THE IN­TER­VIEW se­ries

A le­gendary fam­ily whose legacy may be to change the way the game is played.

Golf Vacations (Malaysia) - - Contents - By benny teo

Jack Nick­laus and his son on work­ing to­gether to de­sign golf cour­ses and many more nuggets of wis­dom.

If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, there will be a new Jack Nick­laus golf course within easy reach by the end of April 2018. How­ever, it will be a co-de­sign, built to­gether with his son, Jack Nick­laus Jnr. The new For­est City Golf Course, sited within the $100 bil­lion mega city project by Chi­nese de­vel­oper Coun­try Gar­den across the Sec­ond Link be­tween Tuas and Jo­hor Bahru, is set to open in two months’ time.

Both Nick­lauses were at hand late Jan­uary, to­gether with Nick­laus De­sign as­so­ciate Sean Quinn, to con­duct a site in­spec­tion for their first co-de­sign project in Malaysia.

But what is a co-de­sign golf course? We asked both this and other ques­tions that burns through the minds of golfers all over and got some in­trigu­ing an­swers in re­turn dur­ing a visit across the Cause­way, at their lat­est golf course project in Asia.

Ben­ny­teo: Once again, what is a code­sign golf course?

Jack­nick­laus: When I do a Sig­na­ture Golf Course, I take the lead. When it’s a Legacy or Co-de­sign, then he takes the lead, (pauses be­fore con­tin­u­ing) and then I come in and try to dis­rupt him.

So, you’re es­sen­tially still in charge then?

Well some­body’s got to take the lead. We can’t have two bosses. So Jackie’s the boss for this golf course, I come in and cri­tique what works and doesn’t, and Sean Quinn, who’s our (se­nior) de­sign as­so­ciate on site. Be­tween Jackie and Sean, they do 98 per­cent of the work out there. I come in and I add an­other two per­cent some­where. When they are done with it, it will be a golf course that they have done

“My feel­ing is that the whole thing is con­trolled by the golf ball. If the golf ball is the length it is to­day, the cour­ses we BUILD TO­DAY, fits THE GOLF ball. But what hap­pens to the golf cour­ses that were built over the last 150 years? They don’t fit THE GOLF BALL, SO YOU’LL have to keep length­en­ing and length­en­ing and length­en­ing, buy more land, spend more money on fer­tiliser, on wa­ter, on ev­ery­thing, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

and I have ap­proved of and one that I like, and that’s where the co-de­sign comes in.

Jack Jnr, can you tell us how work­ing with your dad is like?

I think we work re­ally well to­gether. Most of the things I’ve learnt from the foun­da­tions of what a golf course should be, I learn from my fa­ther, so we’re go­ing to agree on 99 per­cent of the stuff that we do. Oc­ca­sion­ally, we’ll see things dif­fer­ently. Un­for­tu­nately I don’t play the game of golf like he does, not many peo­ple do – but in terms of per­son­al­ity, we’re go­ing to see things dif­fer­ently, like to­day, Sean and my­self we were, most of the course set up, dad came on some of the holes and said, “I don’t un­der­stand why you put that bunker there?” or

“looks like we may need an­other bunker there,” or “we might need to make the green a lit­tle eas­ier, more re­cep­tive,” so it’s very rare that we don’t see eye to eye on many things.

Jack Snr, you’ve made your­self known that golf needs to change. Why?

My prob­lem is that the golf ball con­tin­ues to go fur­ther. Which means that num­ber one, it ob­se­letes all the old golf cour­ses. Num­ber two, to have a tour­na­ment golf course, you got to have 73 and a half plus, more likely 75 hun­dred yards. Not ev­ery­body has 7,500 yards. Not ev­ery­body has enough money to get that much land or build it and it takes a lot of time to play a long golf course.

My feel­ing is that the whole thing is con­trolled by the golf ball. If the golf ball is the length it is to­day, the cour­ses we build to­day, fits the golf ball. But what hap­pens to the golf cour­ses that were built over the last 150 years? They don’t fit the golf ball, so you’ll have to keep length­en­ing and length­en­ing and length­en­ing, buy more land, spend more money on fer­tiliser, on wa­ter, on ev­ery­thing, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The world is go­ing the other way, where wa­ter is be­com­ing the most pre­cious com­mod­ity and we re­ally need to use less wa­ter to do what we’re do­ing. We need less land, with pop­u­la­tion, the growth of peo­ple, we just don’t have enough land. The game of golf has be­come ex­pen­sive. We don’t want it to be­come ex­pen­sive, we want the masses to be able to af­ford to play the game. That’s re­ally where we come from when we say the tech­nol­ogy of the golf ball has made the game too dif­fi­cult.

Apart from ge­o­graph­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­strains, what else are we look­ing at?

Ev­ery sport that you can pick that you see on tele­vi­sion or oth­er­wise, how long does it take? 3 hours at most. Well golf, it’s pretty dif­fi­cult to get it in 3 hours. Now, when I first started, we used to be able to play the Bri­tish Open in two and a half or three hours. That was the length of a round of golf. As the cour­ses get longer and longer and longer, the golf ball went fur­ther and fur­ther and fur­ther; now we’re four, four and a half hours, some­times five if we get a re­ally dif­fi­cult golf course. It’s too long for the av­er­age per­son to play.

Peo­ple to­day want in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. You’ve got your smart phone, you can get as much in­for­ma­tion in 10 sec­onds what we used to get in 10 min­utes. Peo­ple are used to this. Their mind­set is ex­actly what the smart phone’s done. They don’t want to spend all that ex­tra time on a golf course; they’ve got other things to do in life be­sides golf. That, I think, is bad for the game of golf. The game of golf needs to shrink to con­tinue to be pop­u­lar, to con­tinue to grow. Now, we don’t have the prob­lem so much in Asia as we have in the United States, in Bri­tain, but it will hap­pen here too where all of a sud­den, they find that they don’t have time for the game. So, we need to shrink it and that’s the rea­son why we’re talk­ing about the tech­nol­ogy of the golf ball.

How much has the golf ball re­ally evolved?

The golf ball’s in­creased about 20 per­cent in 20 years. It’s re­ally in­creased about 20 per­cent in 10 years while the last 10 (years) has been pretty static, so we went from 1930 to maybe 1995 where the golf ball in­crease in length up to six to seven yards and that’s just the qual­ity of the prod­uct. 1995 to 2000, the golf ball in­creased 50 yards. That meant that ev­ery golf course built prior to 1995 was now ob­se­lete.

Au­gusta Na­tional, in my opin­ion, is the only golf course in the world that has been able to keep up with the times. The rea­son is be­cause they have enough money to do it. No­body else has enough money to do it.

My whole point is that we used to have 17,000 golf cour­ses in the United States, we have 15,000 now. When only one of them has been able to stay up with the times, that means we’ve got 14,999 who haven’t.

Right now, is golf grow­ing or shrink­ing?

We had a down­turn. We had a peak at about 2006 but in 10 years, we’ve closed more cour­ses than we’ve opened and now I think we’ve started to level off and move back in the other direc­tion. We’ve got to be mind­ful of what got us into that prob­lem so when we have good times, things are good but when you have a down­turn, you don’t want to de­stroy all the good times, so let’s be mind­ful of what our prob­lems were be­fore and at­tack them as we go for­ward.

And go­ing for­ward means short­ern­ing the time it takes to play the game? Does that mean short­en­ing the game with re­spect to Par?

You don’t have to build any­thing, all you have to do is recog­nise that you can play it. Muir­field Vil­lage and Bear’s Club are two of my cour­ses at home where we have 12- hole score cards. If any­one wants to play 12 holes, just get a score­card for 12 holes. Can we have a hand­i­cap on it? Sure. I mean, the USGA is now rec­om­mend­ing hand­i­cap for 9 holes. So, I think peo­ple are mind­ful of the fact that we do have prob­lems and we need to speed up the game, we need to play in less time. Ab­so­lutely.

Would that en­tail buidling shorter cour­ses?

“Au­gusta Na­tional, in my opin­ion, is the only golf course in the world that has been able to keep up with the times. The rea­son is be­cause they have enough money to do it.

No­body else has enough money to do it.”

It’s not the case of build­ing shorter cour­ses, we have to get to the golf ball first. If a golf ball is as it is, build­ing a golf course as it is to­day fits the game. And ac­tu­ally, it’s good for the de­vel­oper be­cause 7,500 yards, you’re go­ing to get more houses than 6,500 yards. I can un­der­stand that, and I can un­der­stand a de­vel­oper maybe not want­ing to do that. You can al­ways don’t have to play 7,500 yards; you can play 6,000 or 5.500 yards, play what­ever lengths you have but then you have the dis­tances be­tween the green and tee. It doesn’t keep it quick (if you don’t re­duce that).

So, what you’re say­ing is that there are many ways to skin a cat?

We don’t need to change from 18 holes. You just have op­tions within what you have. And if you only have a small piece of ground, then 9 holes and 12 holes are

per­fectly ac­cept­able. That’s what we’ve been try­ing to tell peo­ple. If you don’t have enough land, it doesn’t mean you can’t build a golf course.

An­other thing we’re ex­plor­ing with the USGA, which I think we will, is golf course rat­ing. We’ll take golf cour­ses and have them rated. Take Au­gusta Na­tional be­ing 100 per­cent. Then, you’ll have golf cour­ses where, dis­tance wise, they’ll be 90, 80, 70 per­cent and so on. You build a 70 per­cent golf ball, and 80 perecnt golf ball, the man­u­fac­tur­ers will make more golf balls for the golf course that will fit you prop­erly.

And, say you’re at a 70 per­cent golf course and you have a 100 per­cent golf ball, you’ll just play it faster and quicker.

But if you want to play it as an event, us­ing a 70 per­cent golf ball in a 6,000 yard golf course, the course will feel like a cham­pi­onship course.

Think of what it was 20 years ago. The golf ball you get then was an 80 per­cent golf ball com­pared to what we have to­day. So, how hard is it to go back to that one? Pretty easy right?

That is cer­tainly an in­sight that the in­dus­try can take notes on, us­ing cre­ative and avail­able mea­sures to speed up the game. And talk­ing of in­dus­try, how im­por­tant is it to have golf as part of a prop­erty’s de­vel­op­ment plans, such as this one here at For­est City?

Jack­jnr: You got a lot of prop­erty. Why would you get a prop­erty here ver­sus an­other there? It’s all about ameni­ties. Ba­si­cally, that’s what a golf course is. 95 per­cent of the time, it’s an amenity for a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment. Oc­ca­sion­ally you have a course that is spe­cific for it­self, a stand­alone but gen­er­ally it’s for homes.

And if that’s your main amenity, your golf course, you want to put your best foot for­ward. That’s why at The Nick­laus Group when we get a con­tract, we try to build some­thing re­ally qual­ity be­cause ev­ery­thing that sur­rounds it af­fects your amenity.

Jack­snr: We went from17,000 to 15,000 cour­ses in the United States. So what are they do­ing? Now, they are go­ing to take those 2,000 old golf cour­ses and putting in hous­ing de­vel­op­ments or they are re­do­ing and re­brand­ing them, so that they can com­pete.

Those old cour­ses that didn’t make it, you can redo them be­cause they are all usu­ally in good lo­ca­tions, in­ner city most likely. The cour­ses that didn’t suc­ceed prob­a­bly weren’t very good. Those were the ones that didn’t at­tract the peo­ple so Jackie is ab­so­lutely right; if you want to build a good project, you want to at­tract peo­ple, from all over the world. So, put your best foot for­ward, and build the best golf course you can.

“An­other thing we’re ex­plor­ing with the USGA, which I think we will, is golf course rat­ing. We’ll take golf cour­ses and have them rated. Take Au­gusta Na­tional

be­ing 100 per­cent. Then, you’ll have golf cour­ses where, dis­tance wise, they’ll be 90, 80, 70 per­cent and so on. You build a 70 per­cent golf ball, and 80 perecnt golf ball, the man­u­fac­tur­ers will make more golf balls for

the golf course that will fit you prop­erly.”

The 18-time ma­jor cham­pion with his son at the For­est City Golf Ho­tel’s pri­vatefunc­tion room.

Jack Nick­laus with Jon Gar­ner, right, and David Savic, left, both se­nior course de­sign­ers with Nick­laus De­sign, at the site of the Amer­i­can Lake Veter­ans GolfCourse in Lake­wood, Wash.

The Mastersat Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club is the epit­ome of what money can achievein golf.

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