In an industry where keeping up with the neighbor down the street can be critical for survival, Jack Nicklaus is proving that the grass is a little greener on his side of the fence.
The golf industry is in the midst of an era where clubs and courses are realizing that to stay competitive in the marketplace, you might have to renovate, redesign or reinvent yourself. That’s why National Golf Foundation studies show that more than 90 renovations reopened in 2015, and there could be up to 100 major renovations undertaken in 2016. Nicklaus Design, which had long ago separated itself with its global reputation for new golf courses, has also proven that it has a knack with new-look golf courses. In Golf Inc. magazine’s recent Renovation of the Year contest, Jack and Nicklaus Design had three of the five global finalists in the Private club category: Bear’s Paw Country Club in Naples, Fla.; Sycamore Hills in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Bear’s Paw Country Club
The 10th hole at Bear’s Paw Country Club
Placing No. 3 in the top five was Bear’s Paw, which was first designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1980. The Golden Bear came in and redesigned the southwest Florida layout after 35 years of hurricanes and other harsh weather affected the course.
“We are honored to receive this award that greatly recognizes our dedication in providing a world-class golf course,” said Doug Brown, General Manager/COO of Bear’s Paw Country Club. “As a renovated Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, we’re excited Mr. Nicklaus breathed such life into every green and fairway, and left his signature touch on every bunker. The end result of our redesign is truly spectacular.”
Members at Bear’s Paw were very happy with the playing characteristics of the original design, the club said, but also knew it was time to make some much-needed improvements. So the membership voted overwhelmingly to have Jack Nicklaus and his design team restore the Signature Course—from new greens to bunkers. A new irrigation system was installed. Forward tees were also added on seven holes to make parts of the layout even more playable. Other restoration and renovation work included re-grassing of fairways and roughs; rebuilding all 18 greens; rebuilding all bunkers; restoring practice facilities; and installing concrete cart paths and new comfort stations on both nines.
“Impressive combination of architectural-style design, enhanced playability for multiple skill levels and improved conservation green concepts,” said Michelle F. Tanzer, a Golf Inc. contest judge and an attorney who works with golf courses. “Enhancements on both revenue and costs sides suggest long-term viability of the course is likely.”
Bear’s Paw felt extremely fortunate to have Nicklaus, a global golf icon and the world’s leading golf course designer, personally oversee the project. “You can tell the Nicklaus design process is very intuitive to this dedicated team,” Brown said. “Working with Mr. Nicklaus and the Nicklaus Design team illustrated what first-class professionalism looks like by not only completing the project on time, but on budget, with the end abundantly exceeding our members’ expectations.”
The renovations to Bear’s Paw were unveiled earlier this year at an event commemorating the club’s 35th Anniversary, and attended by Jack and wife Barbara. The course has a special place in Nicklaus’ design résumé—which is creeping up on 300 courses worldwide—as when it opened, Bear’s Paw represented just the 16th layout involving the Golden Bear, only the third Nicklaus Design in the state of Florida (now home to 30 Nicklaus Design courses), and the first Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course in Southwest Florida.
“The ‘wows’ have been deafening,” said Board of Governors and Greens Committee Chair Bruce Rotte.
The only two other Nicklaus Design layouts submitted for Renovation of the Year consideration—Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Sycamore Hills in Fort Wayne, Ind.—both earned a spot in the final five and “Honorable Mention” in the Private category.
Sycamore Hills Golf Club
The 8th hole at Sycamore Hills
Sycamore Hills Golf Club, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, first opened in 1989. It became a Top-100 golf course within five years, making the top-40 of Golf Digest’s 1993 ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. In the midst of a recent run of hosting Tour events, Sycamore Hills brought in Jack, along with his son Jack Nicklaus II and Design Associate David Savic, to work on tweaking the layout to accommodate for advancements in golf equipment technology. Sycamore Hills was designed at the end of the persimmon wood and balata ball era, the course said, so the modifications have helped the layout accommodate today’s longer players.
“The modernization of our bunkers created the most impact,” said Eric Schneider, the General Manager and COO for Sycamore Hills Golf Club. “The addition and complete reconstruction to a more visually appealing and challenging style, relocated to challenge today’s modern golfer and built with the Better Billy Bunker technology, has dramatically changed the golf course for the better.”
Golf Inc. contest judge Frank Benzakour, a hospitality industry veteran, lauded the renovation, saying, “Excellent results!”
“The amount of hours spent in perfecting the management of water through drainage, irrigation and lake will deliver large payoffs,” Benzakour added. “New members will be coming from all areas to be part of this gorgeous property.”
Sherwood Country Club
Like Bear’s Paw, Sherwood Country Club was coming up on a significant anniversary—its 25th. But for this Silver Anniversary, the club’s decision-makers turned back to the Golden Bear.
The high-profile Los Angeles-area club underwent a $10.5 million renovation to modernize the course, tweak the design in areas to add even more playability for the membership, and implement significant agronomic improvements that not only allow the course to better accommodate the effects of a changing climate, but dramatically reduce water consumption in a state challenged by ongoing water issues.
It is believed that through the reduction of irrigated turf, the club has reduced water usage by 25 to 35 percent.
“We have always considered ourselves good stewards of the land, and the changes made at Sherwood further that mission,” Nicklaus said. “There is no more important commodity or global issue than water, and we have collaborated with the leadership at Sherwood to make the course more efficient while maintaining playability.”
U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson is not only a member of The Bear’s Club, Jack Nicklaus’ home club in Jupiter, Fla., he’s also a part-time member at Sherwood. Recently, Johnson sent congratulations to the Sherwood membership.
“I’ve been out there, I’ve seen it, and it looks fantastic,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited to get out and play the golf course.”
Reflective of the power and interest in Nicklaus’ design work, before the renovation was complete, Sherwood announced that they would be hosting the PGA TOUR Champions’ PowerShares QQQ Championship in October. The first of three season-ending events in the inaugural Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs, the PowerShares QQQ is Oct. 28–30; however, Sherwood will also host the event in 2017 and 2018.
“This is a course designed for the modern world,” said Sherwood Board of Governors President Rick Zeilenga. “New landscaping, extended sightlines, and sensible modifications to play have made this course one of the most stunning on earth. I am looking forward to the feedback we will receive from the golfers who take a first crack at the new course.”
Renovations were unveiled at a March 2015 Grand Opening event. Joining Nicklaus at a reception and for a ceremonial tee shot were hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and actors Dennis Haysbert, Jon Lovitz and Craig T. Nelson. At a dinner event, members and guests were treated to a Q&A with the Golden Bear, plus congratulatory messages from the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell. A few weeks later, a global broadcast audience got a peek when “In Depth with Graham Bensinger” aired a segment on Sherwood.
“The beautiful results of this renovation are well worth the wait,” Golf Inc. judge Frank Benzakour added. “This private club has all the street credit it needs to recruit new members.”
For more information on Nicklaus Design, visit www.nicklaus.com.