Jack Nicklaus, golf’s greatest champion, returned to Myrtle Beach to celebrate the 30th birthdays of his two Grand Strand designs – Pawleys Plantation and Long Bay Club – and as he has done so often, the Golden Bear left fans young and old smiling.
The 18-time major winner spent an idyllic fall day at Pawleys Plantation, touring the course and interacting with fans. After having lunch with the Pawleys Plantation membership, Nicklaus rode the layout, particularly the back nine, which plays along a saltwater marsh.
Nicklaus shared his thoughts on the course with Founders Group International officials, enjoying a look at a course that has long been lauded as one of the Myrtle Beach area’s best and most scenic layouts.
Nearly 40 junior golfers showed up for a First Tee clinic and Nicklaus seemed to have as good a time as the participants, providing tips, posing for pictures and bantering with the kids.
Nicklaus concluded his visit with a dinner that doubled as a fundraiser for ProjectGolf.org, a non-profit dedicated to raising money for junior golf. As part of the dinner, Nicklaus participated in a Q & A moderated by Gary Schaal, a former president of the PGA of America, and he took queries from the crowd as well.
The 78-year-old opined on several golf-related topics that have been making news, highlighted by:
— Based on conversations he’s had with USGA officials, Nicklaus believes the game’s governing bodies will roll back the distance the golf ball currently flies. He mentioned a 20 percent reduction, touting the benefits to golfers and courses in the form of lower maintenance costs because less turf would have to be maintained. “You’d need 40 percent less land,” he reasoned. “How much less water would you then use? How much less fertilizer would you use?”
— Everyone wanted to know what happened at the Ryder Cup. For Nicklaus, the answer is simple: After playing the PGA Championship and four FedEx Cup events, he believes the American team, and Tiger Woods in particular, was exhausted. He wasn’t buying the “we didn’t play enough practice rounds together” excuse. “I think practice rounds (in preparation of Ryder Cup play) are very overrated,” he said. “I think it’s what you do when you play when the bell rings is what’s rated.”
What Nicklaus did make clear was that there was no need for a task force or an army of vice and assistant captains. What the American team needs are 12 guys that want to play that week, the two-time former captain said.
— Nicklaus spoke affectionately of the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup, but for those who want to talk about how the team competitions contribute to a player’s individual legacy, he noted that the events are for bragging rights, nothing more.
— He believes the future of golf is in good hands. Mentioning Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus lauded this generation of stars and their commitment to the game and growing it. “These kids? They all get it,” said Nicklaus. “They all understand that charity is the name of the game of the PGA TOUR, and that the money that is raised (on the TOUR) goes to so many good causes.”
In a memorable day for all involved, Nicklaus also posed for pictures at a VIP dinner, signed autographs, and enjoyed interacting with fans throughout his visit.