'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.
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."