"We wanted to bring back the game, bring back the professionals to the city of Columbus and do something special for the people and sports fans in that area. That's what we wanted," says Nicklaus, reflecting on the origins of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
So Young and Nicklaus set out to make that dream a reality. Nicklaus identified land in Dublin where he had hunted as a boy, and then-PGA Commissioner Joe Dey walked the property with him " ... in the mud," says Nicklaus.
The tournament, dubbed the Memorial, was created around the theme of honoring players and others who contributed significantly to the game, says Nicklaus. In its first year, 1976, the Memorial broke new ground in more ways than one.
"We wanted to create a golf course that would allow spectators to better watch the golf action during a tournament," says Nicklaus. "It was actually the first golf course done, from inception, for tournament golf."
Because of this, the course was designed with galleries in mind.
"The Masters was accommodating for tournament golf, but we really built Muirfield from the start with an amphitheater setting in mind," Nicklaus says. "We wanted to make sure people were treated properly and the players were treated properly. We wanted to create something very special, and I think we did that. We created a place where the people love to come watch the game. The players love to come, because it's a good golf course, and they are treated wonderfully."
Nicklaus is gearing up for the 2004 tournament, which will be held June 3 to June 6. As part of the overall celebration, which begins May 31, Nicklaus will hold his annual golf clinic, just one way the golf legend gives back to the region where he was raised.
And, if you ask him about the impact the tournament has had, he'll say, without hesitation, that it has met his expectations.
"I believe the Memorial Tournament has done very well," he says. "We've tried to keep it as noncommercial as we can, which is hard to do in this day and age, and still be able to compete with the large purses out there. We've done that pretty well, and here we are, 28 years later."
It's not just the players and the tournament's charity, Children's Hospital in Columbus, that reap the rewards (last year's winner, Kenny Perry, took home $900,000). The Memorial also has created a significant financial impact on the community.
Recognizing that it draws visitors from all over the country, in 2002, tournament Executive Director Dan Sullivan commissioned a survey to quantify the economic impact on Dublin and the surrounding Columbus region since the tournament's creation.
The results were eye-opening. Says Sullivan, "About $356 million was plowed into the community."
It still takes practice
Despite their success, Nicklaus and Sullivan agree that keeping the Memorial relevant and successful requires continuous improvement. Both the course itself and operations have evolved over the years to meet changing needs and a changing economy.
"We've made adjustments and improvements to the golf course almost every year, listening not only to the players but to the [Muirfield Village] membership who has the course for all but one week out of the year," Nicklaus says. "We've adjusted to technology and the way the game is played today. We've also adjusted in ways to benefit the gallery and our patrons. The few decades have been a time to grow the Memorial Tournament.
"Even after doing this for 27 or so years, we were making significant adjustments to the golf course before last year's tournament."
Among the changes was the total redesign of the 17th hole, creating what Nicklaus calls the strongest two finishing holes in golf, and adjustments to every green on the course.
"All of these decisions we see as improvements to the golf course, and, in turn, the tournament," he says. "The players and fans have responded well to every change we've made."
Sullivan has also done his share of tinkering on the business end.
"Over the last few years, like a lot of other entertainment venues, we've seen a downturn in sponsorships because of the economy," Sullivan says.
While the tournament still boasts a corporate retention rate of more than 90 percent a year, these companies are participating in a smaller fashion.
To combat this nationwide trend, Sullivan began offering a broader range of corporate sponsorship opportunities.
"Now companies can entertain as few as four, six and up to 10 people at a table in a tented area on the golf course," he says. "It's a unique option; they can choose the 14th or 18th hole. That option didn't exist three years ago."
And, of course, companies can still entertain on a larger scale.
The new, smaller packages were a direct result of listening and paying attention to the needs of corporate clients.
"We do a great job staying in touch and maintaining relationships," Sullivan says.
It is Sullivan who maintains these relationships, working with the tournament's full-time sales representative.
"I try to be out in front of as many people as I can be," he says.
He also keeps an eye on what other entertainment venues and tournaments are offering.
"We pay attention," he says. "And we spend a lot of time listening to clients, understanding the market and building off ideas that are out there. The benefit of being a PGA tournament is the association. We share ideas, and the association provides a platform for generating new ideas."
Mutual dependence and benefits
With all its glamour and glitz, it's easy to overlook the impact the Memorial Tournament has on the community and Greater Columbus region. But a mutually beneficial relationship has formed over the years.
"The tournament is extremely important," says Gary Houk, vice president of information technology and business integration at OCLC in Dublin and president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. "The hotels and restaurants do very well -- it's probably the biggest week of the year."
Houk says the golf focus also spreads outside the Muirfield Village golf course.
"A lot of people like to spend a half day watching golf at the tournament, then play golf at other courses the other half," he says. "The golf industry does well that week, not just the hotels and restaurants."
But the community isn't just on the receiving end, says Sullivan. It takes a lot of community support to pull off a smoothly run tournament.
"It takes 3,000 volunteers to staff the tournament," Sullivan says. "They come from all over, not just Central Ohio."
But the majority, about 2,000, come from Columbus, through Children's Hospital. Other community groups that volunteer at the tournament include the Aladdin Shriners and local Lion's Clubs. These volunteers do everything from making sandwiches, manning concession stands and posting scores to providing child care for players' families.
It's a lot of work for a seven-day event.
"Other sports venues have a longer period of time, an entire season, to get it right. We have seven days," Sullivan says. "We have to have the volunteers lined up and ready to go, with no lingering questions. It's a monumental task."
But after more than a quarter of a century of practice, Nicklaus and Sullivan are satisfied with the tournament's status.
"We're happy with the current structure," Sullivan says. "We're always focused, though, on the spectator experience, and are always improving and tweaking it."
And Nicklaus says that these days, putting on a world-class tournament has become an easier task. In fact, he believes the Memorial is just hitting its stride.
"I think you find that with anything you want to do better, it's more challenging," says Nicklaus. "The older I get, the worse I play golf; thus, playing the game is more challenging to me. As the Memorial Tournament grows, matures and gets better each year, the easier it has become.
"I guess things have worked in reverse. Playing golf was far less challenging for me at one point in my life than putting on a world-class tournament."
HOW TO REACH: The Memorial Tournament, (614) 889-6700 or www.thememorialtournament.com