A Conversation with Jack Nicklaus
On Designing Residential Golf Courses

By Mark Brown

Are there certain things that you focus on when you go into a golf course design project that is tied into residential as opposed to a core golf course?

JACK: “Well, if you are going to do a core golf course, really you can do pretty much what you want, whether that is with land movement, mounding, or a variety of different things, because you really in essence have a core golf course. You’re not worried about specifics on the outside of the golf course. But, every time you do a real estate development, you’ve got to look at every hole and every shot you do on the golf course, and remember that somebody is going to be buying a lot there and you have really got to be very observant of what the views are to the golf course from each of the lots. So, we are very aware of how we design the golf course inside a residential project.

“You very rarely will build up a golf hole with residential on the outside. You basically will cut it in and pull it down as much as you can to create better views from the homes. Obviously, the more value you create for the owner, the better job you’re doing for him and for his project. Let’s just say for an example, it might cost an extra $10,000 sometimes to cut something in, whereas if you didn’t cut it in, the lot value might decrease $10,000 for 10 different lots. The value of what the developer is going to spend to do this is recouped and multiplied by what happens on the outside. So we are very aware of that; very aware of the views; very aware of how we route the golf course. The golf course, generally speaking, is going to go in the low property, and the real estate is going to go on the high, as much as you possibly can. But obviously with the environmental restrictions today, with the wetlands, the streams and the buffers, you have to remain aware of all of those things. You don’t have that issue with a resort usually, and you don’t have that issue with a core golf course usually. But, you do have that with a real estate development. I think it is a very important thing.

“That’s one of the reasons I think our developments have been very successful. We work with the developer on just about every lot that is created on the golf course. To a large degree, our office does a lot of the general land-planning and then works with their land-planner to basically put it all together. For example, we try to minimize the road crossings because the golf experience still must be very good, otherwise the real estate isn’t worth 10 cents if the golf experience isn’t good. A real estate developer quite often doesn’t give you enough land; he wants to reduce it down to a narrow corridor; he wants to have as many road crossings to get people by there; he wants to have houses behind the greens. I think you’ve got to create a golf experience that’s as great a golf experience that is inside that, and many times, that’s probably harder inside a real estate development. So, you’ve got to get a little wider corridor to do it right; you’ve got to make sure that you don’t have a situation where your houses are really the backgrounds on the golf course. You have got to work on designing a good golf course with what you’ve got there, but also make sure it works well with nature.”

Can you talk about your association with Lyle Anderson? And I suppose the success you two have had with projects like Desert Highlands, Superstition Mountain and certainly Desert Mountain.

JACK: “Lyle has an ability to select great pieces of property with tremendous marketability. He has an uncanny knack for finding the right piece of property in the right location, and, just as important, at the right time for development of that property. Prior to doing Desert Highlands with me, Lyle had a great history of land syndication. He understood land, and he understood how to take land, develop it, and put a successful project together. I think he learned how to develop as he went along. He has also surrounded himself with very good people, and together they have done a wonderful job.

“The other significant characteristic about Lyle is that with everything he does he does it totally first class—and I mean every single time. He doesn’t spare a penny to make sure things are done right.”

“I always believe that the most successful design projects are the ones in which the owner has gotten personally involved, and become very hands-on. With Lyle, he’s involved in everything, every part of a project.”

“Lyle has become a very close friend over the years. We’ve worked well together and have enjoyed each other’s company. Our wives have also enjoyed their time together, whether it’s when our paths have crossed due to business or when vacationing together. We’ve all become very close friends.”

As for Lake Las Vegas: the challenges and objectives and anything unique about the project…

JACK: “I think with Lake Las Vegas there wasn’t really anything special there. We just tried to route the golf course in the best manner we could. We always work with the land planners to develop the best possible situation. Sometimes you are better off moving a little bit of dirt to create the proper residential, rather than just do the natural golf course the way it best fits in there and not end up with a good real estate situation. It’s a combination.”

Finally, if you could talk about your degree of personal satisfaction creating some of the world’s greatest golf courses.

JACK: “I love it; it’s fun. To me, I get a tremendous kick out of when I go to a development and someone approaches me to say something nice about the golf course, their lot, or how happy he or she is with their decision to buy there. For example, take Pronghorn in Bend, Oregon. We did a grand opening of that golf course in June, and the people out there who just bought lots were ecstatic, because they loved the views and what they had. The golf course owners were ecstatic, because they were selling the lots and the product before we hardly ever rode the golf course. Almost half of the lots, or better, were sold out before we did the golf course. And the memberships have done very well. I get tremendous satisfaction of seeing the success of an owner. Then I know I’ve done my job. Now that’s a great sense of satisfaction. Not only do I know I produced a good golf course, but I produced it in a way that worked for what they intended to use it for. That’s my definition of a good golf course, anyway. It’s functional usage for the owner.”

I think about Reunion in Orlando, and the day after you were there for your first visit, they did contracts on over 790 lots in about six hours.

JACK: “They sold out. It was eight hundred and something lots and they sold out the next morning.”

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