To say that Jack Nicklaus needs no introduction to golfers or even sports fans would be the greatest understatement of the year. "The Golden Bear" has won 18 major golf championships while amassing 115 professional wins in his celebrated career. His place in golf history as the greatest player ever, seems pretty secure for now and decades to come.
Nicklaus was an eight time PGA Tour leading money winner. He was a five time PGA Tour player of the year. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. Nicklaus has received the Bob Jones Award, the Payne Stewart Award and the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award for humanitarian contributions in and out of golf.
My path crossed Jack's for the first time in the winter of 2011 when several of us spoke to him about being a spokesperson for Golf 2.0, an industry wide player development initiative spearheaded by the PGA of America. Jack embraced the idea and it was pretty evident that he welcomed the challenge of doing something for the betterment of the game.
Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, have 21 grandchildren. Only one of those grandkids plays golf. At age 72, Jack is very aware of the hurdles and distractions that families often times face when it comes to finding time to play the sport that he dominated for decades. Nicklaus understands that the perceived time commitment associated with golf has got to change in order to attract new players to the game.
Last summer, he instituted a couple of totally unconventional ideas at two of his premier golf facilities. There are no finer golf destinations in this country than Muirfield Village in Dublin, OH and The Bear's Club in West Palm Beach, FL. These are traditional private clubs and Nicklaus devised a 12-hole routing plan at each course that allowed golfers to play "six, six and twelve" versus the traditional two nines and 18 holes. His goal was to shorten the time it takes to play.
"Twelve holes is about all I am interested in playing myself," smiles Jack when he talks about the concept. "Many women enjoy the six-hole concept. It's faster and less strenuous."
Nicklaus refers to himself as one of the staunchest traditionalists in golf history, so when he introduced an 8-inch cup for a day at Murfield Village and the Bear's Club last summer it was monumental. The official diameter of a golf hole is 4.25 inches and Jack gave his golfers a hole twice the size as the regulation cup. Players loved the novel idea, although one golfer quipped, "You can still miss 'em on the edge."
Over the last few months, Jack has continued to explore unconventional ways to attract and keep players in the game. A couple of weeks ago, we met at the Bear's Club and he was presented an idea promoting forward tees for family and beginning golf. Upon seeing the concept, he ordered the forward markers for both Muirfield Village and the Bear's Club.
Nicklaus didn't stop there. He has instructed his design teams to institute the concept on all new courses that Nicklaus design builds. I wouldn't be surprised if he sends a memo to all Nicklaus designed courses in the U.S. and encourages them to install these forward tees.
Last week, several of us met in Jack's office at West Palm Beach to discuss the idea of bringing the 12-hole concept to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The idea was born out of a discussion that Ian Baker-Finch, former British Open champion and CBS commentator, had with me at the Grand Slam Pro-Am a couple of years ago. Finch and I presented our case study to Jack, the all-time major champion, and he offered ideas and opinions on how players, television and viewers would perceive the concept.
The PGA Grand Slam of Golf features the four major championship winners in a 36-hole format each fall at Port Royal in Bermuda. We are still working out the details, but the fact that we even discussed a monumental format change like this was in large part because of Jack Nicklaus.
It is Jack's hope that facilities and operators around the United States will follow his lead and embrace some of these new concepts. While I certainly can't play like Nicklaus, I can at least think like him! Here are some of the new programs that we will be introducing in 2012 at The Legends Golf Club.
- Offer 6-hole and 12-hole rates on our championship 27-holes.
- Forward tees with Level 1 9-hole yardage of 1,530 and Level 2 9-hole yardage of 2,070.
- Offer a 6-hole SNAG golf course for entry level players (adults and kids) with fees under $5.
- Create an hourly family rate for hitting balls, playing our par three course or SNAG course.
- Add a new Men's Club event utilizing the proposed Grand Slam of Golf format.
It has been my privilege to serve as the PGA's spokesman for Get Golf Ready. This program allows the consumer to sign up for five 1.5 hour lessons from a PGA professional for a cost of only $99. Each instructional session includes an "on course" experience where the players actually get to play on the course. Get Golf Ready classes can be tailored to all types of players- beginning women, kids, senior men, accomplished players, couples, etc.
The most compelling statistic regarding Get Golf Ready is that 84% of those who take all five of the instructional sessions- stay in the game as golfers. Nicklaus liked that and he has also endorsed the program at his facilities.
Jack Nicklaus has given golfers of all ages many memories for a lifetime. Who can forget that image of him holing a putt on the 17th green at the 1986 Masters and CBS' Verne Lundquist exclaiming, "Yes Sir!"
For me, my best memories of Jack will be sitting around a table and talking about ways to grow the game of golf. Thanks, Jack!