It’s only June, but this week marks the second to last elevated event before the FedEx Cup playoffs. An all-star field takes on Muirfield Village for the 2023 Memorial Tournament. As always, here is a preview of the 2023 Memorial Tournament and a guide to betting on the tournament.
2023 Memorial Tournament Preview
The Golf Course
Following his win at Muirfield at the 1966 Open Championship to complete his career grand slam, Jack Nicklaus purchased a tract of land in Dublin, OH, which is a suburb of his hometown of Columbus, OH. He sought to build a golf community to highlight his career achievements in golf and named it “Muirfield Village.”
Though the land was purchased in 1966, the golf courses on the property were not opened until 1974. The community also began selling houses to the public surrounding the golf course, and many big names reside in the village, such as Jason Day, Urban Meyer, and several prominent members of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As far as the conditioning of Muirfield Village Golf Club itself, there are few golf courses more well-maintained that are played on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus wanted to create pristine conditions similar to that of Augusta National. Under optimal tournament conditions, the golf course has lush Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass rough, bentgrass fairways, and fast bentgrass greens.
It is much more important to discuss the recent changes to Muirfield Village. Shortly after the completion of the 2020 Memorial, Jack ripped up the golf course in order to give it a facelift. In April, all the players and caddies were sent a memo summarizing all the changes to the golf course. Here are the notable highlights:
1. All the greens were resurfaced with bentgrass. It is no longer a Bentgrass/Poa mix. In addition, each green had a sub-air system installed below the green surfaces for moisture control.
2. Almost every green was re-contoured and re-shaped. The only greens that weren’t altered were the greens on Hole 12, 13, 14, and 17.
3. New tee boxes added approximately 100 yards of distance to the scorecard. As a result, the total yardage of Muirfield Village from the championship tees is about 7,500 yards.
4. All fairway and greenside bunkers were completely rebuilt and shifted.
5. In 2023, new tee boxes were added to the 7th and 16th. The holes now play at 503 and 220 yards, respectively.
While the routing of the golf course remains the same, the positions of both greens and fairways are not. Many holes were pushed out and re-contoured the fairway bunkers to shrink the landing zone off the tee. Jack Nicklaus has ripped the governing bodies for not doing anything to control exploding distances in golf. Since they appear to have little interest in doing anything about it, this is his response. In addition, several greens were shifted closer to ponds and creeks to bring them more into play. This was done on Holes 3, 5, 9, and 15.
In addition, Hole No. 15 had the most changes. The par 5 used to see players play up to an elevated fairway off the tee, then downhill to the green. Jack lowered the fairway 10-15 feet to level out the hole. While the hole now plays shorter, he added new bunkers 285-320 yards off the tee to ensure players will need a good drive if they hope to hit the green in 2.
How did this impact play, if at all? We’ll discuss that next in betting strategies.
Here is some general information about Muirfield Village. This will assist in optimizing betting strategies for the 2023 Memorial Tournament.
General Information & Scoring
In 2023, Muirfield Village will play at 7,571 yards. That’s about 40 yards longer than last year. As mentioned earlier, the greens and fairways are bentgrass, while the 4″ rough will feature a ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass mix. The greens also average about 5,000 square feet in area. Again, that’s below average for PGA Tour standards.
Muirfield Village is annually one of the most challenging golf courses on the PGA Tour. Since 2015, the average score at the golf course is +0.85/round. However, the average score has ballooned to nearly +1.50 per round since the renovation. In addition, the added length and new green complexes gave an already tough golf course sharper teeth.
Muirfield Village is the toughest on the Par 3’s and 4’s. Only PGA National and the Renaissance Club are active PGA Tour venues with tougher Par 3’s than Muirfield Village. As for the Par 4’s, only Quail Hollow, Torrey Pines, the Renaissance Club, Bay Hill, Riviera, and TPC Sawgrass play tougher. All of these are big-boy golf courses. Muirfield Village separates the men from the boys.
Lastly, the recent renovation added significant length to the golf course. The Par 3’s average about 193 yards in length. That’s 6-10 yards longer on average than they were before. And the Par 4’s and 5’s average a combined 477 yards. That’s 8-10 yards longer than it was before.
Off The Tee
Of all active non-major venues on the PGA Tour, Muirfield Village ranks as the 13th toughest on the PGA Tour. However, it has played significantly tougher in the last two years after the renovation. Over the last two years, it’s played as tough as places like Bay Hill and Riviera, two of the tougher driving courses on the PGA Tour.
Why has it gotten significantly tougher? For starters, the golf course has been modernized to accommodate the advancements in technology. New fairway bunkers and pinched landing zones have been added to try and penalize wayward tee shots and put a premium on hitting fairways. Jack Nicklaus has been quite outspoken about how technological advancements are making golf courses obsolete. He’s done enough to try and keep Muirfield relevant by beefing it up with the tee shots.
Overall, however, Muirfield Village features fairly easy-to-hit fairways. Since 2015, the average driving accuracy at the golf course has been 71.1%. That’s one of the highest clips on the PGA Tour. So overall, there’s a lot of fairway players have at their disposal to try and keep their tee shots in the short grass.
However, Muirfield Village is one of the most punishing to miss a fairway at. The score difference between balls that find the rough and those that hit the fairway is +0.44. That’s the highest difference of active golf courses on the PGA Tour. There’s also a significant penalty for missing in non-rough locations, as there are numerous opportunities to incur a penalty stroke off the tee. Muirfield Village is one of the leaders in both total penalties and reloads off the tee.
Overall, long and straight prevails at Muirfield Village. Players like Jon Rahm and Patrick Cantlay, two golfers with a tremendous combination of length and accuracy, dominate Muirfield Village. Their ability to avoid the trouble spots off the tee, along with their length to not be miles away from the green with their approach shots, is a great recipe for success at Muirfield Village.
Muirfield Village also features very tough approach shots. Of all active non-major golf courses on the PGA Tour, it is the 6th toughest with its approach shots. Despite high driving accuracy rates, the green in regulation rate since 2015 is only 59.9%. And post-renovation, it’s been 57.3% and 55.0% in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Here’s a comparison between the approach shot distribution charts pre and post-renovation (per DataGolf):
2019 Approach Shot Distribution – Pre-renovation
2022 Approach Shot Distribution – Post-renovation
The biggest change came by shifting a significant portion of shots between 150-175 yards up to 200-225 yards. There are also a couple more shots more than 250 yards than there were in the past. This, along with numerous penalty areas and small targets on each green, is why the approach shots at Muirfield Village are some of the toughest on the PGA Tour.
Around The Green
Of all active non-major golf courses on the PGA Tour, Muirfield Village features the 2nd toughest around-the-green conditions. Only TPC River Highlands features tougher ones.
There are a few reasons for this. First, the rough is so penal around the green. Not only is it thick, but players have to essentially guess how it’ll come out of it onto the fast, sloping greens at the golf course. It is very difficult to control the ball out of the rough once it hits the green.
The bunkers are also very tough and set well below the putting surface. And considering how small the targets are in certain pin locations, it takes a very delicate touch out of a bunker to get a ball in close proximity to the pin. That’s why, of all active non-major venues on the PGA Tour, Muirfield Village features the 6th toughest greenside bunkers.
As such, Muirfield Village features very low scrambling rates. As a result, players were only successful in getting up and down from off the green 55% of the time last year. That’s well below the PGA Tour average in the 2021-2022 season of 58.3%. And in 2021, it was even lower at 53.6%. So getting up and down is a chore at Muirfield Village.
Even though the greens are very undulating and quick, overall, the difficulty in putting is about the PGA Tour average. In fact, players have had an easier time putting at Muirfield Village since the renovation than they did before. It’s possible that the switch from bent/poa to bentgrass made the greens roll truer and more predictable.
As far as putting goes, focus on players with strong results on bentgrass, as well as on fast-putting surfaces.
Optimal Player Profile
Here are course fit models, per DataGolf, of the types of players that typically do well at Muirfield Village. In addition, below is a chart describing how players separate themselves from the field at the golf course:
Sometimes, a golf course fit model won’t match how players separate themselves from the field at a tournament. Muirfield Village, however, is highly correlated between relative skillsets and how each skill set causes variance in total strokes gained or lost at the tournament. The course fit chart highly favors good iron players who are great around the green.
At Muirfield Village, iron and around-the-green play has a higher influence on total strokes gained than the average PGA Tour golf course. And while there’s less correlation in the predictive power of putting and off-the-tee performance at Muirfield Village, so too does it have less of an influence on total strokes gained in the tournament.
And while driving accuracy tends to be much more predictive towards who will excel at Muirfield Village than driving distance does, overall, each area has much less of an influence on total strokes gained than it does at the average PGA Tour golf course. The reason why each area doesn’t pack quite as much of a punch is the high rate of penalty strokes. So even if players hit a ton of fairways, missing at the wrong time on the wrong hole will be detrimental to total strokes gained.
Overall, success at Muirfield Village comes down to great iron play, delicate touch around the green, limiting huge numbers on the scorecard, and some luck. That will be the recipe for whoever earns the win at the 2023 Memorial Tournament.