The Ritz Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain News

February 18, 2008

An Interview With: JACK NICKLAUS

An Interview With: JACK NICKLAUS

JACK NICKLAUS:  The bunker look, you walk up and that will be basically what the bunker look looks like, a finished bunker.  Greens have got a little bit of movement in them.  We've created probably nine, ten pin positions on every green, so the TOUR has a variety of things and the members have enough pin positions that they can do what they need to do.

The length is plus or minus 7,800 from the tips, basically 3,000 feet or 2,500, so 5 percent of that is 380 yards or something, so 400 yards essentially.  So it comes down to about a 7,400-yard golf course at sea level.  That's about what the guys played today.  It'll fit what they play.

The course has got nice movement to it.  It's got great vegetation, got a few washes that run through the property.  We've got two nice areas.  This area here, we're not sure if this becomes the front nine or the back nine, depends what the TOUR and David agreed to.  I like this as the back nine.

But anyway, we've got a big area in between these two holes.  That's the 14th hole going up there and this is the 17th hole coming down here, and that's a big concession area and people area and so forth.  So they've got the ability to see 14, obviously 16 coming back.  They'll see back down 15, too, and then of course they've got 17.

Then we've got an area on the front nine where the second green comes into it.  3rd hole is a par-3 with water on it.  4th hole is a short par-4 that comes back to the same gallery area.  The 5th hole plays as a par-4 that goes down away from that.  6th hole is a par-3 which you won't see from that area, but then the 7th hole is a par-4 that comes back into that same gallery area.  And then the 8th hole plays off of it again.

So you've got two distinct areas on the golf course where you'll be able to concentrate people and they'll get to see a lot of golf.  We sort of figured that -- this one was our original one because we felt like most of your matches are going to finish somewhere between 14 and 17.  If they go to 18, that's fine, they'll go to 18.

I don't know what else to tell you except that I think it's going to turn out to be one heck of a golf course.  I'm very pleased with it.

Q.  Does it live up to your expectations?  When you come out and you look at a piece of desert and there's not a golf course there, now that it's taking for-

JACK NICKLAUS:  That's what I just said.  I think it's a pretty good golf course.  That's what I was asked to do is a golf course that would house a Match Play tournament, which means it would probably have a few more heroics at times on the golf course than you might see on some other golf courses.  But I think in match play that's what you do.  It's a pretty solid golf course.

Q.  How does it feel being back in Tucson designing another course?

JACK NICKLAUS:  Since we did La Paloma.  La Paloma is a nice golf course, but that was a long time ago, and things have changed.  The game of golf has changed dramatically.  That was a hotel and basically a total resort, and this is a combination of tournament, resort and residential.

Q.  Why was this relationship the right fit?

JACK NICKLAUS:  Well, I think you have to ask David that.  He's the one that got the property.  Of course he's the one that picked the property, not me.  He picked us after the property.  I think that the property here has got -- what's it got, 3,000 acres?  No, 6,000 acres, so we probably ought to be able to find a golf course in there somewhere (laughter).  I think you've got the airport that's close and a growing area and not too far outside the metropolitan area to attract people and the ability to bring -- have the space to do the things you need to do to have a tournament to have that ability, whereas you couldn't do that in town, picking another facility.  You have to create a facility, particularly with what's happening on the TOUR today with the popularity of golf and the number of people that come out.  It's a different ballgame than what I played.

Q.  With all the effort put into this, has there been talk of you keeping this here after 2010?

JACK NICKLAUS:  That's David's call, not my call.  That's David and the TOUR, I have nothing to do with that.

Q.  Would you be disappointed if it only lasted here two years?

JACK NICKLAUS:  Yes (laughter).  That answers your question right there.

Q.  What do you derive the most pleasure from in designing golf courses?

JACK NICKLAUS:  I love the game of golf.  I don't play very well anymore.  I don't play very much.  But I have to figure out how to change it from my game to the modern game and what the guys do today, to be able to create a golf course that's a challenge for the TOUR coming in here, a challenge for them to play their events on, but also one that is going to be able to satisfy David and his people to be able to develop and have somebody come in -- gee, TOUR plays here?  I don't want to play here.  You don't want that.  You want to be sure you've done a golf course that they can play on and there's a hotel coming up here and people are going to be able to come here and have a nice golf course, an enjoyable golf course to play.

I think that there's a balance between spice and boredom, and you've got to have enough spice in the golf course that you keep your interest.  You certainly don't want to have some guy that says, "Gee, I played that, that was a nice golf course, now where are we going to go tomorrow?."  You want them to say, "Gee, that's a nice golf course.  What time can I get on here tomorrow?"

We've got 27 holes that we've done here so far, and I assume we're going to probably do the other nine holes in the future, and that's probably the not too distant future, so we'll have a 36-hole complex here.  You've got the other golf course -- 36 holes, so there's a lot of golf here.  What a beautiful area.  Do these foothills have a name?  Tortolitas, so it's basically high desert saguaro forest is what it is, and then of course with a high saguaro forest you have your Palos Verdes, your ocotillos, whatever is here, all the other stuff that you can get bit by, all the varieties of stuff that grow here grow in abundance.  So it's an ideal spot.  You've got great views.  Have a look behind you at what you've got.  You've got great views here of the property.  We've got this major wash that runs through the property which we've controlled, and it's up to the authorities to get rid of the water when it does come down through here, so that's going to be controlled properly.  Not too much else we need.  It's pretty good.

Q.  Do you like desert designs?  You design so many different courses.

JACK NICKLAUS:  I like all designs because I think it's kind of fun -- I like to play tennis.  I play a lot of tennis, but it's pretty hard to tell -- I tell my wife, Barbara, I'm going to play tennis.  Tennis courts are alike.  They may be a different surface but they're all alike.

But if I'm going to go outside and play golf, you say, hey, I'm going to go to the desert and play golf, I'm going to go to the ocean and play golf, I'm going to go to the mountains and play golf.  It's a different game every place you go and every piece of property is different.  So to be able to have the opportunity to take a piece of property, form that piece of property into something that -- I got a really nice compliment from Mark Russell this morning.  He came out and said, "Boy, did you guys have a nice piece of property to work with."  We had absolutely nothing out here.  It was absolutely flat.  What we've done is we've massaged what the natural things were and the property turns out to look like a nice, natural piece of property we were lucky to find, which we were lucky to find.  I didn't mean that it was a bad piece of property.

But I mean it allows us to create some things within the property that really ultimately enhances it and makes it so that it's really pretty and really fun to play and great views for your homes and people want to come out here and just play golf.

It's a legacy from my standpoint.  It's a legacy that I can leave the game of golf long beyond my golf game and my lifetime, certainly beyond my golf game already.  I'm going to keep the rest of it a little longer (laughter).  It's kind of fun.  Whenever I have the opportunity to work in the desert or whether I'm working on the ocean or whether I'm working in emerging markets or a lot of the work we're doing around the world now is in emerging markets, so we're working on like 56 or 57 countries right now.  That's a lot of countries to be working on around the world.

But when you have that opportunity, in particular, a lot of those are countries that don't have any golf at all.  We have a lot of golf in the United States, but there's always room for a big golf course on a good piece of property, and I hope that's what we've done here.

Q.  How many majors do you think Tiger wins by the time he retires, any ideas?

JACK NICKLAUS:  Is he going to play past this week (laughter)?  I don't know, I have no idea what he's going to do.  I have no idea.  He's a very talented young man and he plays very well.  We'll see.

Q.  If you're at home on the weekend will you watch a tournament?

JACK NICKLAUS:  I don't watch golf.  The thing might be on.  I walked in the house Sunday and Barbara had -- was it LA last week?  She had it on, so I walked by and said, who's winning?  She said, "Phil's winning."  I watched him two-putt out on the last hole, and that was about it.

I'm interested in the game obviously, but I'm not going to sit down in front of the television set and watch it.  I always enjoyed playing the game more than watching it.

Q.  What's the process like to relocate some of these great saguaros?

JACK NICKLAUS:  Well, I think you have to ask the guys that move them.  I think they're pretty heavy items.  They are movable.

DAVID MEHL:  Any that are healthy we're pretty much able to keep them intact.  They have big, deep root balls, so it's a matter of being careful with the root ball and moving them.  The bigger they are the shorter you want to move them.

JACK NICKLAUS:  But I'm glad that's not my area.  All I know is we've got about ten here, whatever you want to do with them.  We're moving them, we're not going to kill any of them, so I said okay.

Q.  You talked about your legacy.  Obviously this course is going to bear your name, and it is your signature, what you're leaving behind in addition to all the records and whatnot.  Can you touch a little bit upon I guess the importance of that, if there is a strong level of --

JACK NICKLAUS:  I mean, the importance of that is not necessarily, to me -- I think the importance is why would somebody hire Jack Nicklaus to do their golf course.  You need to ask David that, first of all, but I think David and I had a past experience with La Paloma, and it feels like we had a good experience with our organization.  We have pretty good products all over the world.  We feel like -- to me it's fun.  I'm beyond my ego as far as trying to create a golf course that guys can't play.  I'm working harder to try to make golf courses people can play.

I mean, I get obviously a big personal satisfaction out of being able to be involved in a tournament such as this, be able to do the golf course for it; that's fun for me.  But I think the value that we create by creating a good golf course, plus people saying, gee, I've played several Nicklaus golf courses and I like them, that attracts people here to the real estate, to the hotel, come and watch the tournament.  Those are all things that are a part of the process.

As far as me, it's -- I don't know, I just enjoy doing it.  I enjoy being part of it.  I get a big kick out of somebody still wanting this old man to come out and look at a piece of property to do a golf course.

Q.  Did you run into any critters out here?

DAVID MEHL:  Not yet.

JACK NICKLAUS:  We've had run-ins with a lot of critters on a lot of golf courses but nothing here.  I haven't seen any critters at all out here.  We've had a few instances in several places where we've been in the desert and had some snake issues.  One guy was right in front of me and got bit, and I hopped right over the top of the snake after he got bit.  But that wasn't here.

Q.  Are many of the courses you've designed built with spectators in mind?  Is it a low percentage?

JACK NICKLAUS:  A low percentage anymore.  I think that we do our golf courses primarily for whatever the owner is intending the usage.  It's kind of fun, we've had -- I don't know what our number is now, 400, 500, 600 tournaments played on our golf courses, significant events, and my first golf courses were mostly those kind of golf courses, Muirfield Village, Glen Abbey, Shoal Creek, Castle Pines, Australian Golf Club, places where they were playing a lot of events.  And since then we've done obviously a lot more.

But the golf courses we do today are far more for the people who are going to play them 51 weeks a year, and then we just accommodate to an event.  If somebody wants to have an event, Valhalla, for instance -- Valhalla was a golf course that the Gahms built in Louisville, and Louisville didn't have any housing.  They were interested in a pure golf club.  They said to me, Jack, if we ever get the PGA Championship here is what my ultimate goal is.  I don't know how old Dwight is now, but in 1986 Dwight was probably about my age then.  Now he's probably late 80s.  He's seen the PGA come there a couple times, he's seen the Senior PGA, the Ryder Cup matches being played there this year, I guess.  So I get a big kick out of that, where I can help them achieve what their goal is.

David's goal here is to be able to -- I promise you it's not this golf tournament.  This golf tournament is a vehicle, and the golf tournament -- he wants to put on the best golf tournament he can, he wants to create the best name for this property that he can, he wants to be able to attract and draw people here for the hotel and to sell his real estate.  I mean, that's what it's for.  If you do that by doing a really good job with the golf course and a really good job with the tournament, it just enhances the whole mystique of that mountain, and that's really what you're trying to do.  That's fun to be part of that.

Q.  I know you say you don't watch golf on television anymore, but Accenture Match Play will be coming here next year.  When a tournament is being played at a course you developed, do you ever get the urge to go see --

JACK NICKLAUS:  I'll probably turn on the television here.

Q.  I mean actually go to the site, watch some of the events and just see for yourself?

JACK NICKLAUS:  I have no idea.  I mean, I may come back next year.  Depends what David wants or anybody wants me to be involved in some way.  I've been involved in early years of a lot of the tournaments in places we've gone to, and obviously on this plane we go obviously to Shoal Creek or Castle Pines or Hilton Head.  Those are things that I did.  I tried to obviously play those events, anything that I think I could play.

Anyway, that's okay.  I'm hurt, but that's okay (laughter).

Q.  Are you talking about Shoal Creek in Birmingham?

JACK NICKLAUS:  Yeah.

Q.  Do you play that course much or ever?

JACK NICKLAUS:  No, I haven't played it for years.  I haven't played it since we played the PGA there.  It's a nice golf course.

Hal Thompson when he did it, he had no desire whatsoever to have a tournament.  About two years later, he says, "Jack, do you think we might be able to have a PGA Championship here?"  I said, "Yeah, you could have the PGA Championship.  You'd have to make a few adjustments, of course."

Jack Vickers, on the other hand, he wanted to have a tournament from day one.  I think you just work with what they want.

Everybody has got a different reason why they do something.  I think Tucson -- take Tucson, Tucson was probably getting lost on the TOUR to some extent until the Match Play came here.  Now the Match Play -- all of a sudden Tucson has become a central focus of the TOUR.

Where were they playing last time before this?

Q.  San Diego, or Tucson downtown, Star Pass sometimes, and some other places.

JACK NICKLAUS:  But where did they play it -- was that National?  So to come back and see Tucson pop up in the game is great because that's something you don't -- it's a great golf center.  Why would you want to lose this area?  The Match Play has revived what's happened in this town from a golf standpoint, and that's great.

 

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