The country club that shaped Jack Nicklaus' game

By Rob Oller
Published on
The country club that shaped Jack Nicklaus' game

You likely have heard of a golfer from Upper Arlington, Ohio, named Jack Nicklaus, but if not for the course layout of Scioto Country Club -- which this week plays host to the U.S. Senior Open -- there is a chance Nicklaus would be more of a who's he than a who's who.

"If Scioto had been out of bounds on the left side, I probably would have been a right-to-left player -- and you probably would have never heard of me," Nicklaus once said.

That may be stretching things, but no question the way Scioto was designed in 1915 -- by famed architect Donald Ross -- played to Nicklaus' natural left-to-right ball flight.

At the Memorial Tournament in June, Nicklaus explained further how playing Scioto, which opened in 1916, shaped the way he came to play the game.

"At Scioto, every out of bounds is on the right, which is why I played left to right," he said. " You don't aim a ball around an out of bounds and hook it back in. With out of bounds right, you aim the ball into the middle of the golf course and cut it back all day long."

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Not only did Scioto affect how Nicklaus played, but also how he designed.

"When I first started doing golf courses, everyone would say, 'Aw, I see Nicklaus was here. It's all left to right.' Well, I hope I'm not stupid," he said. "After I get that comment a couple times I say, 'Maybe I better think more about what I'm doing.'

"So I started being very proactive about making sure I had as many right to left holes as left to right ... so you had to play golf in a balanced fashion."

Scioto did more than shape Nicklaus' game. It was the petri dish in which his passion for golf grew.

"I grew up there. It's where I lived from the time I was 10 years old to the time I was 21 years old," he said. "I spent more time there, I promise, than any member."

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The story goes that Nicklaus, who grew up in Upper Arlington near Parkway Park -- which on Wednesday will be renamed Jack Nicklaus Park -- was 10 when he used cutdown clubs to shoot 51 for nine holes at Scioto the first time he kept score.

Lesser known is that he shot 61 and 71 the next two times he played, prompting him years later to quip, "This game is getting tougher rather than easier."

But Nicklaus made it look easier than just about anyone.

Scioto's design has changed dramatically through the years. In 1962, most greens were elevated to provide drainage, which altered how approach shots were played.

In 2007, Nicklaus and Columbus architect Michael Hurdzan moved tees and bunkers so the course could be lengthened from 6,700 to 7,000 yards.

"The golf course is totally different," Nicklaus said of today's Scioto, compared with when he played it in the 1950s. "It is a good course today. It was a good course then."

This article was written by Rob Oller from The Columbus Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.