Golf Digest editors picks
Jack Nicklaus

In His Own Words: Course Design

Jun 7, 2010

Look, I'm not naturally business-minded. I don't think anybody's naturally anything. It doesn't seem to matter what you make in this game, you always seem to spend it, you always seem to need to get more. Cash is the kind of thing you always wish you had, only you've always got your money tied up, you know what I mean?
[Punch (U.K.), 1972]

I've wanted to design golf courses ever since I was a kid. I suppose it comes from the way I've played the game. To find the proper way to play any hole, I've always begun by asking myself what the architect has tried to do with it. So I've been interested in architectural ideas and problems ever since I can remember. Any hole that didn't make sense to me I'd try to redesign. It was fun. It helped my game.
[Esquire, 1973]

Par-3 holes, I think, were meant to be played with an iron. There should be no demand for a wood on them. The new courses that make a big deal of short holes that measure over 230 yards have succumbed to a confused set of values. The fact that players make high scores on a hole doesn't necessarily mean that it's a good hole.
[Jack Nicklaus with Herbert Warren Wind. The Greatest Game of All: My Life In Golf. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969]

It really hurts me to cut down a tree, and I avoid it whenever possible.
[Pastimes, 1973]

You elevate an area and fit a green into it. You get instant background and maturity. It takes more money and dirt, but you don't have to wait 15 years for a golf course.
[Golf Digest, 1974, on Muirfield Village]

Counting up how many times I'd used the driver [at Muirfield during the 1966 British] during the four rounds -- 17 -- I was also forcibly struck with how much more precision counts in golf than power, a realization that has stayed with me ever since, and that hopefully is reflected in my course design work.
[Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden. My Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997]

If I had to put a date on the beginning of my "second" career, that of golf course designer, it would be a few weeks before that first British Open victory. Like so many golfers, I became an "armchair architect" at an early age, constantly visualizing ways to improve my home course, Scioto, in Columbus, along with, as my wings spread, many of the others I played. By the late 1950s I had become convinced, along with other members, that Scioto had deteriorated badly, particularly in greens growing away from bunkers and bunkers filling in, along with an overall erosion of charm. Eventually, in response to our ever more persistent lobbying, the club decided to hire a top architect to do some rejuvenation, and brought in Dick Wilson, whose credentials by then included a well-regarded revamping of Shinnecock Hills. I immediately appointed myself Mr. Wilson's unsolicited, unpaid and probably unwanted assistant, following him around the course and listening to his ideas and rationale for them. Unfortunately, it wasn't until later -- too much later, sadly -- that I recognized what he was doing, particularly in bringing in two design associates, Bob Von Hagge to redo the front nine and Joe Lee for the back. Both would become renowned designers in their own right, but the result of their work on Scioto, in my estimation, was that one great 18-hole course became two unrelated nines. The only good thing about it was that it taught me the difference between rejuvenation and redesign.
[My Story]

Another cost factor that is often overlooked by armchair critics is the demand that every new course these days instantly look both beautiful and mature -- sufficiently esthetically "finished" to seem like it has existed since the Dutch or Scots first invented golf... At one course I did, the expense of adding mature trees and moving others around ran into millions of dollars, but was perceived by the developer to be well justified by how much more they enabled him to ask for membership fees and homesites.
[My Story]

My No. 1 goal in terms of creating individual shot values is to make the player use his mind ahead of his muscles -- to control his emotions sufficiently to really think through his options before drawing a club from the bag.
[My Story]

If you would like a primer in how not to become a golf course and real-estate developer, talk to any of the guys involved in the early days of [Muirfield Village]. If we had known what we were getting ourselves into, there is a good chance there never would have been a Muirfield Village or a Memorial Tournament. It was a painful learning experience. What finally carried the day was blind, pigheaded, cloth-eared, head-in-the-sand, Teutonic stubbornness, plus large amounts of thought, sweat and salesmanship along with many sleepless nights. The stubbornness was my contribution. The rest came from the friends and business associates I dragged into the nightmare.
[My Story]

How many golf courses do you do that you don't retweak? How many changes have I made at Muirfield Village? I've made nine million changes at Muirfield Village.
[ASAPSports, which prepares tournament interview transcripts, 1998 Doral-Ryder Open]

I opened up a couple of golf courses with Jackie, we co-designed, and I'll describe the first hole [during the inaugural round] and it's 405 yards, and this is a nice driver and a middle to short iron, and Jackie will describe the second hole and say this is a short par-4, driver, flip [wedge]. That's how he describes a hole, a 470-yard hole. I sit there, wait a minute, 470 yards is supposed to be a driver and a pretty good hit.
[Tournament transcript, 1998 Doral-Ryder Open]

Golfers have a tendency to be very masochistic. They like to punish themselves for some reason. A lot of them like tough courses.
[Maclean's (Canada), 1998]

[Pinehurst No. 2] is my favorite golf course, from a design standpoint. ... I happen to like Pebble Beach better as a golf course to play. I think that Pebble Beach is my favorite golf course to go to. I think Augusta is my favorite place to go play golf. I have different ways to define it. That may make more people happy.
[Tournament transcript, 1999 U.S. Open]

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