This week’s Australian Open—one of the most prestigious and globally recognized championships in the game of golf—tees off Thursday at The Australian Golf Club for a record 19th time. The Australian, twice redesigned by Jack Nicklaus, hosted the first Australian Open in 1904.
World No. 1 Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Jack Nicklaus Award winner as the PGA Tour Player of the Year, returns to Roseberry, New South Wales, to defend his title after a banner season that included wins in the Masters Tournament and the U.S. Open, along with the Valspar Championship, John Deere Classic, and the TOUR Championship. Spieth has credited his six-shot win at last year’s Australian Open, including a course-record 63 in the final round, as the impetus to his phenomenal 2015 season.
“When Jordan shot a really good round of 63 and won the event by six shots, it showed that the golf course would stand up against the best players in the world, but also would yield to good golf,” said Jack Nicklaus, a six-time winner of the Australian Open who first redesigned The Australian Golf Club in 1977. “That’s what it takes to be a good golf course. I’m happy with that.”
Golf fans in the U.S. can watch the drama unfold on Golf Channel Thursday through Sunday from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET. The tournament is being broadcast in Australia on the Seven Network Thursday through Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. AEDST.
This week’s event puts an exclamation point on a run that has seen a Nicklaus Design golf course host a professional tournament worldwide for eight of the last 10 weeks. The Australian Golf Club is the 30th Nicklaus Design course to host a professional event in 2015.
The Golden Bear was first brought in to redesign The Australian by long-time friend Kerry Packer—an Australian media magnate who was involved in sponsoring the Open. Nicklaus had played in one or two Australian Opens before meeting Packer and being asked to provide design help when the championship returned to The Australian Golf Club in the 1970s.
“Kerry wanted the golf course to look as much like Muirfield Village Golf Club as it could,” Nicklaus recalled. “He loved the club and course at Muirfield Village. He was one of my original members and he loved every aspect of the club. When we did The Australian Golf Club, he wanted it to look like Muirfield Village, so we did bunkers and some other elements like we did there.”
When the Golden Bear returned to The Australian in 2012 to renovate the course and provide some design tweaks, he was greeted by a membership that surprisingly wanted to sharpen the layout’s teeth.
“It was the only membership I’ve ever gone to that said they wanted to make the golf course more difficult,” Nicklaus said, laughing. “I said, ‘You really don’t mean that, do you?’ And they said, ‘Oh yes we do!’
“I told the membership that because we’ve got a sandy piece of property, it should be a little bit more of a natural look. The bunkers should be a little bit more natural. And that’s what we did, without destroying the quality of the golf course that was there originally. We just enhanced it.”
Today’s course is the good stern test Packer always had in mind.
“I don’t think playing The Australian is different than any other golf course,” Nicklaus added. “It takes good mental preparation. There are a lot of holes on the golf course that are not driver holes under certain conditions. There are some holes that you really need to bust it off the tee. I think it’s a golf course where you have to be very mindful of where the trouble is and how to play around it. It’s a thinker’s golf course, and it’s got the length of a modern golf course.”
Stars such as Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, and Steven Bowditch—all members of the International team in last month’s Presidents Cup—are among more than 80 Australians in this week’s field. They are joined by recent Australian Open winners Spieth, Greg Chalmers, Peter Senior, and Geoff Ogilvy. Other international notables playing this week are England’s Lee Westwood and Irishman Darren Clarke, the European team captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup.
“These major championship courses normally throw up 10 to 12 under and that’s pretty much based on the players,” said Tournament Director Trevor Herden. “The players just seem to get it done. They putt and, if you have a look at these putting surfaces, they’ll hole putts from everywhere this week — I guarantee you that.
“This golf course will really test their play. That’s the beauty about Australia: You come down and play on really good courses in challenging conditions.”