Above a murmur, Jack Nicklaus suddenly appeared on the podium at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on Saturday, prepared to address the media and an audience before the ceremonial dedication of his new Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.
“My gosh, we’ve got a pretty good crowd here this morning,” said Nicklaus, who’d just walked part of the layout.
Behind The Golden Bear was a large, black and white photograph of The Golden Bear, smashing a shot at a Philadelphia golf course in 1964. Nicklaus was 24 then. In the photography, a boy gawked at the shot. He is Mike McMahon, who is today the general manager at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain.
Nicklaus and the Ritz-Carlton’s principals are intertwined. The golf legend designed the La Paloma golf course in the 1980s with David Mehl, developer of the new complex on Dove Mountain, and Mehl’s brother George. More than 20 years later, David Mehl and Jack Nicklaus have worked together once more on Dove Mountain.
“Jack is not only the greatest golfer in the world, he’s just a phenomenal designer,” said Mehl. “I’ve been able to witness, twice, the artistry with which he approaches everything on the golf course and the strategy and the significance and the importance of everything that he lays out on any given golf hole.”
Creating a golf course for a community and for the PGA Tour – this year’s World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play tournament, for the first time – “is very special for me,” Nicklaus said. “At least it was until I heard the commentators on television.”
Their criticism aside, “I think it’s turned out spectacular,” Nicklaus said.
“Any time you do something as complicated as we did, you’re not going to get everything right the first time,” Nicklaus said. “We got it 95 percent right. We’ll adjust.”
Mehl’s objective, with partners Tim and Casey Bollinger, was “to create the finest golf community we could in the desert. I’m very proud of what we have built. It is a spectacular golf course,” providing a golf experience “unmatched throughout the desert.”
“We can go out and create the same old thing, and I don’t think that’s what you want,” Nicklaus said. “My main objective” was to create “a golf course that was for you people, one that you could enjoy, one you say is different.
“Golf was never meant to be a fair game,” Nicklaus said. “You get good breaks, you get bad breaks. You get good bounces, you get bad bounces.” His intention is “you might actually have to think a little bit and play a shot.”
He spoke about Augusta, the scene of many triumphs, and the mental challenge of Augusta National.
“I don’t want anybody playing on my golf courses if they don’t want to think,” Nicklaus said. “I want you to think every shot. I think that’s a fair thing to ask of the pros, too. I mean, they do make their living at it.”
The greens are difficult, Nicklaus said, because “as far as these guys hit the ball today,” greens are “the only defense of a golf course any more.”
The PGA is asking for changes, and Nicklaus credited the association for chipping in money to do so. He’ll continue to make adjustments, to “tweak things, and try to make them better if I can.” The course, and its greens, need time to mature, he continued.
Nicklaus believes that, in “two or three years, I promise you, this will be one of the favorite golf courses of the tour. I even think some of your announcers will end up liking it.”