Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jack Nicklaus discusses the Memorial, Merion, and the state of the game

Jack Nicklaus, host of the Memorial at Muirfield Village, held his annual press conference to discuss a wide range of  topics Wednesday. He was asked about this week's tournament, the upcoming U.S. Open at Merion, and touched on the various hot topics going on currently in the golf world.

Here are a few segments:

Q.  Mr. Nicklaus, with Merion coming up, players have played Merion and said they only have to hit driver on two or three holes, how important is it to you in design a setup that the driver be used a lot during a round of golf?
JACK NICKLAUS:  Well, if they're only using it two or three times, you're not going to win a golf tournament.  That's my opinion at Merion.  You've got 2, 4, 5, 6, 14, maybe 15, but 16 and 18 you're going to use your driver.  That's a number of times.  And you have holes that you're going to back off on maybe.  You may try to drive the green on 1, you may hit the driver.  But I think that Merion will do very well for the U.S. Open.  I think it's‑‑ I was there last spring.  And I think it will do very well.  It's going to have some holes that they're going to abuse the golf course with, but they're also going to have some holes on the golf course that are going to abuse them.  It's not one of the golf courses that are in the middle road.  It's either tough or they'll birdie the hole.  Merion is a great golf course.  I'd love to still have the golf game to go play it.

Q.  Other than the fact that Tiger is obviously the best player of his time, what is it about this golf course that has allowed him to play so well here?
JACK NICKLAUS:  Well, it obviously fits his eye.  There's some golf courses that fit people's eye.  You hear a lot of guys say that golf course doesn't suit my game.  A golf course is up not supposed to suit your game.  You're supposed to suit your game to the golf course.  That's why they have different golf courses.  If you had the same golf course all the time, we wouldn't have to move around, we'd play all the tournaments in one place.
But Tiger seems to play very well here.  He's got several golf courses he plays well at ‑  Pebble, St. Andrews, Augusta, plays very well at Bay Hill.
And a lot of his golf has been representative golf at those tournaments.  And you have a tendency, he did the same thing I did when I was playing, I used to play the golf courses that I liked, the golf courses I thought would best suit my game, not only prepare me for the four Major championships but also golf courses that I would gain confidence playing on.
And then what I would try to do is add a couple of tournaments a year that I hadn't played and move those around.  And that was what I did and I think he does pretty much the same thing.  I'm delighted that this is one of the golf courses that he likes (laughter).

Q.  I have a sort of the game question.  Ten or 12 years ago it seems like golf courses were booming, construction and so forth.  I know in our community one is closed and one has gone from 36 to 18.  Can you talk about the game, where it's headed or participation, that sort of thing?
JACK NICKLAUS:  I think the Tour is very healthy.  I think the Tour has done very well.  The game of golf in itself has lost a lot of players.  I don't know, some five million or so regular golfers have left the game.  We've lost 23 or 4 percent of the women‑‑ 27 percent of women, and 36 percent of the kids in the last five years.  Why are we doing that?  Part of it's economy, part of it is the expense of the game.  Part of it is life has changed.  People don't want to spend five hours doing something anymore.  They want to do something‑‑ any game that you play, any sporting event, almost anything, nothing lasts longer than golf, unless you're playing a five set tennis match, more than three hours or less.
So you really need to play the game in three hours or less, that's what we need be to.  And we're not there.  We need to have changes within the game of golf for‑‑ not only for us and for the Tour.  I think the Tour ultimately needs to shorten their time span.  I don't think they would argue with that.
But it's very difficult when they're playing 7,500 yards and you're playing in a competition on a very difficult golf course.  You're asking for the best players in the world to do their best and it takes time to do what they're doing at that length of a golf course.  And the average golfer follows that.  So time is one issue.
Difficulty is another issue.  Cost is another issue.  All those things are why those golf courses have left, because of a combination of those things.  The design business within the United States is absolutely zero today.  The only thing that is happening in design is a redesign of something of an existing facility and trying to‑‑ because they've had the opportunity to take a facility, brand it or take a facility and redo it in a good location to try to compete, because the market is not as strong and they can ‑‑ they think they can repeat if they do that.
Overseas the game is growing in a lot of places.  Most of the business is in China from a design standpoint.  We've got 30 golf courses that are under contract.  We have 15 or 20 under construction in China right now.  I've got four in Russia.  The game is growing over there.  But we're a mature state, so the places that are mature here in Britain, Japan, there's no places for golf course design.
There's talk‑‑ I know the USGA has talked about the reduction‑‑ I think they've got their plate full right now with what they're trying to get through with the anchoring putter, but they've talked about the golf ball.  They don't want to bring it back necessarily for tournament golf.  That's not the reason they want to talk about bringing it back, they want to talk about bringing it back because of the cost of maintenance, the cost of land, the cost of water, the cost of chemical.  The time it takes to play the game.  All logical things that mean if you reduce the game to a smaller playing field‑‑ if you go back and look, how big is Merion?