Nicklaus' renovated Bear's Paw reopens

By Greg Hardwig
Published on

NAPLES, Fla. -- Bear's Paw Country Club in Naples is special for Jack Nicklaus, but as arguably golf's greatest prefers to say, all of the golf courses he's designed are.

But the club that celebrated its renovation by the Golden Bear on Wednesday 35 years later does have a special place in his heart. His uncle Frank and aunt Rachel lived at Bear's Paw for years.

"They loved the place," Nicklaus said after a ribbon-cutting on the renovated layout, at the time just his third golf course in the state of Florida and 16th overall back when it opened in 1980. "I spent a reasonable amount of time here during the years."

Nicklaus, who turns 76 on Jan. 21, spent a reasonable amount of time over the last year redoing the golf course. Holes weren't rerouted, but as he described it, are different and updated.

What also changed was the amount of money put into the project -- "Naples was not an expensive market then," Nicklaus said of the original course. "Everything was fairly inexpensive" -- and simply time and experience.

"This time around the club wanted to bring it up to date, bring it up to snuff as it relates to what the marketplace is, and have a facility that all of the members are proud of and that will attract new members. ... I think it also would show after 35 years I have a little bit more experience and do a little bit better job," he added with a chuckle.

There's no need to break what doesn't need fixing, though. Nicklaus recalled the routing used at Bear's Paw matched the one at the course in South Korea that opened in 2010 and played host to last year's Presidents Cup.

"We may have gotten older, but we haven't gotten out of style," Nicklaus said.

Success has been Nicklaus's style in just about everything -- winning a record 18 majors and becoming one of the game's icons, and adding one of the world's top designers to that, along with various business ventures and charity. But for Nicklaus, it all comes back to his family -- wife, Barbara who joined him Wednesday, his five kids and 22 grandchildren.

"You have all kinds of other legacies," he said. "I'm proud of my golf. I'm proud of my golf course design work. I'm proud of the charity work I do. All of them pale in comparison to my family.

"That's what we feel like we were put down here to do."

Make no mistake, though, Nicklaus also was put down on Earth to play golf. After all, he's the Golden Bear. Wednesday, he retold the story of how the name came about. In 1961, his first contract was a shirt contract, and they got to the point where an emblem needed to be selected.

"We start going through all kinds of silly things it could be," Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus remembered a sportswriter had called him a "cuddly golden bear" and also his high school -- Upper Arlington in Ohio -- had the nickname the Golden Bears.

"I've been a Golden Bear all my life, why not stay one?" he said.

And that's who many golfers have been shooting to be like ever since. That includes Tiger Woods, the last to make a serious run at Nicklaus' 18 majors. Woods has been beset by personal issues and injuries, and stalled at 14 majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods turned 40 on Dec. 30, and Nicklaus took to social media to wish him a happy 40th birthday. He also mentioned that his 40th year was one of his best.

"You have heard me say it before that I know you have a lot of great golf left to play and success to enjoy, and I hope it all begins this year for you," Nicklaus wrote on Twitter.

Wednesday, Nicklaus reiterated that he believes Woods will come back win even though Woods underwent a pair of back surgeries in September and October, and said in early December that he didn't have a timetable for his return. At the same time, Woods not being near the top the past few years has allowed new stars like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler to emerge.

"I think that they have sort of learned how to win while Tiger has been absent," he said. "They've learned that Tiger was pretty dominant and they learned how to play, how to win, and they're no longer scared of having to compete. We've got a great young group there.

"You've got Tiger, who I think will come back and do fine. I think he'll come back and win again. I think Phil Mickelson's not done. We've got Jim Furyk who's not done. To me, it's a great time in golf where you have the young guys who are really good, and the old guys who are still pretty darn good."

Nicklaus as a golfer? He's still pretty darn good at times. Except for Tuesday.

"I'd hate to tell you what I shot," he said. "The worst round of golf I've shot since I was 11 years old I think. ... It cost me money, and I didn't like that part of it either. We lost all of our bets and everything else. I played golf in the morning and tennis in the afternoon. At least we didn't lose at both."

Southwest Florida golf will be winning another visit from Nicklaus soon, though. He is working with architect John Sanford on redesigning The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, which opened back in 1946. That renovation will start in April, and like Bear's Paw, Nicklaus has a special connection with it. He broke 40 for the first time there, back when he was 11.

"I sort of had a feeling toward it," he said. " ... We got involved in it and I think it'll turn out to be a nice little golf course."

And surely another special one.

This article was written by Greg Hardwig from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.