A kinder, gentler Jack

JackNicklaus.cropped

Nicklaus has designed over 100 golf courses, and he believes there will be more demand for mid- to high-range public developments. He tries to design courses to fit the needs of his clients. The German, Latin American and Asian markets are booming.

At 54, Jack Nicklaus clearly is looking into the sunset of his playing career. But the winner of 96 tournaments, including 20 major titles, is presiding over a thriving business designing more than 100golf courses around the world. At his home in North Palm Beach, Fla., he discussed the latest trends in an interview with Maclean’s Editor Robert Lewis. Highlights:

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Q: The baby boomers are taking up golf. How is this changing the game?

A: Most of our fairly high-end developments are probably few and far between now. You’re going to see far more developments done in what I would call the middle-high range, with more of a publicgolf course facility within it, instead of the country club experience.

Q: What does your research and your instinct tell you that golfers these days are looking for?

A: Golfers have a tendency to be very masochistic. They like to punish themselves for some reason. A lot of them like tough golf courses. Now there’s a segment that likes easy golf courses. And the owner has to determine what he wants. Now that we’re doing public golf, obviously I’m going to do a fairly soft, easy golf course for two reasons: one, you want your maintenance to be easy; two, you want to make sure that the people can get around it in a reasonable length of time.

Q: They do well.

A: They do well, but there’s also a formula of how much money you can spend, how much you can charge. If you go much over $4 million, you’re probably going to have a hard time getting it back in most any market.

Q: What are you aiming to have your public rounds billed at?

A: More people want a quality facility, a country club experience at a public price, and you’re probably talking somewhere between $25 and $60.

Q: Are your new courses a little bit more approachable for the average golfer?

A: My design philosophies have expanded. At a particular time I probably had one basic design philosophy. Now I have to be able to do whatever the client wants, whether he wants it difficult or whether he wants it easy, and so I’ve learned to do that over time. Most of the first golf courses I did were tournament golf courses. Those are the ones that received all the publicity. Then I happened to do a couple of golf courses that were resort golf courses that happened to get some recognition. They have a little different style, a little more forgiveness.

Q: What are the world trends?

A: We just signed a deal with the German Golf Federation. There are only nine holes of public golf in Germany right now. We signed a deal to do 25 public facilities in Germany. And the deal happened basically because of the unified Germany: now all the farm subsidies are disappearing and so they’ve got all this land. The Green Party, which was fighting golf, now wants golf because they wantgolf beside their towns rather than factories.

Q: Now Latin America is a potential market.

A: We’ve got four possible golf courses, one in Uruguay, one in Rio and two in El Salvador. We went into Mexico and the government is working with us on developing projects. We went to Brazil and we met with the government. We went to Argentina and met with the president. We’re getting a lot of business in those areas.

Q: What’s fuelling it?

A: In Mexico, it is mostly resort business. They’ve got the best weather in the world, yet nobody goes down there to play golf. They are missing a segment of the people that travel. Southeast Asia is actually the biggest part of our business. We’ve got six contracts in China right now, and we finished two golf courses there. We’ve finished about seven projects in Thailand. We’ve got three or four projects in Malaysia, three or four projects in Indonesia, and we’ve got one in Brunei for the Sultan, down there on the ocean.

Q: The last time I talked to you, in 1988, you were about to retire. Obviously that didn’t happen.

A: I’m always about to retire. I’m still about to retire. I’m trying to play a little bit of golf and trying to be halfway decent at it. I’m having a horrible year this year. I haven’t responded much to my own game this year. I am a better golfer than that.

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