Playing at Jack's Place is treasure to last a lifetime

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Many of us have had plenty of chances to play layouts designed by the game's best architects -- Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio. And many of us have played on courses conceived by golf's greatest players -- Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and yes, Jack Nicklaus. But there's something very different about playing a Nicklaus course in his hometown and just a few yards from his impressive house sitting nestled nearby in the woods between the first and 10th holes. You get the feeling Jack is watching your every move.

This is Muirfield Village Golf Club; Jack's best design, one of the top courses in America, the place where Jack hosts his own event, The Memorial, every year for the best players in the world. Plus, if that doesn't intimidate you enough, this is Jack's home. Goodness knows you don't want to show any disrespect by bringing your sorry game out into the open where everyone, maybe even Jack, can see it.

It's a private, exclusive club, and you're a guest, and like all the other times you've been invited to someone's club, you mind your manners. But somehow Jack's presence here puts a whole new spin on things.

The Course

Muirfield Village was Jack's dream. He wanted to build a course that would stand the test of time and be the home of one of golf's most prestigious tournaments. Since 1972 when Muirfield opened, Jack has been tweaking the design to test the world's best. It's clearly not a place where the membership's concerns are given much thought. This is Jack's course. He' ll do with it what he pleases. And he has. It was once 6,978 yards. It's now 7,224. There are actually fewer bunkers than the original design, but nearly all of the now 71 of them have been made foxhole deep - 10-12 feet deep. Plus, the rolling terrain includes plenty of water. A creek or a lake gets in your way on 11 holes.

The golf course is really conceived and designed for the best players. A 15 handicapper is eaten alive here. There's plenty of driving room, even though the fairways have been narrowed recently. However, the real trouble comes when the course demands you be super accurate going into the greens. At Muirfield, you can make an adequate swing, hit a decent shot, but if it's not precise, you're looking at 2 strokes. Make a baby mistake here, and double-bogey is what you have to live with.

The look of Muirfield is magnificent. In places, it has an Augusta feel. Even the green complex at the course's most photographed hole, the par-3 12th, resembles the 12th at Augusta. And if you're looking for the foreboding, menacing design of a typical Nicklaus golf course, you won't find it at Muirfield. There are many more traditional elements to this design than most of Nicklaus'.

Playing the Course

Hit it straight. Don't get cute. And if you get in one of the Grand Canyon style bunkers, open the face of that sand wedge and swing hard. Don't expect to shoot a career round. That ain't happening here.

But you can enjoy Muirfield, and you should. This is where the world's best duke it out around the Memorial Day holiday each year and that alone is worth the walk around the 220-acres. And yes, you will walk. Carts are only permitted under special circumstances, but caddies are always available. Spike and Brad are two of the many superbly capable loopers. Be sure to listen to their advice.

Besides the 166-yard par-3 12th, there are plenty of other memorable holes at Muirfield Village. The 5th is a tricky par-5 that includes a creek running from down the middle of the fairway all the way to the green. The 11th is one of the most beautiful on the course. The par-5 is a very traditional design that cuts downhill through the trees and includes that seemingly ubiquitous creek. This time it rambles down the left side of the fairway and moves across the middle at about 300 yards out. The 14th is a tremendous short par-4 with a long and narrow green. And 18, is a tough finisher. The 400-yard par-4 goes downhill and doglegs right up the hill with a big tree at the bend and an unnerving set of bunkers on the right side all the way to the green.

Things to Remember

Muirfield is picky about the spikes you have on your shoes. Certainly metal spikes are not permitted, but neither are the black widow style soft spikes. Too long and potentially damaging to the greens, soft or not. You need a lower profile spike. They'll change them out for you.

In the grillroom be sure to look at all the photographs. There's Jack in his glory and posed shots of Memorial Tournament honorees of the past. It's quite an array of people from Peter Alliss to Gerald Ford to Sean Connery to Arnold Palmer.

Keep an eye out for the guy everyone knows as Percy, a longtime member at Muirfield Village. He's in his 80's and plays to about an 8 handicap. Walks the course. Don't bet him any money.

Having lunch? Get the tuna salad on rye. It's outstanding.

Take a moment at the halfway house and take a look over the deck into the pond. In it are an enormous number of fish literally swimming on top of each other. Toss in a potato chip and watch them fight for it.

And last but not least, keep an eye out for Jack. He's rarely home considering all of his travels, but he does show up from time to time at the club. When you're at Muirfield Village, you can't help feeling Jack is very close by.

Fast Fact

The first tournament at Muirfield Village was the Columbus Pro-Am in 1975. Since then the club has hosted the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour since 1976. It also hosted the 1986 U.S. Junior Amateur, the 1987 Ryder Cup Matches, the 1992 U.S. Amateur Championship, and the 1998 Solheim Cup.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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