a four-day period. Suddenly, Muirfield struck again, this time at the mad scientist who created it. The scenic par-3 12th wrenched a quadruple bogey 7 out of Jack.

The 12th is Nicklaus' postcard hole, with water and beauty and so forth, and now it has two of Jack's golf balls. How do you make a 7? Well, first you hit two in the water so that, still on the tee, you are playing five. Then you knock one to the left of the green, make an indifferent chip, and finally hole a 10-foot putt. Routine. In any case, the hole sent Nicklaus reeling to a 73 instead of the 69 or 68 he might easily have shot and it sent him securely into the role of host, sponsor, greeter, critic, worrier. Which was where he had been all week long anyhow.

This being golf's equivalent of a Broadway opening, Nicklaus devoted his week to these varying pursuits:

•Touring the course with a tree surgeon to cut down limbs that obstructed views.

•Signing an incorrect pro-am card so that his team of Jack Curran, Flip Wilson, Gov. James Rhodes and co-chairman Pandel Savic finished with a best ball of 97.

•Weeping at the ceremony while thinking about Bobby Jones.

•Sending Barbara in a police car to the State House to give President Ford a replica of Jones' Calamity Jane putter.

•Sending somebody to the clubhouse to pick up some ice-cream pies for dessert after the catering truck for his Captains Club dinner dropped the baked Alaska.

•Estimating that new bunker sand will cost him $100,000 before next year's tournament.

•Getting Barbara to hang pictures and plaques and rehang others in the clubhouse.

•Lecturing marshals on how to marshal.

•Saying hello to everybody.

•Checking statistics of three-putt greens.

•Going to three dinner parties at once.

•Going to six cocktail parties at once.

•Wondering where Barbara's hammer and picture hooks were.

•Finishing quickly enough to be on television.

•Being concerned about high scores.

•Hearing criticism of the course.

•Hearing praise for the course.

•Being concerned because so many good players failed to show up.

•And, ultimately, wondering how in the world Roger Maltbie beat him.

PHOTOJOHN KENNEYBetween rounds the host smiled, greeted, explained, ordered, lectured and, above all, worried. PHOTOJOHN KENNEYThe 9th is representative of the whole course: behind the serenity lurks a double bogey.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)