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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Nicklaus says Muirfield's Mark is the right man for Tour's doubleheader


Muirfield Village Golf Club director of grounds operations Chad Mark and his team are ready to take on two PGA Tour events in two weeks in July, including the first professional golf event with fans. File photos by John Reitman


For the past few weeks Chad Mark has done little more than work, eat and sleep, but mostly it has been work. And it is going to be that way for at least a few weeks longer. That is the price one pays when getting ready for something few if any of his colleagues will ever have to face - two PGA Tour events - on the same golf course in consecutive weeks. One will have fans, one will not.

The Workday Charity Open is scheduled for July 9-12 and will be held without spectators. The Memorial Tournament will follow July 16-19 and will be the first professional golf tournament since March to have fans.

061120memorial2.jpg"I haven't been home before 8 o'clock in weeks," said Mark, director of grounds operations at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. "I go from home to work, and from work to home. That's about it. When we're done here, I have to go do PGA Tour Radio next."

Two golf tournaments in two weeks, in Ohio, in July, including the first to allow fans since the world went into hiding three months ago, all on a layout owned by Jack Nicklaus. 

Although the circumstances are unique, the person in charge of pulling it all off is uniquely qualified, Nicklaus said.

"The back-to-back tournaments at Muirfield, if anyone was going to handle it, I think it's in the hands of the right person," Nicklaus said.

If there is pressure on Mark, who has been at Muirfield since 2017, it sure isn't showing.

"When I told our staff before the announcement was made, because I wanted them to hear it from me, we were out in the courtyard, and you could see the excitement in the younger guys. And you could almost see the jaws drop in the guys who know what it takes to put on a tournament," Mark said. 

"Sure, you know you have to perform, but the staff is pumped about it. We have so many good people on this staff, and that is what is going to get us through this."

Muifield was identified for double-duty when the Memorial Tournament, originally scheduled for the first week of June, was postponed due to stay-at-home orders in place in response to the Covid-19 virus. It 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 the San Francisco area and will be associated with NBA star Steph Curry. Holding two events in consecutive weeks at the same location limits travel and contact points for players during the virus and made sense for a Tour trying to get back on its feet.

Mark and his team provide Muirfield's members and their guests with tournament-like conditions on a daily basis, and he is more than up to the task of pulling off the Tour's doubleheader, said the club's owner.

"First of all, Chad is a very, very good superintendent, and he understands that this is a club that the members like to use the course also," Nicklaus said. "Meaning, he tries as hard to prepare the golf course for the members every day as he does for the Memorial Tournament, which is very important to me and I think very important to the members.

The back-to-back tournaments at Muirfield, if anyone was going to handle it, I think it's in the hands of the right person.

"He doesn't get flustered. He takes on a lot and is very calm about it. I think he has great confidence in his abilities to do things."

The new leadoff event will be sponsored by Workday Inc., a financial management software company. The Memorial's title sponsor is Columbus-based insurance giant Nationwide, and its beneficiaries include Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Nicklaus Children's Healthcare Foundation.

A scheduled renovation project that will begin the Monday after the Memorial and includes new greens, tees and fairways as well as new irrigation, probably didn't hurt the PGA Tour's chances to sell the idea to Muirfield and Nicklaus. In hindsight, the visibility of the course and its owner coupled with Mark's enthusiasm and ability (he was the recipient of the 2013 TurfNet Superintendent of the Year award) make the club in suburban Columbus the perfect venue for such an undertaking.

"Golf is like every other sport, they're looking for ways to keep players in one spot, because there is a whole deal with getting players to different cities and getting testing," Mark said. "The Tour threw it out there to (Memorial Tournament director) Dan Sullivan and (Muirfield general manager) Nicholas LaRocca. I think if we weren't closing the week after that it never would have gotten legs. The stress from two PGA Tour events in July might not have been the best thing to do, but the fact we are closing down and building new greens as soon as we are done with the Memorial, we talked about it more. Obviously, Jack had to say it was OK, and I think his view is that if it helps the Tour, helps keep players safe, helps our charities and helps everybody involved, then it's good for golf and that was good enough for him."


There will be no grandstands at Muirfield for the Memorial Tournament in July.

Allowing fans, even on a limited scale, in the gates at Muirfield required approval even Nicklaus could not grant.

On June 5, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine approved a request from Muirfield to allow at least some fans for this year's Memorial as long as the club adheres to safety and social distancing protocols in response to the virus. The tournament will be limited to 8,000 fans who must wear masks and submit to daily temperature readings. There will be no grandstands, and all points of sale will be cashless.

The PGA Tour has held two made-for-TV events so far and returns to tournament play this week at Colonial. There will be three other events before Tour players descend on central Ohio, but all will be without fans until the Memorial, which is likely to be the first major U.S. sporting event with spectators. The last golf tournament held with a gallery was the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March. Professional golf and virtually everything else came to a halt the following week in response to the coronavirus.

Since the news broke in late May that Muirfield would host back-to-back tournaments, Mark and assistants James Bryson and Adam Daroczy have been hard at work to develop a work schedule that makes the most of their staff of 45 that includes 22 turf school graduates or interns and a limited crew of volunteers.

"We have a good plan to keep the guys fresh and go into this so we can rotate people and give them days off and have a good Memorial," Mark said. "I'm more worried about my guys than I am about the golf course."

There will be no grandstands when fans return to golf next month at the Memorial Tournament.

The back-to-back events will be the first of its kind in golf since 2014 when the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open were held in consecutive weeks at Pinehurst No. 2.

Unlike 2014, when the U.S. Open was played first, Muirfield's marquee event will be played after the Workday tournament.

Since Roger Maltbie won the inaugural event in 1976, the Memorial has developed a reputation for providing conditions, including fast greens and tall rough, that rival those found in the U.S. Open. This year's schedule will allow Mark and his team to Tour conditions for the Workday event and conditions the following week that the Memorial has become known for. Neither event, he said, will get the short shrift.

"The meetings we are having now, and the discussions I'm having with our agronomist from the Tour and the rules official from the Tour are all positive and in an effort to protect what the Memorial brand is and to have a great Memorial," Mark said. "It's not that we're not going to give the first tournament all we've got, but the Memorial is different from other Tour events. Week to week, the greens are going to be significantly higher than they are at other Tour events and the other part is we have longer rough. A lot of players come to play the Memorial with fast greens and long rough and it's two weeks ahead of the U.S. Open, and it was a great prep for that."

If we were that fast for Week 1, we know we would stress some things out. The Tour needs different hole locations for Week 1 so it's not the same tournament two weeks in a row.

He also knows providing Memorial-like conditions for two consecutive weeks would result in stressed greens for Muirfield's signature event and hole locations week to week that would be eerily similar.

"If we were that fast for Week 1, we know we would stress some things out. The Tour needs different hole locations for Week 1 so it's not the same tournament two weeks in a row," Mark said. "We're going to have to lower target green speeds quite a bit. We'll come down almost 2 feet from the Memorial for Week 1 so we can utilize hole locations that quite frankly we can't use during the Memorial because the greens are so fast it would be too hard. So, we'll slow down greens and hopefully that will help the greens from getting too far away from us."

The day after the Memorial concludes, LaBar Golf Renovations will begin a restoration project that includes rebuilding all greens and tees, new irrigation and new fairways.

But what about those infamous Memorial-like green speeds that can approach 14 on the Stimpmeter? Can Mark and his team reach those conditions? In Ohio? In August?

"Oh, we'll get there," Mark said. 

"There would be a lot more pressure on us if we had two tournaments and had to let members play the rest of the summer, and I wouldn't want them to suffer with bad conditions. But, we don't have to have the course open after the tournament."

"All of us sometimes get into trouble, because we're all so into what we do. I wondered if this was even feasible. The staff is pumped about, so we developed a plan to knock both out of the park. But, me being me and Jack being Jack, are we going to be satisfied holding the greens back? I'm going to have to hold myself back."


Edited by John Reitman

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