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'Golden Bear' Jack Nicklaus is cultivating an empire built on golf

This story appeared in the Sept. 22, 2014, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.

Jack Nicklaus’s office, on the fifth floor of one of the sleek buildings that make up the Golden Bear Plaza in Jupiter, Fla., is brimming with evidence of a life well-lived. The space is stuffed with hunting and fishing trophies, including the mounts of three marlin, one of them a 726-pounder that Nicklaus landed in 1975.

Mostly, though, his office is cluttered with family photos, in which his college sweetheart turned wife of 54 years, Barbara, is always by his side. One group shot brings together their five children and 22 grandchildren, who have grown to expect that their famous grandpa will be on the sideline for all of their sporting events. The head shot of a little boy cut into the shape of a heart has been glued to the picture. This is the Nicklauses’ grandson Jake, who drowned nine years ago at 17 months old. Jack hosts an annual tournament in his honor, The Jake. This year’s raised $2.2 million for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and featured a Who’s Who of today’s pros.

Jack Nicklaus
Tiger Woods
Ben Hogan
Ben Hogan
Ben Hogan
Sam Snead
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus
Jack and Charles Nicklaus
Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer
Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods and parents
Jack Nicklaus
Larry Mize
Nick Faldo
Ian Woosnam
Ben Crenshaw
Greg Norman
Vijay Singh
Tiger Woods, Steve Williams
Mike Weir
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods, Steve Williams
Tiger Woods
Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer
Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson
Augusta National
Roberto De Vicenzo
George Archer
Billy Casper
Ben Crenshaw
Gary Player
Lee Elder
Gary Player
Raymond Floyd
Tom Watson
Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus
 Lee Trevino
Gary Player
Gary Player
Fuzzy Zoeller
Seve Ballesteros
Greg Norman
Craig Stadler
Ben Crenshaw
Bernhard Langer
Tom Watson
Nick Faldo
Seve Ballesteros
Fred Couples, Ian Woosnam
Fred Couples
Fred Couples
Bernhard Langer
Jose Maria Olazabal
Tiger Woods
Augusta National
Nick Faldo
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods
Phil Mickelson
Mark O'Meara
Masters Overhead
Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Zach Johnson
Tiger Woods
Trevor Immelman
Trevor Immelman
Phil Mickelson
Angel Cabrera
Rory McIlroy
Phil Mickelson
Charl Schwartzel
Augusta National
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Nicklaus’s empire building may show no signs of slowing, but the man himself does occasionally pause to reflect. He has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and appeared on a five-pound note in Scotland. His courses have brought joy (and some suffering) to countless golfers, and through his vast philanthropic works he is bettering the lives of children across Florida and Ohio. “All of this because I could hit a golf ball,” he muses. Of course, it’s so much more than that, but Nicklaus still wants to finish the thought. “Isn’t that ridiculous? It’s ridiculous, and it’s wonderful."