Jack Nicklaus still a voice in golf course construction

Larry Bohannan, The Desert Sun

8:29 p.m. PST December 30, 2014

Jack Nicklaus was in the desert Tuesday to look at new golf holes he designed a decade ago.

(Photo: Scott Avra/Special to The Desert Sun)

Not many new golf holes are being built in the United States these days, even in the golf-rich Coachella Valley. But Tuesday, legendary golfer and course designer Jack Nicklaus was in the desert looking at construction of holes he designed a decade ago.

“Bill [Bone] and I have talked about it every year,” Nicklaus said after he and Sunrise Company chairman Bill Bone inspected eight new golf holes under construction at Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells. “We’ve gone fishing several times together. We say, well, maybe next year. It is now next year.”

Nicklaus did the original design on 36 holes at Toscana, which opened in 2005. But only 28 holes have been built, all 18 on the South Course and the front nine holes and the 18th hole on the North Course. Earlier this year, Toscana started construction on the final eight holes, holes 10 through 17 on the North Course. Those holes should be open around Nov. 1, 2015.

“We try to do what we did to the third nine [the front nine of the North Course] and just carry what we did with the third nine on through it,” Nicklaus said. “Try to make it look like it was done all at the same time.”

For Nicklaus, who has two course designs at PGA West in La Quinta and another at the Club at Morningside in Rancho Mirage, the final holes at Toscana give him a chance to revisit his original design — drawing for three of the eight holes were lost in time — and make a few changes.

“I changed a few holes today,” Nicklaus said after touring Toscana in the cold, wind and sporadic rain on Tuesday. “There were a couple of holes that I didn’t like, what we had on paper to the way it turned out on the ground, so I changed it a little bit.”

One reason the final holes at Toscana are being built now is the demand for home sites at the Indian Wells Country Club.

“The real idea of this project was you did the golf course as the demand [for homes] was here. Had the economy stayed the way it was, we probably would have been maybe a year or two years between them,” Nicklaus said. “But the economy fell out.”

Working on a golf course in the United States has become increasingly rare for designers like Nicklaus as the game has grown stagnant in this country and far more courses have been closing than opening in recent years. Nicklaus said much of his American work these days is renovating and reworking older courses of his own and some other designers.

The drop in interest in the game has concerned Nicklaus for years, and he has been a vocal advocate of throttling back technologically advanced golf balls and a proponent of initiatives like larger golf holes for recreational players.

“The average golfer always wants to relate to the pro, and I don’t think the average golfer can relate to the pro today,” said Nicklaus, the all-time winner in golf’s four major championships with 18 victories, and third all-time in PGA Tour wins with 73. “How can you relate to someone who can hit it 330 yards, 340 yards?”

Nicklaus hopes initiatives like larger cups, which have been used on several Nicklaus courses across the country, and Tee It Forward, which promotes shorter and more appropriate tees for some players, will stem the slide in golf participation in the country.

“The only thing it is supposed to do is to bring people into the game and keep them in the game,” Nicklaus said. “You introduce women and children to the game, well, it’s a tough game. You really want them to have some kind of success. And the seniors who are struggling as they start to get a little older, losing their strength, you give them a bigger hole and they have a game where they can enjoy it.

“You are not trying to change the game for people,” Nicklaus added. “You are just trying to bring people in and have them have more fun.”

Nicklaus has a reason for his West Coast trip this week other than Toscana. He and his wife, Barbara, on Thursday will attend the Rose Bowl, where their grandson Nick O’Leary is the starting tight end for Florida State. Nicklaus has attended 13 Florida State games this year and hopes to attend the national championship game if Florida State beats Oregon. It’s possible Florida State might face Nicklaus’ alma mater Ohio State in that championship game, but Nicklaus said that will be no dilemma. Nicklaus will root for Florida State.

“If the two of them are fortunate enough to get there, Ohio State will just have to wait until next year when Nick is gone from Florida State, and I’ll be back,” Nicklaus laughed.

Toscana North Course

Both Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf courses at Toscana Country Club play at over 7,000 yards from the “Golden Bear tees,” and are designed with separate tees to offer a variety…

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