the course that jack built

A friend and occasional critic looks over the layout Nicklaus designed near his hometown, Columbus, and concludes it has everything but a name. The determination that made Jack a champion underlies his emergence in a related profession
October 13, 1974

One day last spring at the grand opening of the place, as I stood under a tent surrounded by steaming sauerkraut balls and melting ice cubes, it was explained to me by various members of the Nicklaus Mafia that the rolling land where Jack had designed and built his new course was unlike anything else around Columbus, Ohio, because a geologic phenomenon had occurred a few millennia before giving it the valleys and vistas that so distinguish the premises. So I said to the architect, "Hey, Jack. That gives you the name. Accident Hills."

While he currently calls it Muirfield Village, much to the dissatisfaction of many friends (including me)—it simply is not original enough for the brilliant design he has created—he hopes the press will think of something suitable, or catchy, when it covers the proposed invitational tournament to be held there beginning in 1976. The development itself will continue to be known as Muirfield Village. It seems Jack so enjoyed and appreciated winning his first British Open at Muirfield that he was determined one day to name something Muirfield, even if it had to be a son, a daughter or a golf club.

So far, I think Barbara Nicklaus has the best idea. Bear Creek—or Bear Run—at Muirfield Village, she said. This gets across two things: the stream that confronts the player on just about every other swing—it comes into play on no fewer than eight holes—and the nickname of an executive for Air Bear, the charter jet that transports the world's leading golfer to many of the tournaments he wins. The other evening Jack sketched the logo for Air Bear—a cub in a parachute with a Lear jet flaming out in the background, and the slogan: FLY AIR BEAR, NOBODY'S PERFECT.

Nicklaus did very little joking with the design of his course, although he certainly had as much fun as with anything he has ever done. The Masters influence is evident. The course plays to a 36-36-72, and he has some par-5s touched by the beauty of trees and water that present the golfer with the kind of options he faces at Augusta's 13th and 15th. His par-3s are strong and lovely, and one of them, the 12th, is going to remind everyone of the same numbered hole at Augusta, although from the back tee it is quite different, a downhill, postcard shot over water. Another similarity with the Masters is the presence of huge mounds for spectators.

For all this, Jack's course has a real character of its own. The land is special, and Nicklaus, the architect, at last doing his own design after working with Pete Dye and Desmond Muirhead, has used it wonderfully. It is reasonably short as championship courses go, it is constantly channeled through a marvelous variety of trees, the sand is plentiful and combines evil with art, and that stream, Bear Creek or Bear Run, is ever present for beauty and challenge.

As he is with his golf game, Jack is a perfectionist as a designer. He is still changing the course, and will continue to do so. "A course has to grow," he said, meaning in character. A lake was dug for the par-5 11th, and now it has been filled in and the stream rerouted. The shot did not work, he said. Bunkers are still being deepened and reshaped, and one of them at the par-4 13th, sprawling around some trees by the green, has been recultured.

The real strength of the course, I think, is in the par-4s. He has nearly half a dozen that may someday make anyone's list of the best holes around. The drives have to be pinpointed, and the second shots must flirt with water or sand. Mostly, they are short, devilish little shots to tricky flag positions on narrow and fast undulating greens. Members who have been playing the course all summer are already arguing about the best of the best, and most of their talk centers around the 3rd, the 6th, the 9th and the 13th. The 3rd is a tough approach over a pond and deep bunkers to a narrow green, the 6th a four-iron over water and around a huge tree on the right, the 9th a pitch from a corridor of trees to a water-fronted green, and the 13th a medium shot to a severe green, well protected by sand.

Overall, the course probably favors a fade from the tees. It seems to play mostly downhill, and always the golfer has the feeling that he can't let a shot slip in any direction. Too much trouble around; he is trapped in a funnel.

But the most certain thing of all is that regardless of the name Jack's course inherits eventually—Jack's Track, the Village Club, Bear Run, Accident Hills—it already deserves to be rated with the great layouts in this country, and it will prove as much in time.

PHOTOJAY MAISEL TWO PHOTOSJAY MAISELThe 13th hole presents a double headache, a cluster of trees in a bunker. The official opening of the course last May included some remarks by the architect himself. TWO PHOTOSJAY MAISELOn the 5th hole (above), a par-5, a creek emerges from the woods about 300 yards from the tee, turns left and bisects the fairway right up to the green, forcing the golfer to place his second shot right of center—the preferable position—or even left of center, but definitely not in between. On the 17th (left) an accurate drive of at least 200 yards is required to avoid both the body and tail of a monstrous sand trap. PHOTOJAY MAISELNothing difficult about the par-3 8th as long as you stay away from the bunkers encircling the green and are not fooled by a valley that makes the shot seem longer than it is—174 yards. PHOTOJAY MAISELWhile the water hazard is wider and the bunkers larger, the par-3 12th hole bears a resemblance to a famous 12th—Augusta's.