Q&A with Jack Nicklaus

April 2009

Jack Nicklaus doesn't need much introduction. In a recent Q&A, a fair question could've been: What's more impressive than your combined first- or second-place finishes in 37 majors? Maybe that he's one of the few people who can still refer to Tiger Woods as a "kid" and get away with it. We spoke to the Golden Bear about everything from golf course architecture, to fly fishing to travel.

How many courses have you've designed?
Our figures show that I personally have done 271, of which 227 of those are solo, 31 are co-designs and 13 are redesigns. How's that for an answer? It seems like I have that in front of me, doesn't it? [Laughs]

I'm told you currently have projects in 47 countries, 27 of them new countries you've never worked in. That makes it seem like you're busier now than you have been in your entire life.
Well, nobody's busy right now. The business has shut down to an absolute screeching halt. And, you know, do we have work? Yeah, absolutely we have work. Do we have golf courses under construction? Yes. I really don't know how many we have right now. Normally we have 50 or 60, and we probably still have 30 or 35 under active construction. I have a new property I was at last week -- a little island off of Panama called Isla Viveros. It's a 1,500-acre island with 160 feet of elevation. It's gorgeous.

In the Bahamas on Royal Island, we're doing a course with Roger Staubach, which will have 18 holes along the ocean. There's no housing. No nothing. We're taking the eastern end of the island and it will be all golf. It will be spectacular. We were supposed to start construction this coming year but it depends on what this economy does. They have a lot invested in the island and I think the project's going to go. It's just a matter of when.

Are there parts of this planet that are out of bounds -- where you're not interested in going because there are health concerns or safety issues?
Antarctica and Artic. I don't think there would be too many good courses there.

The vaccinations you must need...
We don't have much of that. I did that years ago. I keep my boosters up. I've been doing that for a long time. But we do travel. Where have I gone lately? We've done quite a bit in Southern Africa. We looked at properties in Zimbabwe, Namibia, but I have not done any courses there. Another project that looks like it's going to go is in Mauritius. Northern Africa, we have courses in Morocco, prospective projects in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

There's nothing in the middle of Africa. We had one about 15 years ago in Zaire, where Mobutu was, where he got overthrown. He was going to do a head of state place and we were going to do the golf course and of course it never happened. Through the Middle East we're in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We've had proposals from Israel, Jordan, just off the coast of Lebanon -- we have a project on Cyprus and Turkey, Greece, two-thirds of all the Eastern Bloc Countries we've got projects.

Do you ever let politics factor into your decision to go to these places?
I've never had an issue any place I've gone. Do I watch what I'm doing? Sure. There are a couple of places I'm not wild about. There are places you couldn't get me back to with a team of wild horses, but I'd rather not name those.

Have you had the chance to talk design with Tiger?
No. I wouldn't think so. Tiger, at this point in time, wouldn't know anything about design. He knows how to play golf and he knows what a golf course looks like. But it was no different than when I was his age and starting out -- I wouldn't know anything about design. If he decides to get involved he'll learn. He's a smart kid and it depends on how much he wants to get involved. He won't know how to do it, but he'll learn. It will take him seven or eight golf courses before he'll learn enough before he'll really be able to talk about it intelligently.

Is there one piece of design advice you'd pass on?
I would say, listen as much as you can. Take in as much as you can because there's probably nothing new in design. It's just how you apply it and how you learn it. Pete Dye started out as an insurance salesman in Indiana and started fiddling around with Indianapolis Country Club. And then people started asking him to do different things. How long did it take him to learn? It took him quite awhile, but I'll tell you he just kept learning and learning and learning. And if Tiger, if we wishes to be involved, he'll just learn and learn and learn. But now, good gracious, he has a lot of years to go play golf and so my guess is he's not going to do a lot right now. But we welcome him. I welcome him with open arms. Anytime you get the kind of fees he does it raises the bar for everybody else, so that's OK.

What's the best piece of property you've ever worked with?
Properties are, in many cases, location. If you have any creativity you ought to be able to create what you want. The ability to be able to create within sand gives you a lot more flexibility. Sebonack was one of those. St. Francis Links in South Africa was one of those. Dismal River in Nebraska was one of those. Dismal River was probably the most minimalist golf course I've ever done. We moved less than 5,000 yards of dirt on the whole golf course. And I'd say that 4,000 of it was on one little knob we took out on a partially blind par 3.

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