April 6, 2010 -- Jack Nicklaus stepped out of the golf cart to survey one of the nation's most scenic and spectacular golf courses. A huge Georgia gallery greeted him with a loud ovation, and in typical Nicklaus fashion, a smile and wave enlivens the crowd even more. No, this isn't Augusta National, it's the Great Waters Golf Course at Reynolds Plantation, about an hour west of Augusta's Amen Corner and an important stop for Nicklaus before he makes his way to Magnolia Lane.
The Great Waters course is one of the jewels in Nicklaus' course design portfolio and he wanted to stop by and check in on the new Mini-Verde greens that were installed and some renovations on bunkers that the course had recently undergone. The crowd had gathered to hear Jack's approval of the changes and the iconic figure gave his blessing. The crowd, many of whom were well-to-do residents of this exclusive community, ate up the anecdotes, the observations and the encouragement from golf's most accomplished player. Even now, at age 70, The Golden Bear commands a respect like few athletes ever have.
Though he had appointments in Augusta that he had to keep, he stayed long enough to take a few ceremonial putts on the new greens, sign dozens of autographs and to talk with PGA.com about The Masters, the state of the golf world and a certain no. 1 player who is chasing his records.
PGA.com: Jack, you had said in the past that you weren't interested in being an Honorary Starter at The Masters. Obviously, things have changed and you will be assuming that duty for the first time this year. What brought about your change in heart?
Nicklaus: I'm very happy to be in that role. To be fair, when I was first asked about it, I was still playing. And Arnold (Palmer) was just getting started in that role and I thought Arnold should get his due. Arnold has been a big part of Augusta and Augusta has been a big part of Arnold's life. Arnold then asked that I join him and I said "sure, I'd be delighted to." I've been out of golf now for five years so the timing and all, it works alright.
PGA.com: Any thoughts on what you expect this week? Have you seen the course this year?
Nicklaus: No, I have not been there yet, I'm headed over right after this.
PGA.com: You've maintained for years that you expected Tiger Woods to break your records, both at Augusta and your overall major championships victories record. In light of the events of the last few months, do you still believe that to be the case?
Nicklaus: I think Tiger is a golfer, a darn good one, and if he keeps that as a focus -- as he has -- I think he will probably do it. But, he still has to do it. I think it will take a few years; we'll just have to wait and see. I'm actually kind of interested in watching that myself.
PGA.com: Did you watch Tiger's press conference earlier this week?
PGA.com: Any plans to watch it? Or talk to Tiger about his return; possibly offer some advice or guidance?
Nicklaus: I haven't been asked for any. You know, it's really none of my business what goes on in Tiger's private life. As it relates to his life as a golfer, the guy is terrific. And, I'm like everybody else, I'm kind of anxious to see how he plays this week.
PGA.com: Jack, let's talk about the business side of golf. You may know more about golf as an industry as anyone else there is; with your multiple business interests from playing to course design to equipment. What's your take on the state of the golf industry right now?
Nicklaus: Well, overseas is exploding for golf. We're doing golf courses all over the world and the game is growing, particularly in China, India, Brazil, Russia -- places that didn't have much golf before. It's going to continue to grow in those markets for a long time. The Olympics have been a big part of that. In the United States, we're going through a slow period, no question. I'd say 98% of our work right now is actually taking place overseas. But that's okay, golf in the United States will be fine and will come back. But right now, the hot spots are overseas. And that's okay, it's kind of fun to go to those places and be a part of that.
PGA.com: Any idea how to get the U.S. golf market back?
Nicklaus: [laughter] There are a lot of smart people who are working on that. You're asking the wrong guy if you want a 'fix' on the U.S. market.
PGA.com: Well, with all of the hats that you wear in golf -- from iconic player to prolific designer to ambassador of the game, do you ever think about your legacy? How do think you'll be remembered? How do you want to be remembered?
Nicklaus: Not really. I think my most important legacy is my family. That's always been the case from day one. I've got five great kids, twenty-one grandkids; they're all good kids, they all live close and I love seeing them. That's the most important thing. My golf record as a player is not going to change, it's there. My imprint as a golf course designer, well we have over 300 courses that we've done, so I suppose that people are going to play those golf courses and see my opinion of what the game should be and they'll play those courses a long time after my golf game and my lifetime.
PGA.com: Jack, thank you for your time, have a great week at Augusta.
Nicklaus: My pleasure, thank you.