Nicklaus in B.C. on Golf Design, The Masters and the Presidents Cup

[photopress:Jack2_web1_1_2.jpg,full,alignright]Jack Nicklaus doesn’t play golf any longer. Or at least not often, and not very well. That’s his admission — not mine. I haven’t seen Nicklaus play since his final round at St. Andrews, and the legend told a media gathering yesterday in the remarkable setting of Ucluelet on Vancouver Island’s west coast that he rarely picks up a club these days.

That became sort of apparent when Nicklaus attempt to crack a 6-iron across an ocean inlet for a gathered throng of blue bloods who were being asked to write a cheque for $1.5 million to buy a lot at Wyndansea, home of the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club of Canada.

Nicklaus’ first shot was online, but rattled dramatically off the rocks and into the sea. The second, a slightly hooked 5-iron, missed the green to the left.

“I think we need to consider moving the green over there,” he said wryly as the ball also found a watery grave in the Pacific.

After flying into Vancouver on Thursday, I took a puddle jumper to Ucluelet, a dramatic and remote location on about an hour’s flight from Vancouver Airport. Touching down on a former RAF airstrip, which features a small nine hole golf course next door, we made our way down to the Wyndansea (Wind-an-Sea, get it?) resort property, which will consist of around 200 lots, a hotel and the Nicklaus-designed golf course.

Jack arrived late, his Gulfstream 5 with its JN tail signature, apparently having to stop in Victoria to refuel after the long flight from Palm Beach in Florida. He spent a couple of hours bombing around the site on an all-terrain vehicle, before coming into the tent for a Q&A with a handful of B.C. golf media, a couple of business reporters and some local newspaper types from the island.

The Q&A wasn’t quite a gong show, but at least one of the reporters insisted on asking Nicklaus repeatedly about whether he actually does all the design work on the courses (“You say you give them all this personal attention, but then you say you have others that work on them…”) and then insisted on playing 20 questions in regards to how many people work for Nicklaus. There were also the typical questions — did Nicklaus think locals could afford to play the course (the answer is they can’t), and was Nicklaus aware of the perception of “local critics” of the project. Not sure what that perception is — or who these local critics are. I assume they aren’t golf course critics — because the only course I saw in the area was next to the airport and nine holes.

“I didn’t know there were any local critics,” he replied. “Are you a local critic?”

After all of the Q&A, autographs and photo shoots were done, I had some one-on-one time with Nicklaus, a first for me. We spoke at some length about his comment that he hasn’t bothered to see any of his competitors’ work in the last two decades. That includes the fabled Sand Hills, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, which is located right across from Nicklaus’ new Dismal River.

On his collaboration with Tom Doak at Sebonack GC in New York, he said he really had no interest in doing collaborations and the situation wasn’t ideal. Despite that he said it worked out “as well as could be expected.” He still doesn’t think Doak understands strategy on course and felt that’s what he brought to the project.

“He brought the look, which was okay by me because I like that look as well,” he said.

A question about how Nicklaus has evolved since building Glen Abbey and Muirfield Village was quickly shot down with a “You really want me to answer that?” I said yes, and Nicklaus proceeded to tell me he can now build more than 20 types of courses, depending on the desires of the owner and the location.

After it was all said and done, Nicklaus took the quick ride to the nearby landing strip (a former RAF base) where his gleaming new Gulfstream was sitting. The plane was heading to Victoria where Nicklaus would stay overnight before heading to James Island the next day to continue working on the concluding holes of the ultra-private course located on that island. It initially had 11 holes, and has been owned by the McCaw family. The island has been for sale for some time.

On the way back, bombing at 5,500 feet in an Orca Air charter, I became engaged in a conversation with several BC golf writers, including Score’s Hal Quinn, and trickshot artist/media man Brad Ewart, about who will brave the trip to the remote location of Ucluelet to play the course. Apparently you’ll have to stay at the resort — which opens in two years — to play the course. We all agreed that didn’t sound like it would lead to enough play to sustain the project.

But the course could be something special. Nicklaus talked of having the width and openness of Cypress Point or Pebble Beach, and a cursory look at the property demonstrated it has tremendously dramatic vistas of the raging sea. Nicklaus said the 15th — a 190 yard par three over an ocean inlet was as close as the course would get to the ocean, but several other holes would nearly touch the sea as well. That said, it didn’t sound like a routing was fully set and Nicklaus admitted he was yet to see the far side of the property that touches an ocean inlet.

One of the articles I’m writing on Nicklaus’ visit will be in Monday’s National Post. It largely focuses on the end of his golfing career and his thoughts on the Presidents Cup.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Good point on sustaining the project long term. What becomes of a golf course that gets completely built out of residential homes? A developer will accept losses of $1,000,000+ during the time it is making that tenfold on housing sales but the challenge of these properties is 10 years from now when a golf course that will be lucky to get 10,000 -15,000 rounds a year. They may say year round but that area gets some intense storms (the main reason you now go to Long Beach).
    Long Beach is 5 hours drive from Victoria and 2 1/2 from Nanaimo so it won’t be able to get people from the island on a regular basis. Nor will it create a golfing destination market as I always believe you need 3-4 great courses within an hour to attract a group of golfers wanting a holiday. (ie Arizona, Florida, Vegas, Okanagan, PEI). People might stay at the hotel for a week and only play 1-2 rounds.
    Good luck to them but it will be a challenge.

  • How is ‘Jack’s’ other developement at Bear Mountain doing?
    …I see they are still adding another course there, too.
    That would be (3) Nicklaus course on Vancouver Island, by my count!?

  • Long Beach, B.C. currently receives over one million tourists per year. If you are up there in July every 2nd person is European or Asian. An oceanfront golf resort in this area will do all right.

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