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Around Jack Nicklaus these days there is a lot of talk about such thrilling things as "partnership relationships" and "internal use situations" and "investment specialization consultation" and any number of other references that seem to have very little to do with hitting a golf ball. It is all tied together, however. With each divot Nicklaus takes now, a bit of the world economy flutters up also. There is something out there on the horizon that might be called Global Bear Conglomerate Golden Fun, Inc., and do not be surprised some Sunday if it happens to gobble up your foursome.
It was a little over a decade ago that a couple of guys named Arnold Palmer and Mark McCormack wrote the pilot film on how a sports star of immense proportions can become a walking corporation. Over the years other athletes have tried to do the same thing, most of them without gigantic success because, like writers, all they know about commerce is that sometimes it is big, sometimes it is small and frequently it is loaded onto ships and into box cars. Jack Nicklaus is definitely not in this category. He is buying up golf like bologna at the delicatessen.
All this began about four years ago when Nicklaus left McCormack to start up his own business organization. Since then, aside from winning a few major championships, Nicklaus has spent most of his time with an Ohio ex-semimini tycoon, an Indiana ex-banker, a Texas ex-advertising man, an ex- Wall Street lawyer, an ex-London editor and a current Detroit tax adviser. What has emerged is a Jack Nicklaus worth roughly $15 million, give or take a set of MacGregor irons. He has business interests from downtown Columbus to Tochigi, Japan, he can almost say that he runs about a fourth of the tournaments on the PGA circuit, and he does say that he considers it fun to go from the 18th green to an urgent decision involving Golden Bear, Inc., Executive Sports, Golforce, Inc., SportsConcepts, the Jack Nicklaus Corporation of Geneva and London, Asahi Chemical, Golforce Espa�a, General Motors Overseas Operations. And on and on, into the night, all the while gracing the ads and images of Hart Schaffner & Marx, Hathaway shirts, Eastern Air Lines, Bostonian shoes, Pontiac, Coca-Cola and Brunswick.
Last week was a splendid occasion to ponder this high finance, for Nicklaus found himself in a unique situation. Out in southwest Ohio, halfway between somewhere and nowhere, Nicklaus was winning a thing called the Ohio Kings Island Open, an event he got placed on the circuit, run by his people, on a course that he designed and that he owns.
Specifically, the situation is that Nicklaus helped design the course with his former associate, Desmond Muirhead; he owns 35% of the land and owns 24% of John Montgomery's Executive Sports, which not only ran this tournament but also runs 11 others—the Canadian Open, Atlanta, Doral, Jacksonville, Gleason, Southern, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Orlando, Sutton and Tallahassee.
Wait a minute. Does this mean that Jack Nicklaus, in a sense, actually controls the destiny of one-fourth of the tournaments? That he is getting paid to run tournaments that put up prize money for him to win? And is there something wrong with that?
"Obviously I asked [Tour Commissioner] Joe Dey about it before we did it," Jack explained. "His opinion was that there not only wasn't anything wrong with it, he was delighted. He said it seemed to him to be the natural extension of a player's involvement in the game."
The next thing that comes to mind is why wouldn't Nicklaus be sure to compete in all of his own tournaments? Better for business all the way around.
"John Montgomery would like that," Jack said. "This year I played in five out of the 12. That's hardly what you'd call conflict of interest."
Nicklaus also chose last week to set the record straight on a rumor lurking in all of the PGA bunkers that, along with everything else, he is buying up the other good talent on the tour. The word was that Tom Weiskopf and Ben Crenshaw had "signed with Nicklaus."