From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
Architect Jack Nicklaus was set to play an inaugural round at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan., on Sept. 13, 2001. But the terrorist attacks of 9/11 postponed that. Jack was finally able to play it on June 19 of the following year, and I was in the gallery. As he did with all his grand-opening exhibition rounds, Jack was wired for sound and explained his design as he played.
I'd seen the property early on and considered it a bland piece of land for golf, a dome of pasture with few trees and little character. But Jack characterized it differently. "What was here was a nice moving piece of property, gently moving to spots where it's supposed to," he said. "It was not a severe piece of land. We had an open plains situation, very open, so we tried to get the golf course to collect the golf ball in wind conditions that can blow it away."
Which means that many of LionsGate's fairways and greens are recessed into the land, and a number of ponds were created to capture run-off and store water for irrigation. Both those elements help the surrounding homesites, which now look down over golf holes rather than up at them. At several spots, the homes are on the far sides of the ponds, giving the layout an even more spacious appearance.
Another prairie aspect was retained by planting a variety of tall native grasses in the far roughs between fairways and homes. The tall, tan stems of such grasses make a nice contrast with the bluegrass blend of manicured roughs, the yellow-green tones of the tight, firm Zoysiagrass fairways and the rich colors of the bentgrass greens.
Someone in the gallery asked Jack which was the "signature hole" on this course.
"I don't believe in signature holes," he answered. "A golf course should be a blend of holes. As a designer, you try to make sure that every hole on the golf course is what you want. You don't want two or three really difficult holes in a row, particularly if they're into the wind. You just try to build a rhythm and balance into your course. Sure, some holes are better for photography than others. But I don't particularly want to be identified with signature holes."
He told his audience that he patterned some holes after ones he's admired in the past. The drive-and-pitch par-4 seventh was inspired by the 15th at Rhode Island Country Club, a Donald Ross design he and son Gary had played just a few years before. He said the par-3 eighth is his salute to the infamous Redan Hole at Scotland's North Berwick (although few would recognize it as such), and the very attractive 447-yard 11th was a variation of the 13th at his own Muirfield Village Golf Club. Not much like it, he admitted, as Muirfield's plays uphill, while this 11th plays downhill. It was the shot requirements of the Muirfield hole he tried to instill. And the slick bank of closely mowed turf feeding off the 13th green and into a bunker was obviously a nod to Augusta National.
Following the round, Jack was effusive in his praise for his design team and the course builders. "This is the fruits of six years of work," he said. "All the things you do on a golf course, you think you're doing it the right way, but until you see how it plays, you're not dead sure. In the early years, we'd open a course and I'd go away thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I have a list of 50 or 60 changes that need to be made.’ Nowadays I walk away, and I might have one or two things I want changed. When you have design associates like Chris Cochran, who's been with me for 19 years, you don't make too many mistakes."
Jack said that in 2002. Cochran, who joined Nicklaus Design in 1983, will celebrate his 40th anniversary with Jack in 2023.
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