Jack Vickers was an oil man by trade but a golf man at heart, the founder of Castle Pines Golf Club outside Denver and the International, the PGA Tour event it hosted for 21 years.
Vickers, who at 93 died on Monday, also was an Augusta National member and, most importantly, a friend of Jack Nicklaus, who designed Castle Pines for him.
“We lost a tremendous friend today in Jack Vickers -- not only a friend to Barbara and me, but a great friend to the game of golf,” Nicklaus wrote on Facebook.
“Jack was someone who cared deeply about the history and the traditions of the game of golf, and wanted to protect them for the future. Jack was always a huge supporter of the game -- whether it was in Colorado or nationwide; whether it was the game played at the highest level or his support of grassroots programs. Simply put, Jack Vickers was very good for the game of golf. Jack was a good man, and very well-liked by all.”
Vickers met Nicklaus when the latter was 18 and playing in the Trans-Mississippi Amateur at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., in 1958.
The first time they played golf together was at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club shortly after it opened. What was memorable about that day was not only the fact that Vickers made a hole-in-one on the 16th hole -- believed to be the first ace ever at Muirfield Village -- but that he came away impressed with Nicklaus’ skill as a course designer.
So in the late ‘70s, when Vickers was ready to build his own golf course, he asked Nicklaus to design it. “But I’m a flatlander,” Nicklaus replied jokingly. The property on which Castle Pines was built is on the side of a hill about 25 miles south of Denver.
“Jack walked every foot of it before we began,” Vickers told Colorado Avid Golfer magazine. “We helicoptered up and down, too. The thing I like most of all about Jack is that he is not a ‘yes’ man. He would listen to me and tell me if he thought I was wrong, and tell me why. And if he thought I was right, he was perfectly willing to make changes.”
The course opened in 1981 to rave reviews, including one that did not make it into print.
“When Golf Digest began its annual Best New Course awards in 1983, the review panel selected Castle Pines as the Private Course winner,” Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten wrote in the latest ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Courses, “but Bill Davis, co-founder of Golf Digest and founding father of all its course rankings, didn't care for the course and vetoed its inclusion. So no private course was honored that year. Davis soon recognized his error, and in 1987 - its first year of eligibility - Castle Pines joined America's 100 Greatest and has remained there ever since.”
It is 42nd in Golf Digest’s latest rankings.
Vickers had asked Nicklaus to build a course worthy of hosting a major championship, but the major never came, so he started his own tournament, the International, in 1986.
But Vickers, no yes man himself, eventually butted heads with the PGA Tour when the Tiger Woods era took off.
“He hasn't played here in a while, five years I believe,” Vickers said in 2005. “That's a definite loss when you don't have him in here. I just think the tour's got to address some of these things.”
The inability to have Woods in the field was a detriment to satisfying sponsors (or potential sponsors). Vickers also wanted to move away from playing the tournament in August, when thunderstorms seemingly were a daily occurrence. The PGA Tour initially recommended it become part of the FedEx Cup playoffs, but those dates fell in September, which meant competing with football, a losing proposition in Denver Broncos’ country.
The International was moved to a July date on the 2007 schedule, but Vickers, unable to secure a title sponsor, decided to cancel it.
“Hopefully this is not the end of the International tournament,” Vickers said at the news conference. “We’re here. The assets are here. But it’s not our move. I’m trying to be helpful to Tim [Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner at the time], who’s a good friend. But if something isn’t done, you’re not going to have a tour. Right now it’s a one-man show.”