The late Arnold Palmer inspired a new collegiate event at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Yes, it really happened that way. And the match will carry the Nicklaus name, to boot.
After serving as co-captain of the U.S. team in the 2018 Arnold Palmer Cup in France, Therese Hession, then the women’s golf coach at Ohio State University, was elevated to her current position as director of golf over both the women’s and men’s programs. Fresh in her mind was her Palmer Cup experience at Evian Resort Golf Club, where collegiate women joined the men for the first time.
Creating a mixed-team event seemed like a no-brainer. “I thought it would be a cool way to bring both of my teams together, and I knew of no other event in college golf like it,” said Hession, who approached officials at Muirfield Village about hosting it. They readily embraced the concept, she said, especially after learning Hession’s plan for what she wanted to call it.
After two years of delays, the Barbara Nicklaus Cup debuts next month at Muirfield Village, annual site of the Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour.
Scheduled for Oct. 4-5, the match will feature a round-robin four-school competition that includes the men’s and women’s golf teams from Auburn, Arizona State and Florida State in addition to the Buckeyes. Hession wanted to name it after Barbara Nicklaus because of her contributions and support of the game and to charitable causes.
“Plus, she’s a Buckeye,” Hession said. “She has been such an inspiration to me and to so many others. I’ve watched Barbara from afar even before I came to Ohio State. She is just the kind of lady that has done so many great things for people, for the game of golf and who has touched a lot of hearts. This was something on my heart that I wanted to do.”
Barbara Nicklaus, 81, is an Ohio State alum and a recipient of several golf-related awards, including the Bob Jones Award from the USGA and the PGA of America Distinguished Service Award. Barbara and Jack, the hall of fame golfer and holder of a record 18 professional major titles, met at Ohio State as freshmen in 1957 and have been married for 61 years. A Columbus native, Barbara actively serves on the Captains Club of Muirfield Village, the organization that advises on the conduct of the Memorial Tournament, and is co-chair with son, Gary, of the Honda Classic, the tour event in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has long been called, “The First Lady of Golf.”
Among her many personal accomplishments is spearheading the establishment in 2004 of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, dedicated to improving pediatric care and research.
In her 30th year at Ohio State, Hession is a seven-time Big Ten Coach of the Year who has led the women’s team to 10 Big Ten titles and 17 appearances in the NCAA Division I Championship. The Indiana native had hoped to add the Barbara Nicklaus Cup to the Buckeyes’ 2019 schedule, but the start of renovations at Muirfield Village forced a delay to the spring of 2020 at an alternate site—Jack Nicklaus’ home course in Jupiter, Fla., the Bear’s Club. However, the coronavirus pandemic caused further postponement to this fall, enabling Ohio State to host the Barbara Nicklaus Cup at its originally proposed venue.
“This is our third time to give it a go, and we are so excited to provide an amazing experience for our student-athletes,” Hession said. “Two days playing Muirfield Village … that in itself should be something memorable for all the players.”
Each school will field six players from each men’s and women’s team to compete in four mixed foursomes and four singles matches in head-to-head contests against each of the other three schools. Each match counts for one point with a maximum of eight points per contest. The school with the most points after the three separate rounds will be the winner.
Members of the winning school will receive Muirfield Village Golf Club pin flags signed by both Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, said Hession, who hopes that a trophy might be created for the occasion in the next few years.
While Hession isn’t sure if the Barbara Nicklaus Cup would be the first mixed-team collegiate match ever held, it is believed to be the only one in the nation during this fall season.