The PGA Tour had two main goals when it decided to pitch its tent on the same golf course in Dublin, Ohio for two straight weeks: maximize player safety by limiting potential exposure to Covid-19 and somehow coax two very different tournament experiences out of Muirfield Village Golf Club for the Workday Charity Open and last week's Memorial Tournament.
Although three players who made the cut tested positive for Covid-19 and played the weekend as singles, Muirfield director of grounds Chad Mark and his team, along with PGA Tour agronomist Thomas Bastis had a plan to first ease players into the Muirfield experience for the Workday event held July 9-12, then provide a firmer, faster course for the Memorial Tournament mostly by managing rough and water.
The results of their work showed with a 10-shot differential on the leaderboard. Collin Morikawa survived a playoff with Justin Thomas to win the Workday at 19-under-par, while Jon Rahm, who sits atop the World Golf Rankings, won the Memorial with a four-day score of 9-under.
The weather didn't hurt. During the Workday, the average daily high was 87 degrees and about an inch of rain fell in the Columbus area, according to the National Weather Service. A week later, the average high each day was 91 degrees, with weekend temps in the mid-90s. A brief shower and a lightning delay during the final round of the Memorial was too little too late to rescue players from Muirfield's slick putting surfaces.
"We set out with the Tour to put on two different events. If the weather hadn't cooperated, we probably couldn't have done that," Mark said.
"We had a green, lush PGA Tour event the first week, and the second week was more like a championship. We dried it down and firmed it up and put minimal water on it. You could see the results when you see the different scores and the different strategies by the players. It could have been boring to play here two weeks in a row, and it wasn't, and I think that is what was cool about this."
We had it on the edge and our guys learned how to to water and keep things on the edge for a championship.
Rough was topped off at 3.5 inches the Monday of the Workday event and irrigation was turned off. Because conditions in central Ohio were so hot and dry, the grass didn't grow much. By Sunday, it had reached about 4 inches. The following day, the rough was trimmed down as needed to a uniform 4-inch height.
"We weren't going to let it get out of control," Mark said. "By the end of the (Memorial) week, there might have been some stragglers out there over 6 inches, but we didn't mow all the rough after the Monday of the Workday."
The Muirfield team also didn't double-cut for the Workday until the weekend, but did so and also rolled twice a day every day during the Memorial.
"We increased the intensity of our night work, and really pulled back on the water," Mark said.
"We hydrated the golf course on the Sunday of the Workday while Collin and Justin were still on the golf course. There was nothing overhead on the rough for three weeks. Our staff did a good job on hoses touching up what needed water and not overwatering anything. By the end of the week, my staff saw what little water could be put on and that the turf would respond if you needed it to. We had it on the edge and our guys learned how to to water and keep things on the edge for a championship."
Muifield was identified as a two-time host when the Memorial Tournament, originally scheduled for early June, was postponed due to stay-at-home orders in place in response to Covid-19. The event was moved to July 16-19 when the British Open, scheduled for Royal St. George's, and the PGA Tour's corresponding Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville, Kentucky, both were canceled.
There also was a hole in the PGA Tour schedule the week before the Open Championship and the Barbasol, a slot reserved for a future event that eventually will be held in Northern California. Holding two events in consecutive weeks at the same location was seen as a benefit by limiting travel and contact points for players during the virus and made sense for a Tour trying to get on its feet this year.
Still, two tournaments in two weeks on the same course is a lot to ask.
Meetings - mostly in the dark and in the parking lot because of the virus - began at 4:30 a.m. daily. For three weeks, Mark and assistants James Bryson and Adam Daroczy were at the course from that 4:30 a.m. start until about 10 p.m.
"Our staff did an incredible job," Mark said. "They pulled it off, and that shows how dedicated they are."
A scheduled greens renovation that started literally with sod being removed on the front nine during final round play, allowed Mark and Bastis latitude with decisions on water.
"We didn't water after the tournament on Sunday, and we didn't touch anything up on Monday," Mark said. "As we drove around Monday, the greens were fried, that's how on the edge we were.
"Not having to turn the golf course over to members after the tournament made it easier to do some of that stuff."
We had a green, lush PGA Tour event the first week, and the second week was more like a championship. We dried it down and firmed it up and put minimal water on it. You could see the results when you see the different scores and the different strategies by the players. It could have been boring to play here two weeks in a row, and it wasn't, and I think that is what was cool about this.
What makes the dual tournament feat more impressive is that both events were staged with minimal outside help. Superintendents rely heavily on volunteers to ensure nothing is missed during a Tour event, much less two of them in consecutive weeks. Mark's team of 45 grew to only 52 for the Workday and 64 for the Memorial. Typically, he recruits 35-40 volunteers just for the Memorial.
That might sound like a lot of people, but when running two tournaments in two weeks, you need a lot of people..
"There were sacrifices made. We reminded the Tour guys that there were things we can't do because we didn't have the numbers," Mark said. "As Covid goes away, I'm going to look at the numbers we've traditionally had during the Memorial."
And if the Tour ever needs to go back-to-back in a single location again?
"No, no, no. Not next year," Mark said. "Our greens will be too new. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We proved we can go a lot farther with the golf course than we thought we could. I'd do it again, it's what we all do this for - to prove yourself. But not next year."