Jack Nicklaus is one of only five men to have won all four Grand Slam championships in his career. The native of Columbus, Ohio, now living in North Palm Beach, Florida, won a record eighteen professional major championship titles: six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens, and three British Opens. He also won two U.S. Amateur titles. After playing numerous tournaments and exhibitions throughout the early 1960s on courses designed by the greens chairman or superintendent at those clubs, Jack developed an eye and an interest in what was good in golf course design. Then, in the mid 1960s, Jack was invited by Pete Dye to The Golf Club in Jack’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Dye was designing the course, and asked Jack to look at what he was doing and offer suggestions. A hobby and budding passion was born.
A few years later, Jack and Dye teamed to design Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Harbour Town quickly earned its place among the Top 100 courses in the country, followed closely by Jack’s design at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Considered a break-through design in the 1970s, Muirfield Village has been a fixture among the Top 50 courses in the world. Nicklaus Design, as a company, has more than 330 courses open for play in thiry-two countries, including Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, New York; Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Alabama; Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Rock, Colorado; and Desert Highlands in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The question comes often these days: Now that you are a few years removed from your tournament career, what motivates you? What makes you tick?
In a word, it’s the ability to create. To take a piece of raw land and challenge myself and my own limits to create a beautiful golf course for generations to enjoy. To create opportunities in new countries and emerging markets to introduce and grow the game. To create ways to give back to the game that has given me and my family so much. To create a vehicle to quench my love of competition.
We all get just one life, one shot at it, and you need to make the most of it. You not only want to be satisfied with yourself and your accomplishments, but you hope that along the way, you have made a difference in life or two.
I am fortunate to be able to say that I not only lived out a blessed career through playing the game of golf, but I have enjoyed—and still enjoy tremendously—a second career through the business of golf.
Perhaps it is difficult to believe, but I am having as much fun in this second life of mine as I did in the first, traveling the world, designing golf courses in every corner of the globe. In many ways, I am finding even more personal satisfaction in this second career, because I am able to give back to the game that has been so good to me; I am able to impact the growth of the game worldwide, and, as we would all like to do, touch lives along the way.
It has been said that too often in business or life we overexaggerate yesterday, we overestimate tomorrow, and we underestimate today. In other words, we dwell too much on the good or bad that happened yesterday, and bank too much on what might happen tomorrow. Today matters. And I like to think that throughout my career and life I have tried to make the most of today.
It’s just like when I played golf. I always wanted to make the most out of each round. I tried to focus on the shot at hand—forgetting about the last shot and not worrying about the next. It’s the same approach in business or life, when you make today and every day count.
Golf was always my vehicle to competition. Now golf course design is that vehicle. It is a competition with myself, my creativity, and a piece of ground.
It is, for me, the challenge of going into new countries and markets and shaping the game of golf—and through golf, impacting tourism, economies, and lives around the globe I will admit to being proud of the fact that our company, Nicklaus Design, has designed close to 330 courses around the world, and we have courses open for play in thirty-two countries and thirty-eight states. I am even more proud of the fact we have golf courses under development in forty-five different countries, and even more excited with the fact that thirty of those countries are ones in which we have never been involved before.
When you look at Eastern Europe, its countries combine for only 2 percent of all courses on the continent. Yet we are now working in Croatia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic, to name a few. Until recently, Croatia had three golf courses to service 4.5 million people and one of Europe’s fastest-growing tourism industries. I was fortunate a couple of years ago to meet with Croatia’s prime minister, Ivo Sanader, and his cabinet to discuss golf’s impact on tourism. Not long ago, I also sat down with Yury Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow, Russia, about his hope to create with golf what Russia successfully did with tennis. I was approached probably twenty or so years ago to design a course in Russia, but at the time, I did not want to be involved with the current government and I declined the opportunity. Now that it is a new Russia, I embrace the opportunity to be a part of its future.
The same can be said with South Africa. I always loved the beauty of South Africa, and books authored by Wilbur Smith that used the country as the backdrop were among my favorites. So when apartheid was officially abolished in 1994, I wanted to become a part of the new South Africa. Since 1998, we have opened four golf courses, and at least another six under development. That is exciting to be a part of country’s future!
I would have never imagined a decade ago working in Panama, Cambodia, or Vietnam. Yet we are. We are hoping to shape the game and, in some ways, economies worldwide, from Central Asia and Kazakhstan to Central America and Nicaragua, where there is only one eighteen-hole golf course. A little more than a year ago, we opened our first golf course in the Dominican Republic at a place called Cap Cana, near Punta Cana on the eastern coastline. It is gratifying to hear that, thanks in part to golf, the developer at Cap Cana has set worldwide records in property sales, and in less than a year has secured a high-profile Champions Tour event. What’s more exciting is to know that the project created more than 4,000 jobs, most of them for Dominicans from Punta Cana to Santo Domingo. And when the project is built out, they will employ more than 28,000, with housing, health care, and a school on site.
It is about making a difference. It is about making a difference for others. And what I am most proud of is being able to make a difference for others with others. It’s true that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and in my business and my life, I have been blessed to have wonderful people surround me.
Golf course design is about realizing a vision, and I truly believe that teamwork makes the dream work. I am proud that at least twenty-two of our past and present designers have earned memberships to the American Society of Golf Course Architects. I am honored that a third of the twenty design associates we use worldwide have been with us for at least eighteen years.
These talented individuals have become the backbone of the Nicklaus Design family. But there is no greater joy to a father than the ability to work side by side with his own family, his own children. I am proud to say that all five of my children have played a part in our business. In fact, my four sons and my son-in-law have combined to contribute to close to sixty courses our firm has designed worldwide, and my oldest Jack II, is not only president of our Nicklaus Design, he is a member of the ASGCA. We are truly a family business.
And when you talk about the business of family that is truly where I am the luckiest. I have five wonderful children, twenty-one beautiful grandchildren, and a life partner who has been by my side for over forty-seven years. No one I know has made a difference in my life and a difference in so many lives than my wife Barbara.
Barbara gets the credit for the many lives she touches through her support and involvement with numerous charities, including the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which supports pediatric health care in a five-county area of South Florida. Whether she’s raising money to fight children’s cancer or making cookies for a grandkid’s school bake sale, both Barbara and I have enjoyed and been gratified by being involved in the community, and hopefully we have many more years to continue trying to make a positive impact. At the same time, we hope we have made an impression on the lives of our own children and instilled in them the values and the motivation to carry on what Barbara and I have tried to start.
I have always said that no matter what I did in my tournament career, golf course design will be my lasting legacy. But if I could rewrite that, I would say that if Barbara and I did our jobs right, the most important legacy we have created rests with our children and their children.