Unable to stand my groveling anymore, Nicklaus finally granted me a one-day job in August 2001, carrying for him at the grand opening of a course he had designed near Vail, Colo., called the Summit at Cordillera. He said he would play the Fred Meyer Challenge, a charity event in Portland that Monday and Tuesday, then do Vail on Wednesday. I said I was going to be at the Meyer too. "Great," he said, "I'll give you a lift."
It took me a few seconds to realize he was offering to fly me on Air Bear, his Gulfstream III, to Vail. Will there be a meal?
Of all the friends a guy might like to have, Nicklaus would be Nos. 1 through 10, if only for the tickets he has. He has season tickets to the Miami Dolphins, the Florida Marlins, the Florida Panthers and his favorite team, the Miami Heat, but because of his busy schedule he rarely attends the games.
Same goes for his many homes. He's got one at Reynolds Plantation, outside Atlanta. He's got one at Muirfield Village, outside Columbus. He bought one at Cordillera. He's got one on the edge of a game park in South Africa. He says, "I've shot every kind of big game you can see—except leopard—from my back porch." Hey! One-stop dropping. He spends most of his nonroad nights at his home in North Palm Beach, Fla. But 162 nights a year, on average, he's on the road, building golf courses for as much as $2 million each plus expenses.
It's not a bad name to have on the front of your scorecard: J.W. Nicklaus, two U.S. Amateur titles, 73 PGA Tour wins, six Masters, four U.S. Opens, five PGAs, three British Opens, 19 seconds in majors, 48 top threes in majors, eight times the leading money winner; dominant fat, dominant skinny, dominant crew-cut, dominant mod, dominant hated, dominant loved, Fat Jack, Golden Bear, Golfer of the Damned Century.
But Nicklaus has left his handwriting not only on how the game is played at its best but also on where it's played at its best. Someday he may be remembered more for building golf courses than for demolishing them. By Father's Day, 2003, Nicklaus himself will have designed 184 courses, many of them among the finest in the world, and his company, Nicklaus Design, will have built 262. Over the years 36 of Nicklaus's courses have made various Top 100 national and international lists. Not that he cares. "Course ratings are all politics," he says. "It's who's best at kissing the asses of the course raters."
He has built courses on six continents and in 28 countries. He built one in Brunei to go with a hotel of the sultan's. Problem was, the first time the sultan's nephew Prince Hakeem played it, he told Nicklaus, "I like this one. Build another one for the hotel, and I'll keep this one." Then the prince added, "Oh, and put lights on it, will you?"
So Nicklaus built another course and flew over for the opening. "I remember they laid out 54 pairs of pants for the prince to choose from," Nicklaus says. "They told me they have 4,500 cars in the royal family. Jaguar had just come out with this incredible $800,000 model. The prince had one in every color. It's the same with Gulf-streams. He has this thing about them. He had three G-3s, four G-4s and five G-5s. I told a friend of mine from Gulfstream, 'You guys should've come out with the G-12.' "
For an overseas course, Nicklaus's company gets $1.5 million, and Nicklaus visits twice. Sometimes two visits are more than enough. "They have these official dinners," Nicklaus says, "and it can get pretty weird. My guys have had to eat monkey brain. They lop [the top of] its head off and hand you a spoon." Enjoy!
If you sign up for a team project—Jack and his son Jackie, or Jack and his son Gary—the fee is $1.1 million. For Jack and Michael it's $800,000, and all business dinners must be held at McDonald's, of course.