Jack Nicklaus with Gary Player and Lee Trevino at the Bass Pro Legends of Golf

Jack Nicklaus, Top of the Rock, Bass Pro Legends of Golf

DAVE SENKO: I would like to thank everyone for coming today and joining us for our three World Golf Hall of Famers, Lee Trevino, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. Before we open it up for questions, maybe if you can just share your thoughts on coming back to Top of the Rock and what a special event this is each year, a team event, playing with guys you played with on TOUR for many years.

LEE TREVINO: Of all the years we’ve been coming back, I came here to do the press conference when I found out that Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops were going to sponsor the Legends. We had not had the Legends for what, four or five years, and we were down in Savannah. And I came here to do the press conference, and it’s phenomenal what they’ve done here. It’s absolutely phenomenal. I don’t think at the time—we were looking at Buffalo Ridge and I didn’t think at the time we played, Jack and I played there the first year and it was so soggy and everything. I told them they had to take those fairways up and cap them. But he’s done a great job here. I think he finally looked at golf and [saw] what revenue not only the game could bring him, but the people that he could get to come to this area.

I was talking to someone this morning about Johnny Morris and I summed it up like this: I said, “You know, there’s a lot of people in this country that are extremely wealthy that give their money to charity. Johnny Morris is leaving a legacy here. He’s doing things to where people 100 years from now can see all these artifacts and the museum and all the golf courses and the hotel.” And I mean, what best two things could you ever do? I mean, if you fish, what else do you do for a second sport? You play golf. If you play golf, what you do for a second sport is you fish. Jack plays tennis. But most people, as we get older, we do a little fishing, we do a little playing golf. I think he’s captured it all, and he’s got these two gentlemen here that’s adding onto it and it’s just going to be a big golf mecca as far as I’m concerned. That’s just what I see.

GARY PLAYER: Well, I have to endorse the remarks that Lee has said, and he was appropriate with what he said. I would enlarge and say that one of the great things that we all try and do, yes, we want to win golf tournaments. We never had an opportunity to win these large sums of money, but that wasn’t our desire. We wanted to try and be the best. But Johnny Morris is leaving something behind. He’s contributing to society and that is so great. And golf-wise, you look at the golf courses he’s got and now just signing up Tiger Woods, I mean, that’s really made a very big difference. A person can come here with husband and wife, the wife doesn’t even play golf, she can be entertained. Now, that cannot happen at most golf courses. Husband goes to wife, and this is one of the reasons why rounds are down, because they cannot do things together. Now, you’ve got this beautiful nine-hole golf course and the one we’ve just finished, a 13-hole golf course, you can come here, you can play four holes, you can have breakfast with your kids, back home, spend the day with your family. You’ve got a choice here that you don’t have at other places, plus all the other sports.

I don’t know a better resort, quite honestly, on the planet. Of course, if you’ve got the money, it makes a hell of a difference. But the way it’s been done, of course I’m a farmer as much as I’m a golfer, and having traveled a lot of miles in my life, if you look at this place, the interior decorating is just unbelievable. Look at these chairs we’re sitting in. Leather. His whole idea to make a place comfortable and enjoyable is very, very different to a lot of places you go to. I think Jack’s captured that in The Bear’s Club where he is, it’s got that same kind of feeling. I think that’s important.

Really the most important thing that I think about right now in golf, a game that we love and adore and that has done so much for us, is that the rounds of golf are going down now. They’re not increasing. We’re in competition with a lot of other sports. We come here with a lot of laws and rules that young people don’t want to abide by anymore. Winston Churchill said, “Change is the price of survival.” We’ve got to make changes if we’re going to get people to play the game. Young people, in other words, not our age anymore. This is where Johnny has contributed. A few holes quick with your family, and cheaper. This is the way we’ve got to go. We’ve got to make a lot of changes.

Today you see guys hitting it—none of the players today hit the ball further than Jack did in his heyday. It’s unfortunate that people forget what happened. I mean, I played today and I played with Jack. Tiger Woods never hit the ball further than Jack. You put them both at their same age with the same ball and the same club and the same fairways, they were the same distance. So now when people play and at Augusta, they hit a driver and wedge to a par 5. And it hasn’t started yet. You haven’t had a LeBron James come out yet. I said 50 years ago on BBC, I said, “Guys, they’re going to hit the ball 400yards.” This guy gave me hell on television. Well, they’re hitting many drives 400, and I’m telling you they can hit the ball 450 yards in the future. We haven’t had a LeBron James or a Michael Jordan play golf yet. We ain’t seen nothing. So we had better think very carefully in the decisions we make for the future of this game that we know means so much to us. I don’t know of a sport where you can get to 81, like I am, and I still play on a normal golf course, I can average 70 to 72. Other sports, you’re gone when you’re 30. So I think 3 Johnny is on the right direction, which is the most important thing, is to preserve the game of golf.

JACK NICKLAUS: That’s all you guys have got to say? You know, this is a Legends tournament. We don’t—the guys don’t play together anymore. We play—Lee and Gary and I play a couple of one-day events where we have scrambles and so forth. This is the only event that I play in. I play the Father-Son, but this is the only event that I really play in with the guys. I enjoy coming here. What a beautiful room we’re in now. I mean, put a value on what you’ve got sitting on these walls here. I have no idea what it is. I guess it’s stuff from Early American or Native American history, is that what it is? To collect all that kind of stuff is unbelievable. They all talked about Johnny. Johnny’s been a friend of mine for a long time and a good friend of theirs for a long time. He’s been a friend of a lot of people for a long time. He’s done a nice job.

Talking about, Gary says he has to have the money to do that. Well, good gracious, he’s earned that. He started from nothing and he found an idea and a niche and he’s built upon it, and financially, he’s capitalized on it. And during the whole process, he’s giving back, too, which is very nice. So we’re the recipients, we’re the guys who are benefiting from what Johnny’s been doing and being here to be able to play a golf tournament. Gary and I played, what, four, five years now? This is our fourth year of play. We’ve had a great time—haven’t played worth two cents, but that’s okay, we don’t play worth two cents anymore. So anything we get paid over that will be a bonus. But anyway, it’s fun to be here. It’s enjoyable. It’s good to see the guys, and I’ve seen more guys today that I’ve played golf with than I have in 10 years. It’s kind of nice, kind of fun to reminisce a little bit, and come back and, you know, when we first—I did the first golf course here with this golf course, and as I said many times, I built a little inexpensive par-3 golf course for Johnny called Top of the Rock. We spent probably, I don’t know, half a million dollars doing the golf course. He spent about $20 million beautifying it. That’s what you’ve got. But anyway, it’s a neat place. He’s done a great job and we’re delighted to be here.

DAVE SENKO: If you have a question, just raise your hand.

Q. (Question about Tiger Woods building his new golf course.)

JACK NICKLAUS: Johnny likes brands, you know that. You go look at Bass Pro Shops, he not only has some of his brand, but he’s got everybody else’s brand in there, too. He likes brands and that’s what he’s got. He’s got a bunch of brands and a bunch of nice complexes that will serve him well.

GARY PLAYER: I think Tiger Woods himself [inaudible] all over the world with a wonderful golf record, and I think that Johnny’s clever. You’ve got to be a man for all seasons, and with Tiger Woods’ name, it will tend to bring a lot of young people here and that’s a brilliant move. And also, a public golf course. You know, so many people wanted to go play golf in the past and that is one of the big problems that golf faces. They couldn’t get on the golf courses, it was too expensive, and now with public golf courses they’ve come to the rescue, so I think he’s made a brilliant move.

LEE TREVINO: I have no clue because I don’t know how many courses he’s building and what he has, but I will say this, the public golf course, this is the great thing about public golf courses, these two guys are witnesses of that. Public golf courses have made a big leap in the last 15 years, and the reason for it is because they’re keeping those courses in the condition that the private clubs are being kept in. And instead of people going and joining these clubs—but it’s letting more people play the game. That was the whole thing back in the ’50s and the ’60s, these guys will tell you. You used to be able to play a public—it wasn’t in very good condition but you could play a public golf course for a dollar. Denison Park was $1.25 for 18 holes, that was a daily fee. It’s a city-owned golf course, but it wasn’t in very good condition, but rightfully so, they weren’t making ends meet. I’m all for it. The more public courses that you can put in, the better off you are.

JACK NICKLAUS: How much golf in America do you think is played on public golf courses versus private golf courses, what’s your guys’ guess?

LEE TREVINO: I would have no clue.

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, the figures that I’ve been told recently, 91 percent of golf is played on public golf courses. So 85 is a pretty good guess. So most of your golf is played on public golf courses anyway. That’s great, that’s opening it up. And now the public golf courses, they’ve started to, as you say, giving golf courses access to the public but it’s good golf. Good golf and nicely conditioned. And people are finding that they can go, instead of joining a club, they can go play a public golf course and have more variety and play more places and for a lot less money and enjoy it. I think that’s—the three things we have in the game that are difficult is time, money and difficulty. You put the three of them together and public golf should handle a lot of those.

Q. Gary and Jack, you’ve come up with some innovative ideas here, very welcome, about the speeding up the game. Gary, you’ve done a 13-hole course now. Jack, I guess you’re talking about some less compression so you can play golf on smaller courses and faster. Could you elaborate on those changes you’re talking about, changes to golf?

JACK NICKLAUS: Basically I know Gary was asked to do a 13-hole golf course. You can pick any number of golf courses. I’ve got a project, I don’t want to tell you where it is because it hasn’t been publicly announced yet, but the USGA is all over it, wants to work with us on it. I’ve been talking with Mike Davis quite a bit about the game of golf. Mike’s the executive director of the USGA. But the game of golf has been played by how far a golf ball goes and that’s how a golf course has been designed for a long time. Your old golf courses that are 6,000 yards. Well, they were designed because the golf ball went proportionately for a 6,000-yard golf course. And then it went to 6,500, then it went to 6,800, went to 7,000, 7,500. Who knows where that stops. But you’ve got thousands of golf courses in this country and around the world that really, if you wanted to play a championship event on them, you would rate them as being a 90 percent course, 80 percent course, 70 percent, 60, 50. It’s very simple to make a golf ball to fit that. I would think the golf ball manufacturers would like this for the simple reason that they’d end up making four or five times as many golf balls because they make it for different length golf courses.

The one project I’m talking about is about a 100-year-old golf course that is in a public park in the center of a city. No extra space, nothing else. They wanted to restore the golf course and restore the park system and so forth and so on, and I said to them, I said, “Well, your golf course is probably just fine for what it was 100 years ago. Why don’t we restore the golf course in a modern-looking golf course and have it be probably whatever the proportion of what it should be. Maybe it’s a 70-percent golf course, a 75 golf course. We just have a 75-percent golf ball that we play at that golf course. Now, if you want to play with a 100-percent golf ball, what is the result? The result is that it becomes easier, faster and cheaper. And so that heads up the problems we have. And let’s say some guy comes along and he has a piece of grass and he’s only got 50 acres. He says I want to have a golf course. You can’t do that, you need 150 acres. Well, you don’t need 150 acres, you can design a beautiful golf course on 50 acres, but you can certainly design a golf ball to fit that golf course. I think with the cost of land, the cost of maintenance, the cost of water, all those kind of costs, I think that’s a practical thing. Will that happen overnight? No, of course it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time.

People want to go back and try to look at where they’re going and what could happen with that. I know I’ve brought that up since I was doing this one project in this one city and I’ve talked to about half a dozen people since then of different projects, and they said, we’ll do that, that saves us having to go back and try to find more land and find that. We could do this and build it cheaper and more within our budget. All we have to do is find a golf ball for it. I said, “Well, golf ball manufacturers will make the golf ball to fit it, that will not be a problem.” As a matter of fact, in 1995, we played an 80 percent golf ball.

GARY PLAYER: What did you say about us talking a long time?.

JACK NICKLAUS: I like to talk.

GARY PLAYER: Well, so many different aspects. First of all, I think the ball has been the main culprit that has hurt the game. You’ve got a beautiful golf course that members play on. They’re never going to have a tournament there, never, ever, ever. And now they see these pros hitting the ball these prodigious distances, and a pro comes here and he hits a driver and 8-iron at the par 5 and they think they’ve got to change everything. And the worst thing that happens are these committees that they have at golf clubs. They want to leave a legacy and they have no damn idea about golf, so leave it as it is. Let the amateurs have all the technology that’s around, but let the pros—all they have to do, it’s very simple, instead of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent from Augusta to Timbuktu around the world is unnecessary. All they had to do is take a simple thing like the mold and cut the ball back. They could have played Augusta under the same conditions. In other words, Augusta being quite small, what Jack Nicklaus hit at a par 5 and a par 4, generally speaking they’re hitting today. So they adjusted the golf course.

LEE TREVINO: Jack hit wedges on that hole?

GARY PLAYER: No, I’m saying generally.

JACK NICKLAUS: If I wanted to, Lee.

GARY PLAYER: But the thing is that Augusta is quite embarrassing because I said they’re making golf courses long and unnecessary. I said one thing about Augusta, they cannot go back on the streets anymore. Well, what do they do? They bought the damn highways so they can go back on the streets. So everybody’s got length, length, length and wasting money. Jack said water. I’m a farmer and I can tell you, water, by the year 2025, the world will be short of 25 percent of the water [it needs]. America’s going to be buying water from Canada. Most countries of the world don’t have water. Most people carry water on their back five miles to have a wash. Americans have no concept about that. Water—Australia, Africa, most places in the world, they’re running out of water big time. So Jack—and then the water, the cost, the fertilizer goes up. If you fertilize my crops too much, I get a crap crop in the end. It ruins the soil. So you’ve got to put back probably organic stuff. It’s quite complicated, but the fact remains, I think the ball, and really they’re working on the right thing and Jack explained it very well, that the ball has been the big problem.

GARY PLAYER: You didn’t hit the best chip either, did you?

LEE TREVINO: Oh, no, the chip was good.

GARY PLAYER: And Jacklin then three-putts. Now you go to the last hole. You’re still one ahead.

JACK NICKLAUS: Jacklin’s out of it.

GARY PLAYER: Jacklin made a what? He made a 5.

JACK NICKLAUS: Gary, it doesn’t make—Lee beat me by a shot.

GARY PLAYER: Once he three-putted, he was one shot ahead of you and Jacklin, right?


GARY PLAYER: Excuse me. You were both—what were you then?


GARY PLAYER: You finished.

LEE TREVINO: They were both a shot behind me when Jacklin was going to 18.

JACK NICKLAUS: Did Jacklin bogey 18?

LEE TREVINO: Yeah, bogeyed 18, you beat him.

JACK NICKLAUS: I finished 4-5-4. I was on the 16th tee and I said that if I finish 3-4-4, the same as I did in ’66, I’m going to win the golf tournament, and I finished 4-5-4 and lost the tournament by a shot. He made the shot to win the tournament.

GARY PLAYER: But Jacklin never came back. He got a little bit yippy and he never played really well again. It meant so much to him, but in the press conference they said to Lee, “How did you do that?” He said, “It’s simple, God is a Mexican.” I’ll never forget that.

JACK NICKLAUS: Do we have any questions besides us just talking?

Q. I’m doing a piece on Arnold Palmer. What did he mean to each of you and how have you guys tried to remember him this year?

JACK NICKLAUS: Arnold was a great friend, a great competitor, and what he did for the game of golf was tremendous. I think Arnold Palmer came along at a great time for the game of golf, and the game of golf and television came along at a great time for Arnold Palmer, and the two of them had a nice marriage and it was great for a long, long time. I guess Arnold just wore out, as you might say, which we all will do one day. But we all miss our friend and our competitor.

LEE TREVINO: I played the last competitive round with Arnold Palmer at Augusta Pines in Houston, Texas. I birdied 1, I birdied 2, and he comes running over to me in the third fairway and he says, “Are you trying to embarrass me?” And I said, “Wait a minute, what are you talking about?” And he said, no, he said, I got lucky. And we went to the fourth hole, par 3, boomerang green. The pin was on the right side over the water and I hit a shot kind of to the middle of the green, and Arnie hits one. And he looks back at me and he says, “How close is that?” I said, “How close is what?” And he was playing in the tournament, this is a senior tournament. And I said, “What are you talking about, how close is it?” I said, “The ball hit up on the bank and it rolled back in the water.” He said, “What?” I said, “It rolled back in the water.” He said, “Man, I thought that was stiff.” I said, “Arnie, the pin is on the right side over here.” I said, “That’s a tree that you were shooting at over there.” And I swear to it, this is the Gospel truth, he quit on that hole. He quit on that hole. He said, “That’s it.” He said, “That’s the last competitive shot I’ll ever hit.” God’s truth. I said, “Well, let me get you a cart.” He said, “No, I’m going to finish the round.” He said, “I’ve never walked off a golf course, I’m not going to start today.” We told the girl, the standard bearer, we said, “Don’t put any more scores for Mr. Palmer, he’s withdrawing.” So I was trying to figure out what I was going to get from him, in other words, as a memento. I said I’m going to get his golf ball when he putts out. Well, he got brave because he’s trying to carry all the lakes and he’s trying to go—take shortcuts.

JACK NICKLAUS: He didn’t have any left.

LEE TREVINO: That’s what I was afraid of, that he was going to run out of balls. And I’m over there with wedges, trying to fish them out. I got me a ball retriever. I’m trying to get all these balls back because he’s got the umbrella on the ball, and I said, “He’s going to run out of balls.” Sure enough, he made an eight-footer on the last hole and I took his ball. I will say this, if I can say anything about Mr. Palmer, I loved the man. I think that they would endorse that here, that he was the most competitive guy I’ve ever met. He loved the game. I don’t know of anyone—Gary farms and that’s his whole deal. He played golf, but he farms. That’s what he loves doing. He’s got horses. Jack, great golf architect, he loves building golf courses and stuff and it’s a second thing. I only played golf. I loved it. I slept it, I ate it. I couldn’t wait to get to the golf course. Today, at 77, I’m the same way. The one thing that reminds me of Mr. Palmer is he was the same way. Every day he was in his shop beating up on clubs, thinking he was going to build a miracle one, the club that was going to hit the shot that he’s looking for.

JACK NICKLAUS: He loved golf more than anybody I know.

LEE TREVINO: More than me? Close second.

JACK NICKLAUS: You’re a close second, that’s right.

LEE TREVINO: That’s the kind of guy he was.

JACK NICKLAUS: You know, this is off the subject, but Lee got—I had my son Steve caddying for me one time. Did you ever hear this story? Steve, we’re playing at I don’t remember what tournament, but the last hole was a par 5 over water. You know how Steve is, he’ll take the shortcut wherever he could. So we got to the 18th hole and I had about, I don’t know, 220 yards over the water to the green. I said, “What do you think, Steve?” He said, “I think you need to lay it up.” I said, “What do you mean lay it up?” He says, “Well, I think you need to lay it up.” He said, “I think it’s best to hit it out here and hit it on the green, you can’t chance the water.” I said, “Well, why not?” He said, “Because it’s the only ball you’ve got left.” He took all the balls out of the bag so he only had to carry three balls and that’s all he had.

GARY PLAYER: I think everything has basically been said about Arnold. He fell out of bed with charisma. Some have to develop charisma; he had it. It was a divine gift, whatever you want to call it. I think that he loved golf, but he also loved people and people loved him, and he had great patience with people. At Augusta this year on the first tee when Jack and I hit, I was very choked up because it affected me for almost really 30 minutes afterward. I’ll tell you why, because Arnold was a great believer in good manners. He always took his hat off, he was well mannered and he sat on the first tee, and I think I was basically the only one that really noticed this because I had been friends with him for 60 years.

Billy Payne, who spoke so eloquently on the first tee this year, by the way. He introduced Arnold, he was brought out to the first tee, and do you know when they mentioned his name, he had very strong arms, needless to say, and he pushed himself up like this out of a chair and still stood up and said thank you. Now, 99 percent of us would have sat there, knowing that our legs were weak and just said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” but he stood up. And when I saw Billy Payne—that is the last time I saw Arnold. When I saw him put the jacket on the chair, it grabbed me. You know how certain things grab certain people. Jack gave a wave up there, which was very, very nice.

But friendship—you know, we had our disagreements. Arnold and I, we argued, we cried together at Bay Hill. We argued together. But when you have friends like these guys that you’re friends for 60 years, you’re blessed. But he had a great life, and I have a different version. Everybody makes such a fuss at death. It’s a celebration. If you’ve got a child that dies young, it’s terribly tragic, but Arnold had a great life. He loved his drinking, he loved his smoking. He ate crap. And I said to him, before he died I phoned him and I said, “You were like Tarzan. If I ate and [drank] the way you [did], I would have been dead at 60. And you’re 87, you’ve had a great life, man. Phenomenal life. Are you scared of dying?” He said “No, I’m not scared of dying.” I just said, “Well, thanks for the great friendship,” and I said, “I’m not coming to your funeral. I’m not traveling all the way from South Africa to come over for one day and then fly all the way back the next day.” I told Jack the same thing the other night at dinner, and I don’t want you to come to my funeral. Give love now. I’ll give him love right now. You’re going to a better place than us, man. You’re getting a mulligan, you’re going to a great place.

LEE TREVINO: I just want to say one more thing. I did watch—I always do, I did watch you guys opening at Augusta—but I want to tell you one thing. I’ve heard a lot of speeches in my time, but I’ll tell you something, that speech that Billy Payne put on at that first tee was absolutely phenomenal. He did a fabulous job.

JACK NICKLAUS: He did a great job. He was so nervous, he was shaking like a leaf. I mean, he had to rehearse it 50 times.

LEE TREVINO: I bet he read it over and over.

JACK NICKLAUS: I know he did, but he really did a nice job.

LEE TREVINO: Thank you. Enjoy your week.

Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock Golf Course offers one of the most unique golfing experiences available in the entire Midwest. It is the first of it’s kind; the first Jack…

More News from Top of the Rock

April 24, 2017

PGA TOUR Champions and Bass Pro Shops announce four-year extension of Legends of Golf at Jack Nicklaus-designed Top of the Rock

Read More

April 20, 2017

Jack Nicklaus to join other legends, celebrities in Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge

Read More

April 22, 2016

Golden Bear, Gary Player, Tom Watson lead the list of legends returning to Nicklaus-designed Top of The Rock, premier golf event at Big Cedar Lodge

Read More