A Ryder Cup Interview with Jack Nicklaus

THE MODERATOR: It provides, not only opportunity for the players to test themselves, but for the world to see those finest players. And I would say that if there’s anything that I could say equal the accomplishments of what is the greatest player the game has ever seen would only be equaled by the way he has provided golf venues and opportunities for millions of people to not only play this great game, but to enjoy viewing this great game. So with no further ado, I would like to invite Jack Nicklaus up here and ask him if you could just tell us of some of the major, significant changes that are going on at Valhalla in preparation for the 37th Ryder Cup to be played right here.

JACK NICKLAUS: Okay, Brian, thanks. First of all, I thought we had a pretty good golf course to start with. But times have changed. And it’s been 20 years since we did the golf course and golf equipment has changed dramatically. The ability of the players has changed dramatically with the equipment.

And so to challenge the players of today you needed to add some length to the golf course, we needed to add a little bit more spice to it. And actually in some places we have actually softened it. Some of the greens we have softened to give more cupping area, but some of the greens we have added more spice and general rolls, rather than little knobs.

And what we have really done is, I mean, if you want me to go through the golf course quickly for you, I will.

On the first hole we had a big grass hollow part of the green in the front right before, now we have got a bunker in the front right and a bunker in the back left and didn’t have any bunkers before there.

So now they have got a little bit more spice in the green and a little bit more, a little bit more demanding.

The second hole is a par-5, now going to be a par-4. I think we played it as a par-4 probably — I don’t remember if we played it in the PGA Championship before, I think it played as a five. Yeah, it played as a five. It’s going to be played as a four now.

And we adjusted the green to fit a par-4, rather than a par-5. You just don’t have the length for it as a par-5 any more. It’s like a 500 yard par-4 now.

And the third hole we really didn’t change. There was just a couple little things on the green.

The fourth hole is lengthened. And just bringing the driving challenge to carry the cross bunker on the left side into more modern day lengths. And we softened the green a little bit there actually because I thought the green was a little too severe.

Fifth hole we have added a bunker on the right and lengthened the tee a little bit. Again, just modernizing the hole a little bit.

Sixth hole is probably one of the biggest changes on the golf course. The 6th hole was a pretty exciting golf hole which you played out with a probably a 3-wood to, or a 2-iron or something out left of Floyd’s Fork, and then you played across the river. And now we didn’t, we just changed the green from there and moved it back 80 yards.

So we have got — that’s right — it’s a par-4, it’s actually a par-4 that I actually think that they’re not going to be able to play a wedge to. If there is such a thing in this world today. You actually are going to have to drive the ball out into the fairway area, you’re going to be left with 200 to 220 yards to the green. And we moved the green back into the trees and it’s actually a beautiful golf hole.

7th hole, which was already an interesting golf hole, which had the two fairways that we played to. We have taken the quarry that went up all the way to the green, we have taken it all the way to the green. Put a bulkhead in the front of the green. And then we have adjusted the fairway. And we’re going to really recirculate the water there and keep it flowing all the time. So it’s, it will be a very interesting hole.

The 8th hole, which just sort of set out on a little bump, we had to keep it out of the flood plain, we have actually taken a bit of a chance, because nobody could see the green, we have taken a little bit of a chance and lowered it a little bit. Even though we have seen some pretty good floods there, it’s never even gotten up to that area or even close to it. So we decided to take a chance by lowering it four or five feet.

And by lowering it four or five feet we were able to tie it into the right and get some gallery area. And we have tied the tee back into the back tee of the fifth hole.

So we actually have a longer hole on the par-3, but also a green that works long and actually the water can actually come into play on the left. So it’s kind of an interesting hole.

We didn’t make any changes at nine, believe it or not, we’re just redoing the green.

The 10th hole, we’re probably going to put a new back tee in and lengthen it, soften the green a little bit. It was probably a little trickier than we wanted them.

Here we are sitting at the 11th hole and the green you’re looking at down there, do not expect it to be there, I’m moving it back here. And how it got here I’m not sure. It probably was my mistake. But it really, we thought we had it back in here, back in the side, and I wanted a little bit more spice, a little bit more of a drop off on the left, a little bit smaller green to fit into the hillside.

It will probably — right now it was, it was about, I don’t know, probably about 160 yard hole, 155 yard hole, something like that, and now it’s going to be probably about a 200, 205 yard hole. I think it will be, it will work out very nicely there.

We haven’t gone further, but the 12th hole we didn’t really do anything to 12. Softened the green a little bit in front, I’m sure. I haven’t been there yet, but I’m sure — that’s what I asked to have done.

13, we really didn’t do anything to it.

14, we changed the back part of the green a little bit so that the golf ball doesn’t really hit back and just roll right back down to the hole. I think we saw some shots that did that last time and probably more than I would have liked.

I thought, I think it’s a very pretty hole, but I just functionally wanted to make it play a little bit better.

The 15th hole, which is right below us here, and I haven’t been down there yet, but we, that deep hollow that was just on the left side of the green, I put that into a bunker and we have redone the green a little bit to fit it. Taken out a few trees, so that you can get into there. But that’s basically what we did there.

16 is a new green. The 16 green and the 17 tee complex, 16 green was down below and remember we walked up the hill to get to 17. We sort of pulled them together a little bit. And the 16th green sort of fits around a nice big bunker on the left and then the 17th tee sits up on top, it’s a nice complex.

Really didn’t do much else to the 17th hole. I’m not sure — we put a bunker on right side on the tee shot? We talked about it. I don’t know whether we did or not. I don’t know whether it’s there or not. I haven’t been there yet. But I think we called for it. I mean, I called for a lot of things. Sometimes they, sometimes they get lost in my own memory.

But anyway, that, and then the 18th hole, we really didn’t do anything to 18. 18 is fine the way it was. Oh, yes, we did, we put one little pot bunker just left of the green.

When you had the front left pin placement, if you just hit the ball just left of the green you had a very easy little chip. And we decided to put a little pot bunker there on a little knob that was there, so you really would want to think about it before you went at the green and hit it left of the green.

Outside of that, we didn’t do anything.

Q. When you were in Nicklausville a few months ago you talked about how some courses, so many courses have been rendered obsolete by equipment. And you had to come in and make changes to this course, like you said, spice it up.

JACK NICKLAUS: Same thing. We were probably, what, a 7200 yard golf course, now we’re going to be close to 7500 yards. So.

Q. Does that bother you?

JACK NICKLAUS: Does it bother me? Absolutely, of course it bothers me. I mean, I don’t think that — I mean it’s a devil of a lot cheaper to change a golf ball or a spec on a golf club than it is to change every golf course that they play a golf tournament on. And a darn sight cheaper.

So, but anyway, you know, that’s, it is what it is. And the game changes and it’s evolved over time. I mean, I don’t think I want to go back and play a feathery or a gutta percha or any one of those things. And they probably thought when we changed to a wound golf ball they ruined, we ruined the game with that, or when we changed from wood shafts to steel shafts that we ruined the game with that.

So, you know, I just happen to be of the era that played the game that way. And it is a different era today, it’s a different game. I don’t even relate to it. I just can’t — I mean, the golf that Tiger has been playing lately has been phenomenal. I mean, I can’t imagine whipping all the players in the world with irons, leave the woods in the bag, like he did at the British Open.

And I didn’t see much of last week, but again what a great performance. He played beautifully. But you have equipment today that, if you’re really good, which he is, you don’t have — the golf ball and the clubs will respond to what you’re doing and you’ll have consistency. We never had the consistency with our equipment.

I mean, I know my old MacGregor golf ball that we used to have, the USGA tested it, and they said that, “Jack, do you realize what kind of golf ball that was?” He said, “We tested the same golf ball, one time it would go 20 yards right, the next time it would go 20 yards left with the same ball.” And that was the ball I was playing tournaments with. But you know, that’s what we all played with then.

So I mean the game has changed dramatically. And I like the old game, I’m sure the guys today like the new game. The new game today is exciting. But we got to make it, but we got to take the golf courses and make it fit today’s game. And that’s what we’re doing here at Valhalla and we’re trying to do that.

Certainly I commend the PGA of America for coming in here and saying, hey, this needs to be done and we’re going to do it and we’re going to spend the money to get it done. And of course they obviously have got a big investment in some very large events, with the Ryder Cup coming, I’m sure the PGA will come back here again, and when you — when are you scheduled back again here? In 2008 right now? You haven’t scheduled. But it will. They didn’t invest in this golf course not to bring it back here.

And so, you know, they want to do the best thing that I want to do. I want to be able to have a golf course that challenges the golfers of today, but also it’s got to be playable for the members of the course. So you got to keep that in mind. You can’t just do a golf course for a tournament that’s going to be here one week every two or three years, you got to do it so that the people can enjoy it on a daily basis.

Q. Jack, when you were here in 2004 you talked about renovations after you played in the Senior PGA. Is it more detailed than you thought it would be though once you started going through? I mean, have you made more changes than maybe you wanted to?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I didn’t understand how much of an appetite the PGA of America had for spending that much money. Because it costs money. I mean, it’s not cheap to do what we’re doing. And it’s — you know, they have made the commitment that that’s what they think is the right thing to do. And I said — and I’m fortunate enough that they asked me to come back and work on my own golf course. You know, I can make a living working, doing this three or four more times, right?

Q. Being a designer of a Ryder Cup course, what does that mean to you? You did Muirfield, I guess that was a Ryder Cup course, is that �

JACK NICKLAUS: And the PGA National.

Q. Is that important to you career-wise in terms of, I mean obviously you were —

JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, I don’t really look at it as doing a Ryder Cup course or any other kind of golf course. My objective is to do a golf course for people that are going to play it every day, and be able to accommodate a tournament. It’s not — and I think the PGA of America is looking at it a little bit of both ways. But they’re looking a little bit towards the Ryder Cup, and a little bit towards the PGA Championships or Senior championships, and I understand that.

But it’s just, every time I’m doing something I’m looking too at who is going to play it 51 weeks a year. That to me is the most important. And, but it’s got to have enough spice in it that it can actually take care of those guys that hit it 340 yards.

Q. When you’re doing this hole here, you’re standing down there for awhile, what’s going through your mind?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, what happened here is I don’t know why the green ended up where it did. And as I said, it was my mistake or our people’s mistake or something. But I could have sworn I had it off of this tree in front of those two trees back there. Now, maybe I didn’t. And they moved this around, maybe in my mind, maybe that’s where it is. Maybe it is there.
But it doesn’t make any difference, I’m moving it again. Because there’s nothing in it. All it is, is a little bit of dirt. And so —

Q. What are you trying to accomplish?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I’m trying to get a hole, I was trying to get a hole — this is about a 155 yard hole — I was trying to get a hole right around 200 yards. And that’s why I walked, when you saw me walk back behind the tee back there, I was just looking to see if I, what would I have to do or if I come this way, what would I have to do, because I wasn’t happy from the tee, before I even got to the green, with what the shot looked like. It just looked like too benign a shot.

So I wanted to find out how can we put a little spice in it, how can we give it a little bit of luck, because I, the game of golf is a little bit of luck. And so you know, you get a bad bounce every once in awhile. And so we’re going to take the slope into the green a little bit, so if you hit the ball to the right of the green, yeah, the ball will kick into the green and you might get a very nice bounce and come down and get a nice birdie putt. But it may also may stay up on the hill or it also may kick hard and just go right across the green and down the hill on the other side.

So you want to have that, because that’s not the way to play it, but it’s a way that, it’s something that could happen. So you want to have those elements.
Right now where that green is, there’s nothing that can happen but what you do. And so that’s what I’m trying to do.

Q. Are you going to move the tee also?

JACK NICKLAUS: No, we’re going to leave the tee. We made the decision to leave the tee and we’re just going to take this green and pull it back up here and keep the elevations that are here. And we’re going to play, we’re going to take this nose back, which is fill, so we can take this back, and all this gallery actually has this whole amphitheater to be able to view into it, which will really be quite nice.

Q. Does this ever stop? In terms of Tiger and 19 under, pushing courses longer, is there a way to —

JACK NICKLAUS: I mean eventually, I mean the PGA does not make the rules of the game, they just play by the rules of the game. The rules of the game are made by the USGA and the R & A. And I don’t think we want to circumvent the rules of the game. So we have to accommodate whatever the rules are at the present time.

Now, do I think that the USGA and the R & A are looking at it? Absolutely. They, I think they realize that the game has gotten out of hand. And I think that they know that they’re going to have to do some things.

What those things are, you know, I mean, they are the governing body, they’re studying it. And I think that they need a bit of time to get there, but I think they’re getting there. So we’ll just have to see. We may come back and shorten the course 500 yards next year.

Q. Just talk about this �

JACK NICKLAUS: Don’t laugh, it might be possible. You can always move tees up. It’s very difficult to move them back.

Q. Talk about this as a venue for a Ryder Cup though.

JACK NICKLAUS: It’s a great venue. I always thought — when Dwight came to me, and his boys, and said, you know, “Jack, we want to some day be able to hold a Major championship here.” And I said, and I said, well I think the PGA Championship’s probably the most logical. A U.S. Open could have been here too, but I think the PGA is the most logical, because it’s, the USGA is fairly set in their venues around the country, the PGA was looking for new venues that are good venues in cities that really don’t have a lot of other major sport.

And Columbus, Ohio is great for the Memorial tournament for exactly the same reason. It fits exactly the same thing. I mean, you look at Cincinnati, that’s a great town, but they have got the Bengals and they got the Reds, they used to have the Royals, but — they have been gone a long time, haven’t they? I’m showing my age, aren’t I?

Q. 40 years.

JACK NICKLAUS: That’s okay. Anyway. Well, you know, that’s when Oscar used to play for them, you know. Anyway, so Louisville is a great town for that. And you draw from Lexington, Cincinnati, from Louisville, you draw from — actually bring up from Nashville is not that far away, you’ve got a whole central mid section of the country that you can draw you from. You got a lot of population. And it’s — and when they don’t have any other sports the people get excited about it here. And that’s neat.

Q. Do you think about galleries? How much do you think about galleries and where to place them when you do a course?

JACK NICKLAUS: We do all the time. You have to think about gallery. You can see with what I’ve done here, they have cleared that — that cart path is going to move to the top, but that will all be gallery area behind there. That’s what all these mounds are here is to create the gallery area for this hole. We have that every hole. That’s a big part of this golf course.

Q. Some players knocked this course some years back, what was your reaction to that?

JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, I don’t ever hear that. My wife never shows me those articles.

(Laughter.) It’s the truth, too. She said, she says, “You can see all the good articles you want, we’ll give you those.” She says, “The bad articles, I just throw them in the trash can.”

Q. Is it true that some players like courses that they play well on and that’s about it?

JACK NICKLAUS: Of course they do.

Q. Yeah.

JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, but I think anybody is going to knock something new. And we made mistakes here. I mean, you make mistakes on every golf. I mean, have they made many changes at Augusta National? Anybody ever seen a change made there?

Q. When you talk about �

JACK NICKLAUS: That’s what I’m saying. It takes time to get it the way you think it should be for a test of modern golf.

Q. You talk about the softening of the greens here and there, take some of the humps �

JACK NICKLAUS: A little knobs out, took some of the little knobs out. I felt that they probably got too severe in the original construction. I tried to get them out the first year and they weren’t willing to get that done and so — and that’s my fault to do that.

Q. Pin placements?

JACK NICKLAUS: Because of pin placements, yeah, it opens up pins closer to bunkers.

The second hole, if you remember, the second hole had a little knob over the top of the bunker. We couldn’t get anything in the front left of the green. Now you can. Because we have taken that out of there.

16, I haven’t been or 13, I haven’t been — or 12, I haven’t been to 12 yet, but 12 goes right over and it comes away from the bunkers with some pretty steep knobs. And I asked them, I said, we need to lower that front right of the green so we can pull the pin in close to that bunker. There’s some pin placements that we don’t have.

Q. 16, the big swale in the middle?

JACK NICKLAUS: That’s gone. The green’s gone. But that was all right. That didn’t really affect your pin placement, because you could use that and get to it. But you couldn’t get to some of the other ones. So that’s what we’re doing.

Q. Jack, over 20 years ago you and I stood almost in the same spot, this was pushed around in the dirt, and you agonized over a tree here for 20 or 25 minutes and I asked you afterwards what, and you said, I can move 40 thousand tons of dirt, I can take a lake in, I can put it out, but I cannot make a tree.

JACK NICKLAUS: Not in a reasonable period of time, no, that’s exactly right.

Q. So is that still some of your same philosophy?

JACK NICKLAUS: I hate to take trees. Sometimes you have to take trees, but I hate to take trees, obviously. My philosophy is you can always take the tree down, you just can’t put it back.

Q. Your thoughts on Tiger chasing your Majors record. He’s at 12, you’re at 18.

JACK NICKLAUS: He’s going to blow by that in another week or two.

Q. How do you feel about that possibility?

JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, I don’t really think much about it. Obviously nobody wants their records to be broken. But I think it’s great. Every time you pick up a newspaper, every time you pick up a magazine, it was 11, only seven to go; 12, only six to go. 12th, Jack has — I mean, it keeps me in the newspapers too.

(Laughter.) Keeps you guys writing about me. But anyway, I think records are made to be broken. I don’t have an issue with that. And the type of golf he’s playing, you know, you certainly nobody’s able to stop him right now, so wish him well.

Q. When Mr. Gahm first brought you here, just talk about from where this land has gone until now and having two PGAs, a Senior, so forth, and now the Ryder Cup. I mean, could you have envisioned back then the piece of land turning into this?

JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, it was a great piece of ground, that’s why I thought he could do it. He said that’s what he wanted to do and I said he had a piece of ground to do it and I think he does and he did it.

Q. Jack, has the purse money changed the game in terms of how badly you think maybe some players, that drive to win, because I mean, the difference is not, you finish second, you finish fifth, you’re still making a lot of money. As opposed to where back 40 years ago it was much different.

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think that, you know, I’m quite happy for the golfers and I’m quite happy for all athletes to be able to make a great living, I’m truly not trying to begrudge that. Because we didn’t make a lot of money, but that’s, that’s gone and past, so we can’t worry about that.

But the guys today, the thing that, you know, I think that you’re playing for so much prize money that it — and I think our college golf system breeds this too. Our college golf system, which I said this 20 years ago, I tried to create or, yeah, close to 20 years ago, we created a match play tournament at Muirfield Village. And the reason for that is because I think the colleges play all medal play and they play team match.

So a coach will come down and he’ll have his players on this one hole, he says, “Okay, I want you to play a 3-iron off of this tee and then play to the green, I don’t want you to take any chances. We can’t afford a double bogey here. If we get a bogey, it’s not a big deal and move on.”

And I think a lot of golf is played that way because of that system. Not match play, where you go after something and chase it, okay? So I think that our American golf is not as strong as it could be right now. And when we get ourselves into match play we don’t see it.

So it’s not — and I don’t think it’s so much money, I think a lot of it is — money’s part of it, I suppose, because some guys will back off of something to be able to get a second or third place in a tournament rather than going after first because they know what that financially means to them.

But for the most part people or athletes who play a sport for their sport are not concerned about money, but they’re concerned of how to win and how to play the competition.

I promise you — of course Tiger makes enough money anyway, he can buy and sell all of us 20 times or a hundred times or more, whatever it is. Me included, right?

And so, but he’s not concerned about money, he’s concerned about winning. And there’s a few guys — I think Phil is concerned about winning. I think that your Vijays and your Retiefs and your Ernies, those guys — but they have earned the position to worry about winning. Other guys have a harder time getting to that position. And the only guys that are going to challenge Tiger, are going to be guys who get themselves in a position not to worry about money and are only worried about winning golf tournaments and can do it.

And I’ve said many times, I think Tiger’s competition hasn’t shown up yet. I mean, not that these guys aren’t good players, and they will challenge Tiger from time to time, but there’s going to be one or two young fellows that come along who will be as good as he is. And that will be the kind of — I mean, it happens in every sport.

I mean, you know, when you think about some of the records in sport, I mean Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs was untouchable. How many guys have passed him now? What, half a dozen? Four, is it? Well, that’s right. I guess McQwire once, Sosa, and Bonds twice. Twice? And Maris? Yes, excuse me.

Thank you very much, sportswriter. He used to be one, didn’t you?

Q. In another life.

JACK NICKLAUS: Another life.

Q. One last question. Ryder Cup next month, your predictions about how Team USA will do?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, obviously I wish them well. I think it’s, I don’t know how, what Tom will do with them, but I hope they play relaxed, enjoy themselves, have fun, play it in the spirit it’s supposed to be played. And if they play it and do it that way they would have a good chance to win.

Q. Jack, you’ve turned designing courses into another career. What do you get out of it, except a paycheck, I guess?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I needed one of those.

(Laughter.) When I got done playing golf I didn’t have anything from that. I mean, you don’t make — you got to understand, when we played golf, we played golf, we didn’t play golf for a living, because you couldn’t make a living playing golf. You spent all the money you made playing golf with traveling and everything you had to do.

You made money, you won tournaments on the golf course to be able to make a name and a position to put yourself in to go out and earn a living elsewhere. And this is one of the ways I earned it elsewhere.

I got into this because I — I haven’t made a living playing golf since about 1975. And now this has been my living since that time. And it’s been a darn good one. I mean, this has been fabulous. I’ve just absolutely — how lucky can a guy get to be able to play a game all his life and then be able to take that game and put it on a piece of ground to last the rest of his lifetime and many more people’s lifetimes. That’s pretty special. And it’s been, I’ve had a pretty special life and been a pretty lucky guy.

Valhalla Golf Club

In the early 1980s Jack Nicklaus was commissioned to evaluate a 486-acre plot of rolling land 20 miles east of downtown Louisville. History’s greatest golf champion, Nicklaus, described the site…

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