Golden Bear remains bullish on courses

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am

The Croatian parliamentary cabinet, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and those in the northern Mexican state of Baja California have all been influenced by Jack Nicklaus.

Nearly two years ago, the Croatian prime minister asked Nicklaus to speak to his cabinet about the tourism opportunities of the golf industry and Nicklaus told a story about the change in Mexico.

'[You] used to go down there and you'd take along a T-shirt, swimming trunks, a pair of sandals and US$20 and it would last you a week,' Nicklaus said. 'And now, we've brought the game of golf in and it's absolutely exploded and the economic growth has been fantastic.'

Nicklaus and his course design company have completed 17 courses in Mexico and Nicklaus, who now commands US$2.5 million to personally design a course (or US$500,000 for a design by one of his associates), has 286 courses worldwide open for play. Nearly another 100 courses are under construction, including nine in China. The mayor of Moscow wants him to design 15 public courses.

'I met not very long ago with Mayor Luzhkov and he [has] become a golfer and he's now decided that he wants to have young Russians learn the game,' said Nicklaus, who is a consultant to the mayor, whose other hobbies include horse riding and beekeeping.

On a worldwide tour that saw Nicklaus pass through Hong Kong and Shenzhen on Thursday before jetting off on Friday morning to India for his first visit there and a new course design (his company designed a course in India in 1998), Nicklaus' globe-trotting was being filmed by the Golf Channel, which is in the middle of filming a documentary about the legendary golfer.

Nicklaus, a Royal Bank of Scotland 'Global Ambassador', was in Shenzhen to receive an award from Mission Hills, site of one of his 13 courses in China. He first visited the country in 1993 when he designed a course in Zhongshan. The growth of golf in China, he said, was among the fastest of any sport in any country.

'However, when you grow from nothing, then obviously if you have any growth at all then it's fast,' Nicklaus said.

But on the heels of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem's comments that golf would once again attempt to be an Olympic sport, Nicklaus did not have a strong opinion either way on its potential inclusion, nor did he think Olympic status would help grow the sport.

'I don't think it would make a difference whatsoever, not in golf,' Nicklaus said. 'Golf should be [included] from the standpoint of the sport. It's a worldwide sport, it's played certainly a lot more around the world than 90 per cent of sports that are played there [in the Olympics].'

But when he was playing, Nicklaus said it was not something he thought about.

'I didn't have much interest one way or the other,' Nicklaus said. 'I was a professional athlete and the Olympics were supposed to be [for] amateur sport.'

Global player

The number of golf courses, worldwide, designed by Jack Nicklaus: 286