By ERIC PLUMMER
Courtesy of the Bonner County Daily Bee
SANDPOINT — Just like back in the day, a gallery of people were following the Golden Bear around a golf course as he worked his magic.
Except green grass, golf clubs and pins were nowhere to be found, just vast expanses of dusty dirt waiting to be molded to his exact specifications.
Jack Nicklaus spent Friday afternoon taking a tour of what will ultimately be The Idaho Club — formerly Hidden Lakes Golf Course. Not much is left of the old course, as massive amounts of earth are being pushed around and reconfigured into a Nicklaus designed course.
More than 30 people followed Nicklaus around the course as he inspected and made slight adjustments to five holes, which were roughly formed and are nearly ready for grass seed. Dust clouds were everywhere as a dozen carts convoyed behind Nicklaus through the holes, which bear no resemblance to the old Hidden Lakes.
Members of the Nicklaus Design team took copious notes of every subtle change that Nicklaus made. While he was pleased with much of it, there were subtle tweaks that he made in what amounted to a kind of final walk through.
“I think this is pretty vanilla right here,” said Nicklaus, pointing to an expanse of dirt behind a green. “Increase the break a little more, it will look better from the tee, you’ll be able to see a little green.”
At Nicklaus’ side for most of the three hour course tour were Chuck Reeves, owner of The Idaho Club, and a host of golf course design experts.
“Chuck’s been a good friend of mine for years,” said Nicklaus. “He worked for me for a couple of years looking for projects and found this. He asked if I’d come up and do it, and that’s why we’re here.”
Nicklaus is in the midst of a whirlwind tour of his own golfing creations. Thursday he was in Bozeman, Mont., and Las Vegas, Nev. Immediately upon finishing his work in Sandpoint Friday, he was off to hop a jet to Nebraska, where he will open another of his courses today. From there he will head to Banff, B.C., to play in the Canadian Skins, before finally retreating home for a “couple of days.”
Flying into Sandpoint he marveled at how beautiful the area was, noting that he had never been to North Idaho before last month. His goal in designing the course is to disturb as little of the natural environment as possible.
“You try and work with what’s here,” said Nicklaus. “It’s a puzzle, you sort of figure out the puzzle and unlock it. We’re trying to make it aesthetically pleasing and put good golf shots out there. If you can do all those things, you’ll end up with a pretty nice golf course.”
The timetable for completion of the course is still up in the air, although golf pro Mike DePrez said there’s a small chance of having nine holes finished by Labor Day of next year. DePrez said Nicklaus studied the topography first, and went where it led him, fundamentally changing six or seven of the holes.
“Now he’s fine tuning some of those changes,” said DePrez, who was the golf pro at Hidden Lakes and will remain in that capacity at The Idaho Club.
Nicklaus and some of his team held a 30-minute discussion on one of the holes to determine which grass seed to plant. The greens and fairways will be bent grass, while off fairway was to be blue grass. Nicklaus lobbied for fescue, noting that blue grass requires more water and can get mushy. After lobbying back and forth, ultimately he said “it’s your call” to Reeves.
He’ll be back in another three weeks to iron out a few more wrinkles before the project is put on the shelf for the winter. He hopes to build a course for everyone — not just expert golfers — to enjoy.
“We’re not trying to build a tournament golf course,” said Nicklaus. “We’re trying to build a nice course for people to come here and enjoy. This is a gorgeous area, you guys would be very happy if nobody ever found out about it.”