Jack Nicklaus stood at the tee of the par-3 eighth hole and didn’t like what he saw – wetlands left, a huge mound right and a green too elevated for his liking.
“It fits absolutely nothing we’ve done so far,” Nicklaus told lead designer Chris Cochran. “Seven beautiful holes and then this thing.”
Nicklaus wore his architectural hat – actually a beige cap with a Golden Bear logo on the front – as he made his first visit Tuesday to the Champions Retreat Golf Club at Riverwood Plantation in Evans.
Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who have combined for 13 Masters Tournament titles, are designing nine holes each for the 27-hole course, which is expected to be completed in late 2004.
“Arnold, Gary and I have got a great tradition in Augusta,” said Nicklaus, who has six green jackets. “We’re each going to have our own expression on the golf course.”
Nicklaus, the 18-time professional major champion, took time out of his busy schedule to make changes at his first Nicklaus Signature Course in the Augusta area. There is a Nicklaus course in Aiken – the Reserve Club at Woodside Plantation – but it is a Nicklaus Design Course. Courses Nicklaus visits and puts his touches on are Nicklaus Signature Courses.
“A lot of them I don’t have anything to do with,” Nicklaus said of Nicklaus Design Courses.
The architect of nearly 220 courses worldwide, Nicklaus arrived at Champions Retreat Golf Club before 11 a.m. He said his salutations and hopped into the bed of a pickup truck with two course designers, two golf club partners and a shaper.
At every hole, PVC piping marked the tee and green areas, and green stakes lined the middle of the fairways. As he rode the course, Nicklaus pointed out which trees he wanted cut down and where bunkers and streams should be added.
Halfway down the par-4 fourth hole, Nicklaus noticed a tree jutting out from the right – a potential obstacle blocking a golfer’s approach shot to the green.
“How the hell is the average golfer going to get there?” Nicklaus asked. “I don’t think we have any choice (but to cut the tree down).”
At the sixth hole, a downhill par-4, Nicklaus decided to add a creek and a pond in front of the green.
“It’ll be a nice hole,” he said.
Nicklaus later arrived at No. 8, where he found an armadillo.
“You ever eaten one of those?” he asked construction manager Wayne Millar. “I’ve had one cooked for me. I didn’t eat it.”
The armadillo was a brief distraction from the problem with the hole’s design. Nicklaus suggested to Millar that the green be lowered.
“That’s your call,” Nicklaus said. “That’s got to be your liability.”
Nicklaus completed his work in less than three hours. In about six weeks, he will return to make sure the changes he suggested were carried out. Then, the course will be fine graded. Nicklaus said he normally takes six to 10 visits when designing a course, but will need just one or two more.
“He came and put his touch on it today,” said E.G. Meybohm, the chairman of the board at Champions Retreat. “I was very pleased from the standpoint that he was so involved. It makes you feel real good that he’s trying to make this a real special project.”
Nicklaus is farther along in the building of his nine holes than Palmer and Player, who are still having trees cleared on their tracts of land. Nicklaus was able to get a jump on the project because his nine holes are on higher ground.
“The tone here will be set because we’re doing the first nine,” Nicklaus said. “Whether Arnold and Gary will follow that tone or whether they use their own flair, that’s up in the air. I think they should do their own thing. That’s why you have the three of us here, to have our own expressions.”