Jack Nicklaus II, president of Nicklaus Design, is the oldest of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus’s five children. He has established himself as a course designer, with thirty-one courses opened worldwide: sixteen solo designs and fifteen co-designs with his father, including Superstition Mountain-Lost Gold and the Golf Club at Estrella in Arizona; Cherry Creek Country Club in Denver, Colorado; and Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Not only have numerous Jack II designs or co-designs earned national and international accolades, but many have hosted tour or professional events. The Club at TwinEagles in Naples, Florida, was host to the Champions Tour’s ACE Group Classic and served as the host venue for the 1999 Office Depot Father/Son Challenge, won by his father and brother Gary. Jack II’s Heritage Course at Ibis Golf and Country Club in West Palm Beach was one of two Nicklaus Design courses used for the LPGA’s 1999 season-opening event. Legacy Golf Links in Aberdeen, NC, hosted the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Internationally, Hanbury Manor has hosted the English Open.
My mother tells the story much better than I do, but when I was probably six or seven years old, somebody asked me, “Well, what does your dad do for work?” My response was, “My dad doesn’t work, he just plays golf.”
Four decades later, I long ago realized that my father not only played golf—and very well—for a living, he changed the face of the game. And he still does. Several years removed from the end of his record-setting career, my father continues to shape the game of golf and leave another legacy through his golf course design work worldwide. I have been asked countless times growing up what it was like being the son of the greatest golfer in history, and what it was and is like to follow in his footsteps. Jack Nicklaus is an amazing man. Most people see the public image of my dad making the birdie and eagle putts, raising trophies to the sky in celebration, or slipping on a size 44 green jacket. But to me and my four siblings, he’s simply “Dad,” and he’s been as great a family man and role model to us as he has been an icon for the rest of the world.
In terms of business, my dad has enjoyed a great deal of success, and at sixty-eight, he’s in the prime of his second career as a designer.
I thoroughly enjoy being on a golf course site with him, watching him work his masterful creativity as a designer. His imagination is truly wonderful. You get a sense of that imagination each time you go out there, walk around in the mud with him, and watch him stare at a piece of property like a blank canvas, and then seconds later scribble his vision for golf on a piece of paper. I did that with him as a little kid in 1972, trudging around what is now Muirfield Village Golf Club, watching him create his course. I was not quite eleven years old at the time, and it is my first recollection of being on a golf course site with him.
Dad’s got a great ability to see the total project as it should unfold. Where a lot of us get caught up in the forest, he’s able to get up to about 40,000 feet and decide what is best for the developer or owner, what’s best for the overall project, and what’s best for that piece of property. The developer might have a vision for the end result, but my father has the mind and the mind’s eye to get the developer to the end.
These are just some of what I observed while following in my dad’s footsteps. The bonus was my dad allowing me to work side by side with him, share some of my thoughts on the design process, and eventually do some designs on my own. It’s been a wonderful trek, a great education for me, and I see those lessons paying off now in my own career.
As a son, you’re never going to meet your father’s highest standards. As a father myself, I know that you place higher thresholds on your own children than you do on others’. My dad has allowed me to do my own work as well as complete his directives on different courses in which he’s heavily involved.
At Nicklaus Design, my father has assembled a tremendous group of design associates and support staff, who are the most highly skilled in the golf architecture industry. I am able to work closely with them, just as my dad has over the years. We’ve got a great team, and we take our cue from a tremendous leader. It is absolutely a collaborative process, and I think we make good decisions along the way for both the quality of the design and the betterment of the overall project.
Most of us are in this business because we love the game of golf, yet I find myself playing very little golf anymore. If you ask anyone on staff, you’d find that none of us get to play as much as we would like.]
I had some minor successes in both amateur and professional golf, and while I don’t play the game as much as I used to, I still love to compete. I guess you could liken me to Don Quixote—always chasing the impossible dream. I still have aspirations to one day compete again at the highest level, and with age fifty closing in, perhaps the Champions Tour awaits with a second chance at success like it has given so many careers. On the other hand, what makes me think I could beat those same guys at fifty that I could not beat when I was thirty? Still, as a golfer and competitor, I don’t want to give up that last hope. So if you see me at the range, digging in the dirt to resurrect my golf game, just know that the work comes with a lot of fun.
After all, didn’t someone once say that playing golf is not really work?