One thing Jack Nicklaus' Memorial tournament seems to do is bring up the question of how much praise a man can take before Red Adair has to be called in to put a cap on his ego. The Muirfield Village course near Columbus, Ohio, the site of last week's tournament, was in such immaculate condition that people would sooner have dropped cigarette butts on their babies' tummies. Even after rain caused the final round to be postponed, there was not a single player, including those who shot soaring numbers, who did not proclaim the course the best-prepared, lushest, most glorious piece of golfing real estate they had ever dragged a cleat across.
Here was a course where you knew if you drove in the fairway you would get a perfect lie, and if you hit a good iron into a green you knew it would hold and when you putted you knew the ball would roll true. Never before, everyone agreed, had this been the case on any tournament course, anywhere. Day in and day out, golf's most raved-about layout is the Augusta National, but not even in its most exquisite year, when one might not discover the slightest blemish on the most' obscure dogwood, has the Masters course received the kind of no-holds-barred puffs that Muirfield Village did.
So after the first few days, when Nicklaus was drowning in compliments, there were those who began looking for ways to keep him honest. Something had to be wrong. Well, if you wanted to be picky, you could say that Muirfield Village has the longest combined walks from green to tee of any course outside the Himalayas. Somebody measured them and came up with a total of one mile—most of it uphill. It was also decided that the green at the par-3 16th sloped too much away from the shooter. And then there were jokes. Too much grain in the tees. The creeks ought to be a lighter color brown. And as Ben Crenshaw said after his first-round 87, "It's too dark inside some of the hazards."
Obviously, the way to have such a flawless course is to be a perfectionist like Jack, and have the money to spend on it. A cynic might say that each hole should be named after a Columbus bank, but Nicklaus himself has about $1.5 million tied up in the bent grass fairways and vicu�a greens. It may well be that Jack will one day decide he wants an ocean hole at Muirfield Village and he will order Course Superintendent Ed Etchells to reroute the Firth of Clyde from the west coast of Scotland into the creek bordering Muirfield's third green.
For all of you gardening and front lawn fans, here are Etchells' tips on how to make your plant life look velvety and wonderful: use only hand mowers on your bent greens, not tractor mowers like the low-rent neighbors down the street; rake your bunkers only with paddles, or toothless implements, because they smooth out the sand. Also, you must top-dress your greens and fairways every two weeks. Also, you should cut the grass a lot. Cut your fairways to [7/16] of an inch, and then cut your greens to [5/64] of an inch. You set the mower height with a magnifying glass. On greens shaved this close the golf ball may wander off if you so much as clear your throat while standing over it. But fast greens are the mark of a great course. To do all these things, you need roughly $250,000 a year; but if you are Jack Nicklaus, the club members will only smile and send a gofer to get a checkbook.
As he did last year during the inaugural Memorial, Nicklaus was making mental notes on the improvements he wants, both on the course and for the tournament, as he competed. At one point, when he noticed some volunteer kids having fun with the scoreboards—they were posting names like Golden Bear, Arnie, Chi Chi, etc.—Jack summoned Pandel Savic, a close friend who is co-chairman of the tournament with Bob Hoag, to tell the kids to knock it off. Nicklaus was playing the 15th hole on Friday when he gave this order.
Jack had opened with a par 72, a round that featured a double bogey, and he had been told that he had played a "hostly round." When he shot a 68 on Friday, a round that could have been much lower because of how snugly he put his irons into the flags, he said, "I thought a good bit last year about whether I wanted to win my tournament, but now I've made a decision. I would like to win."
It is not the splendid golf course alone that makes Jack's tournament so immediately special, so evidently worth winning that it drew a stronger field than any Masters. And it surely is not the name—the Memorial—which, if anything, is rather unfortunate. What it might be is the presence, influence, taste and maybe even inspiration of a woman—that lovely and gracious lady Barbara Nicklaus. No other tournament of any quality has quite the exact kind of feeling that Jack's does, and much of the credit for the detail and hospitality and atmosphere is due Barbara, who perhaps is not only the best golf wife anyone has ever known but is also definitely the leader in the clubhouse as the best sports wife.
She was in and out of the club, hosting, arranging, entertaining and generally lending style to the occasion, despite the fact that she had lost her $12 hammer with four more pictures to hang. She knows everyone in town and everyone in the field, but she somehow finds time for them all, and calmly.
Jack had better watch out. Last week Barbara confided that she has signed to do a TV commercial for the first time in her own name. "Hi, I'm Barbara Nicklaus. For Magic Chef microwave ovens." One thing could lead to another and Barbara may come up with her own Memorial Invitational cook-off. Forget Francis Ouimet as next year's honoree, Jack. Let's call it the third annual $225,000 Barbara.