By his standards, he was in a slump -- not winning enough majors to suit himself, or the press.
He was the scourge of many in the golf world for the great concession in the
Nicklaus also was trying to lose weight. He'd just peeled off 30 pounds, but the press still said the fairways on his new Harbour Town Golf Links were so narrow that "Fat Jack" couldn't fit in them.
And that first Heritage, played on
But as the 50th Heritage tournament is being played over the same course this week, Nicklaus says both the course and the tournament changed his life by making him a better golfer.
He also says he didn't take home a dime for his labors on the course.
I asked him by phone how it all came about.
What is the first inkling you had of
Well, he said, "I have
Charles said, "I've never heard of him."
I said, "I think you'd like him. Pete is very creative and he's not done very many golf courses yet, but you're going to hear of him."
How did you know he was going to turn into a great one as well?
First of all, David, the contract came to me, and then I brought Pete in. That's what most people don't understand. But that's the way it came.
Pete and I had been friends for a long time. We'd played golf together. I beat Pete in the semifinals of the Trans-Miss (Trans-Mississippi Championship) when I was 18. I beat Pete and won the next day and that's what got me in the Walker Cup.
He was in the insurance business and he'd fiddled around with
I said, "Pete, I don't know anything about golf courses."
He said, "Oh, you know a lot more than you think."
I made 23 trips in there, David, in a Lear Jet, which I got reimbursed zero for.
You had a gentleman's agreement between you and Pete?
Oh, no no.
Were you paid the fee for the design?
The fee was
Was that your idea or Pete's?
Pete's! Of course. (laughter)
So you didn't get design money and you didn't get expense money?
No, but it was one of the greatest experiences I ever had in my life.
And, matter of fact, I went from, that was 1969 when that golf course opened, probably 1981 or 1982, the CEO of my company (Nicklaus Design) came to me and said, Jack, isn't about time you changed this avocation to a vocation? We never made any money making golf courses, we were just having fun and loving doing it. That was not my interest. I was making plenty of money playing golf.
You won the Heritage in 1975, and 1977 was your last appearance at the Heritage. Was there any reason for not coming after that?
I don't remember why, but it didn't work out with scheduling.
I never had an issue with Charles. I have a great relationship with everyone there still today. Even though I haven't been there in a long time, that doesn't mean that I had any reason not to be.
Where do you think the course stands in history, and the tournament?
I think it stands pretty high. What it boils down to, do the players like it? Yes. Do the players enjoy playing there? Yes. Do you get a good field? Yes. It certainly gets a good television ratings. I think all those things are yeses.
I think it is a testament to how good a designer Pete was, and I'll take a little bit of credit for being involved in it and learning and having fun with it, and inputting a lot onto the golf course.
It impacted my career greatly, not only from a golf standpoint, but as I learned and did that, it also taught me more on how to play the game of golf and I think it impacted the Tour as a first-class, quality tournament.
There's a lot of good things they did there. Feeding on the water, what they did on Calibogue Sound. The 18th hole out there. You probably would not be able to do that today. I'm sure you would not be able to do that today. Pete was pretty good at asking for forgiveness rather than permission.
It was a great project, attracted great golfers and still does today and I think that's a testament to Pete and what
Tell me about that first Heritage tournament. It was a time of change in your life.
That was the year I went down there a couple days before I went and found out my dad had pancreatic cancer. It started with hepatitis.
We did not know that. I was upset that he couldn't come. He said, "I don't think I can go down there and be there. I don't think I can help anybody. "
So I got back the day after the tournament and that's when I talked to the doctor and the doctor told me, "Jack he's got pancreatic cancer and it's gone to the liver. " I said, "How long?" He said six to 12 weeks and I think he lived nine weeks.
He passed on
Did you ever think of the constellation of stars who were there in 1969:
We didn't know we were famous then (laughter). I think when you get a bunch of people who are significant in their field and all of a sudden as time goes on they become more significant and better, you always think, well the Heritage got pretty good coverage because of that.
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