By Mike Finney
The News Journal
MILLSBORO — The day was sliced up neatly, just like an apple pie on the Fourth of July, for Jack Nicklaus on Thursday. There was part comedy, part business and part pleasure.
It all added up to one memorable day for members of The Peninsula on the Indian River Bay, an upscale, gated community located near Del. 5 and Del. 24, as the golf legend cut the ribbon to officially open Delaware’s second Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.
“I get a big kick out of what I’m doing, and probably since I’ve quit playing tournament golf I’ve increased my workload,” Nicklaus said. “Most people work all of their life to retire and play golf. It turns out that I played golf all my life to retire and work.
“But I really enjoy it. I’ve had a blast over the past year running around the world and going into some of the emerging markets of the world.”
Nicklaus is currently building golf courses in Croatia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Russia. However, Thursday was all about The Peninsula, the second golf course — joining Bayside in Selbyville — that he has opened in Delaware over the past two years.
“I always look at these as being the fun days that I do,” Nicklaus said. “After you go through a project and you do it for three or four years and you work … and now all of a sudden you get to see the fruit of your work. I enjoy that.”
So, there was the Golden Bear, taking to The Peninsula with his caddy, his clubs and a microphone clipped on his shirt, so that he could share his experience with an adoring crowd that listened intently to his every word.
It was just Nicklaus’ third time on a golf course in June.
“As I play less golf as time goes on, I’m going to miss that,” said Nicklaus, 66. “There’s going to be a time when I can’t do that.
“Normally, I come out and I play every hole on the gorilla tees, and today I said, ‘I’ve got a couple back there that I don’t think I really want to play.’ The golf course is about 7,300 yards, and I think I’ll play about 7,200 today.”
Having the greatest golfer of all-time tour the course is just one of the perks afforded to developer Larry Goldstein, who hired Nicklaus to personally design The Peninsula about five years ago. Goldstein was determined to hire the best to turn what was once an 800-acre chicken feed farm into a golfer’s paradise.
He thinks he found the best, pointing out how much Nicklaus pays attention to every little detail.
“Hole No. 13 was finished and Jack said, ‘Well we’re here today to look at the stuff that we haven’t finished yet,'” Goldstein said. “It’ll only take a couple of minutes, he said.
“We ended up changing that hole because of the play from the women’s tee. Jack realizes the importance of women playing and how that hole would play. That is just one of the little things. It has been really great working with somebody who cares so much about the course.”
Nicklaus should care a lot about the course. He reportedly charges $2 million for his design services, not including the cost of building the course itself. Goldstein would not reveal how much the project cost him.
It did not seem to matter on Thursday, as it was priceless to the people who were watching Nicklaus line up over his golf ball before whacking it into the distance. He was always prepared with a quick, witty line and tons of self-deprecating humor.
“Do I like to watch golf? No. I really don’t like to watch golf,” Nicklaus said. “I like to play golf.
“I have a non-existent golf game right now, but that’s OK; it’s going to get worse.”
A total of 79 golf courses designed by Nicklaus have hosted more than 500 professional tournaments.
However, he does not expect The Peninsula to be one of them.
“At this particular golf course, the chances of having a big golf tournament here are probably one in 100,” Nicklaus said. “You might have a state event or a sectional event or a qualifier or something. We didn’t do this golf course for tournament golf.
“We did this golf course for the people who are going to live here and recreate here. When you do that, then you do the golf course differently than you would when you build a golf course for a tournament.”
Nicklaus became synonymous with golf by winning 105 professional tournaments and a record 20 major championship titles in a career that spanned five decades.
It is obvious that he takes that same kind of passion to the design table.
“I always go through the scenario that I learned about 32 years ago when Muirfield [Ohio] opened,” Nicklaus said. “At the end of the first season, I took a poll from the members to find out what their favorite hole was. I got 14 different holes.
“That only meant one thing to me — that there were four holes that I had to work on.”
Believe him, he was back at the design table that night. No joking.