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Jack Nicklaus is Being Sued By the Nicklaus Companies

Nicklaus, 82, is being sued for breach of contract with the Nicklaus Companies, as well as tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty.
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TULSA, Okla. -- The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, is being sued by Nicklaus Companies.

On May 13, a complaint filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against the 82-year-old golf legend alleged a breach of contract with the Nicklaus Companies as well as tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty.

The complaint was filed by Nicklaus Companies. Its executive chairman is Howard Milstein, a New York businessman, chairman, president and CEO of New York Private Bank & Trust. The lawsuit is Nicklaus Companies, LLC v. GBI Investors Inc. and Jack W. Nicklaus. Nicklaus is the principal of GBI Investors Inc., an architectural services firm.

Jack Nicklaus II is vice Chairman of the Nicklaus Companies, according to their web site.

According to the complaint, Nicklaus was paid $145 million in 2007 to provide exclusive services and property to the Nicklaus Companies, which over time he has failed to live up to or has worked against the company directly.

The complaint alleges three specific instances of Nicklaus’ breach including receiving a substantial cash payment for promoting the 2022 Soudal Open, a recently played DP World Tour event in Belgium, wrongful conduct involving a video game being developed with the Masters and PGA Tour, and wrongful conduct regarding negotiations with the PIF Saudi Investment Fund where Nicklaus was reportedly offered $100 million to join the startup LIV Golf Invitational Series.

In a news story on the DP World Tour website, Soudal founder Vic Baron Swerts said: ““Hosting such a tournament at my home club Rinkven and hosting Jack Nicklaus there is the cherry on the cake.”

Nicklaus was also quoted in the story saying he greatly appreciated the Soudal Open extending an invitation to be a guest of the event next May. “We have seen growth in the quality of professional golfers that Belgium has produced,” Nicklaus said. “That includes Ryder Cup participants such as Nicolas Colsaerts and Thomas Pieters, as well as strong talent from Belgium at the collegiate level. I am sure the Soudal Open will only add to the golf landscape in Belgium.”

"Fortunately for Nicklaus Companies — and Mr. Nicklaus — the Company was eventually able to convince Mr. Nicklaus to stop exploring a deal for the endorsement of the Saudi-backed league," reads a portion of the suit. "The Company essentially saved Mr. Nicklaus from himself by extricating him from a controversial project that could have not only tarnished his legacy and reputation, but severely damaged the Nicklaus Companies’ name, brands and business.

"Thanks to the intervention of Nicklaus Companies, the Company was able to minimize fallout from the situation and protect the goodwill and good name of both the Company and Mr. Nicklaus. The potential irreparable harm that Nicklaus Companies faced had Mr. Nicklaus’s unauthorized activities not been abandoned has been highlighted by the continued statements made by the PGA Tour and various leading Tour players and the substantial negative news coverage criticizing Phil Mickelson’s involvement as a paid endorser of the Saudi-backed golf league. If not for the efforts of Nicklaus Companies, Mr. Nicklaus could have been pilloried in the news media for accepting payment for what could be characterized as betraying the PGA Tour."

Nicklaus released a statement through his organization.

“The claims made by Howard Milstein are untrue,” Nicklaus said in the statement. “Our relationship has been a difficult one, at best. I have little doubt about the outcome, but I don’t intend to make this a public spectacle, if it can be avoided.”

Editor's Note: The Nicklaus companies released a statement after the SI/Morning Read story was first published.

“We have great admiration and tremendous respect for Jack and his legacy and have tried everything to avoid taking this step. We are asking the court to sort out the legal responsibilities of the parties so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding going forward.

"We are saddened to be put in a situation that now requires intervention from a court, but we have a responsibility to Nicklaus Companies and its employees, as well as to our customers and partners, to ensure that nothing disrupts the ongoing business of the company. We are confident that working together we can resolve this quickly and amicably.”

Nicklaus has between 20 and 30 days, depending on service of the complaint to respond to the complaint. Since the complaint was filed on May 13, it is possible that Nicklaus response will come during the week of the Memorial Tournament, which Nicklaus has hosted since its inception in 1976 at Muirfield Village Golf Club, a course designed by Nicklaus and opened in 1974.

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