Jack Nicklaus helped create Sebonack Golf Club, which now hosts U.S. Women's Open
Jack Nicklaus is busier than he ever was. On any given day, at 73, he might be flying to Asia or meeting with corporate executives or hosting one of the top golf tournaments on the PGA Tour. "My joke for a few years now has been that most people work their entire life so they can retire to play golf,'' he said. "But I played golf my entire life so I could retire to work.
"I enjoy working. I love the game of golf, and my work -- especially the course design business I have always enjoyed -- keeps me in the game of golf. It keeps me active, it keeps me relevant,'' said the most prolific major champion in golf history.
Nicklaus always has been very appreciative and gracious about all of the major championships, praising and reveling in their distinctive traditions. His 18 major titles include multiple triumphs at all four, and he cherishes every one. Truth be told, though, people who know the Golden Bear say he has a special regard for the U.S. Open, a championship he won four times.
It is the most exacting test in golf. It is his country's national championship. So it means something for him to see a course that he helped create, Sebonack Golf Club, host the U.S. Women's Open.
"It's a very nice honor. Women's golf has been on a tremendous rise and there is a wealth of talented players from all corners of the world,'' he said. "A national championship is a prestigious thing to have. The USGA thought enough of the facility at Sebonack to hold a national championship there, and that makes me feel good.''
You can say that Nicklaus, who co-designed the layout with Tom Doak, was the first to see a course amid the slopes and brush on Peconic Bay in Southampton. Michael Pascucci, Nicklaus' winter neighbor in Florida, said Nicklaus' people knew he was looking for property on which to start a golf club and tipped him off to the land on Sebonac Neck.
Pascucci jokes that Nicklaus is a perfect neighbor because he never is home. The golf icon is involved with his course design business, which has branched out to marketing and licensing. Business meetings take him all over the world, all the time.
"We have been able to create a golf brand and see it evolve into a lifestyle brand,'' Nicklaus said, adding that the company has grown since 2007 after having taken on as a partner Howard Milstein, a real estate developer, chairman of Emigrant Bank and former co-owner of the Islanders.
Logic insisted that, when the time came to design Pascucci's dream course, he hire Nicklaus to do it, which is what happened. Logic left the room, though, when Pascucci insisted that Nicklaus share the job with Doak, the current architecture whiz. The course owner held a meeting at which neither of his guests wanted to be present.
"I remember the tension in that office was incredible,'' said Mark Hissey, who was project manager while Sebonack was being built and is executive director of this year's Women's Open.
At one point, Pascucci left the room, pretending he had a phone call, just so the two men could start talking. Before it was over, they had an agreement, and when they were all done, they had a course that the U.S. Golf Association found major-worthy.
"Did I know that Michael Pascucci wanted to have an Open at Sebonack? No,'' Nicklaus said. "But the golf course is certainly designed so that it is capable of having such an event.
"I think in some ways, you approach most golf course designs with a 'championship' in mind, meaning a good golf course design should meet the needs of all golfers, be it the beginner, the average player or in the case of Sebonack, the best players in the world.
"Every golf course has a front course, a back course and so forth. You try to make sure it has the variety in it so that it can handle all levels of golfers.''
He acknowledged that the difficulty at Sebonack is around the greens -- a Nicklaus design signature -- and that it would not be a bad idea for the USGA to keep the green speeds modest.
Just being able to host something that says "U.S. Open'' only seven years after the course opened is a tribute.
It is the latest major for Jack Nicklaus.