Ultimately, the course that Jack is building will cover 220 acres on a 1,600-acre plot Golden Bear, Inc. bought on the north side of Columbus. It will be called The New Course at Muirfield, an engaging combination of names of the links upon which he won his two British Opens—The Old Course at St. Andrews and the premises of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield. There are now—or soon will be—more than a dozen courses bearing Nicklaus' mark: among them, Heritage at Hilton Head, the one in Columbus, two in Cincinnati, one in Palm Beach. He will build four in Japan. "One is going to be exactly like St. Andrews," Jack said. "They tell me it can't be done. We'll see."
On a knoll overlooking a portion of the Columbus project he stopped. He explained the initial steps had been taken to get Muirfield a place on the PGA tournament tour, probably in 1975. "Sure, this will be a tough course," he said, "but we can ease up on it later. Once you take out a 50-year-old tree, it's out. You can't grow it back in three months."
He said he was oriented now "to build great courses, not just good courses." He said he had come to realize that he did not want to be known as another lucky jock who won a lot of money. "I want to leave more than a record."
Nicklaus does not return to Columbus as often as he used to, except for these in-and-out golf-course inspections. He used to make all the Ohio State football games. He and Jesse Owens are the only athletes in Ohio State history to receive honorary degrees. "The first year I played in the U.S. Amateur I carried a portable radio around to listen to the Michigan game," he said. When he couldn't make the game a few years ago, he called a friend in Columbus and had him put the receiver next to the radio so he could listen. The phone call cost $38.
To a degree Palm Beach has become a refuge from too many friends and too many demands on his time, but he is loath to break ties with his Columbus buddies. Take insurance executive Bob Hoag, for example. Twenty years ago when Jack was 13, he literally drove into Hoag's life. At the time Bob was 10 years Nicklaus' senior and known as the longest hitter at Scioto. On this particular day Hoag had hit his drive and was down a double-dip in the 16th fairway, flexing for his second shot, when a ball from the tee came skipping through his legs. Bob Hoag, meet Jack Nicklaus.
"We were friends from then on," Nicklaus was saying over the hum of the engines as his chartered Lear jet lifted out of Columbus for Cincinnati. "Hoag goes with me to the Crosby every year, to play in the pro-am. He eats it up."
The side trip to Cincinnati was for a look at the two public courses he designed in a joint venture with the Taft Broadcasting Company for its King's Island amusement complex. Ordinarily, he said, he flies commercial, having-discard-ed the luxury of a private jet as one of the first moves to streamline his corporate life—consolidating, cutting off fat.
A sportscaster friend from Miami named Bob Halloran, who was along for the ride, said rumor had it that Jack was lobbying for a football franchise. Nicklaus said he had talked with many of the NFL owners. "I'm still enthused about the notion but I have reservations. A team-sports franchise will be a nightmare for owners if Congress abolishes the reserve clause. I sure don't need that.
"One thing about it—you can't deny the hold pro football has," he said. "Look at me, a regular Dolphin nut. And the coverage it gets. The sportswriters, television—they can't stay away."
Halloran said he could never understand the bad press Nicklaus once received. He recalled a time when he was a cameraman for his Miami station and a PGA official tried to move him from his vantage point near the action at the Doral Open. Nicklaus interceded, saying,' I don't know who's right or wrong, but this man is a member of the press, and we need the press." Halloran seemed to think that was pretty noble.