Columbus Legend: Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus is inarguably one of the greatest golfers of all time and one of the most influential people in the modern game. Columbus shaped him before he went on to shape the game. 

By the Numbers | On the TourMajors Won | Designing Courses | Other Contributions 

Early Life/College

“In 1950, Jack Nicklaus hit his first golf shot from this location”, reads a plaque on the practice area at Scioto Country Club in Upper Arlington. A stop-and-stare historical marker, a photograph opportunity, and a clear reminder that golf’s greatest champion started it all right here in Columbus, Ohio.

Nicklaus began playing golf at the age of 10, primarily by accident. His father, Charlie, had broken his ankle playing volleyball, and would play golf to remain active. Needing someone to carry his bag, he invited his son, Jack, who took an instant liking to the game. The rest is of course, history.

Jack began to become a top junior player in the country at the start of his teenage years. He would win the Ohio State Junior Championship at age 13, and qualified for the U.S. Junior Championship the same year.

At age 16, Nicklaus won the Ohio Open Championship by eight shots over the top amateurs and professionals in the state. He’d lead Upper Arlington High School to a state championship in 1956, while also winning the individual state title in both 1956 and 1957. At Upper Arlington, Jack was a varsity baseball catcher and four-year letterman in basketball. He was even an all-state performer in the latter, averaging 18 points per game during his senior year.

In 1958, at the age of 18, Jack made his first PGA TOUR start at the Rubber City Open in Akron. He would be just one stroke behind the lead after 36 holes and would later go on to finish in a tie for 12th place.

After his junior golf career ended, Nicklaus considered a variety of scholarship offers from universities throughout the country. He would decide to stay in Central Ohio and attend Ohio State University, where he would study pharmacy and join the golf program, which didn’t offer scholarships.

His college days at Ohio State University were highlighted by two U.S. Amateur victories in 1959 and 1961, and an NCAA Championship in 1961. Nicklaus was so dominant during the 1961 season that he won the Big Ten individual championship by a ridiculous 23 strokes. He also met his wife, Barbara, while attending the school.

Nicklaus intended to follow his father’s footsteps into the world of pharmacy after graduation, but his mind changed after the achievements on the golf course continued to stack up. Knowing he needed more time to practice golf, the full-time shifts at his father’s drug store and the pharmaceutical path were no longer viable for Nicklaus. He would switch majors and began selling insurance to support a living for his family.

By The Numbers

Jack Nicklaus career on the course was long and successful. He won multiple tournaments on the PGA Tour each year from 1962 to 1978. Nicklaus has 73 top ten finishes in a record 164 major appearances. In five separate years - 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977 - he finished top ten in all four majors. Think of a golf stat or accomplishment and Jack is at or near the top of the leaderboard. In addition to the stats at right, he also has six Ryder Cup appearances as a player, and two as a captain. He also captained the Presidents Cup twice.

18 Majors

Most in golf history

73 PGA Tour Wins

First in 1962, last in 1986

6 Masters

Most all-time

19 Major Runner-Up Finishes

Most all-time

5 PGA Championships, 4 U.S. Opens

Tied for Most All-Time

On the PGA Tour

Nicklaus finally turned professional in late 1961 and began his PGA TOUR career in 1962. He would beat Arnold Palmer in the 1962 U.S. Open, one of the monumental tournaments in golf history. After the two were tied after regulation, they played an 18-hole playoff the following day, which Nicklaus won. The combination of the standalone playoff, Palmer’s popularity, and a new spotlight on Nicklaus gave the sport a significant boost on television.

A year later, Nicklaus won two of the four majors, the 1963 Masters and the PGA Championship. He’d finish runner-up in three majors in 1964, before winning the Masters Tournament in both 1965 and 1966. His 1965 victory was one of the most dominant victories in major championship history, as he won by nine strokes. Nicklaus was the first player to win the Masters in back-to-back years. The Golden Bear was no longer just destined for stardom but destined for greatness.

He'd win two more major championships in 1966 and 1967, including The Open Championship in 1966, which gave Nicklaus the Career Grand Slam. The next three seasons didn’t come as easy for Jack. He and Barbara now had four kids, his physical condition had deteriorated slightly, and his father passed away from pancreatic cancer in February of 1970. He rededicated to himself and his golf game that same year, which included winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Nicklaus added to his major tally with wins at the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open. Both of his victories came in wire-to-wire fashion by three strokes each. The following year, he won his 12th major championship at the PGA. This victory surpassed Walter Hagen’s 11 majors for the most of all-time. He also won the Ohio King’s Island Open that season, becoming the first PGA TOUR player to win a tour event on a course that he designed himself.

Two more major wins came in 1975, as he won the Masters and PGA Championship. One of the best seasons of his career, Nicklaus was in contention to win all four majors, and had 16 top-10 finishes in just 18 official starts.

In 1977, Nicklaus won his own event at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, the most emotional moment of his career. A year later, he won the 1978 Open Championship, becoming the only player to win each major championship three times. The record was later matched by Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open.

A short slump followed in 1979, but two more major wins came in 1980 at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

By this time, Nicklaus was now a 40-year-old on the back end of his career with seemingly every golf record to his name. He didn’t win a major from 1981-1985, although he did win his second Memorial Tournament in 1984. His Ryder Cup record during this period was standout, as he went 4-0-0 in the 1981 Ryder Cup and captained the U.S team to a win in the 1983 edition.

Then at the 1986 Masters Tournament, Nicklaus had his defining moment. Trailing Greg Norman by four strokes coming into the final round, The Golden Bear shot a back-nine 30 to storm from behind and win by one stroke over Tom Kite and Norman. Nicklaus became the oldest-ever champion of the Masters at the age of 46. It was his 18th major championship.

After this win, Nicklaus competed sparingly on the PGA TOUR and the Champions Tour (senior tour). He finished his professional career at the 2005 Open Championship at St. Andrews, in which he endured a lengthy standing ovation while standing on the iconic Swilcan Bridge. Fittingly, he birdied the hole.

Jack Nicklaus ended his playing career with 18 major championships, 19 major championship runner-up finishes, 73 PGA TOUR wins, and 117 official worldwide victories.

  • Masters Tournament (6)

    • 1963
    • 1965
    • 1966
    • 1972
    • 1975
    • 1986

    PGA Championship (5)

    • 1963
    • 1971
    • 1973
    • 1975
    • 1980

    U.S. Open (4)

    • 1962
    • 1967
    • 1972
    • 1980

    The Open Championship (3)

    • 1966
    • 1970
    • 1978

Designing Courses

With all the fame and notoriety Nicklaus garnered during his playing days around the world, he never forgot his Central Ohio roots. Nothing proves this more than the beginning of his course design career and his work on Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

In the mid-1960s, Nicklaus began pondering the idea of bringing a world-class PGA TOUR event to Central Ohio. At the time, Nicklaus was just a 25-year-old rising superstar on tour. Over the next decade, a farm in the Columbus suburb of Dublin was transformed into one of the finest golf courses and communities in the United States.

Finally, in 1976, a PGA TOUR event, the Memorial Tournament was born. The community of Muirfield Village and the rise of Dublin as a town came along with it. Striking similarities between Augusta National and The Masters Tournament gave the course and tournament added notoriety among players and the fans. Nicklaus’ introduction of “stadium golf”, the use of natural amphitheaters around the playing areas for spectator viewing, was also a unique highlight of the golf course and event.

Not only it is the place that Jack built, but it is also the place that Jack Nicklaus is still building. Since 1976, Nicklaus has remodeled every hole on the golf course to be able to keep up with the modern game. The commitment to continually being able to host the best players in the world has allowed the club to host the three main international competitions, the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, and Solheim Cup, a feat no other golf course in the world can claim.

Nicklaus also returned to Central Ohio in the mid-2000s to put his influence on the two golf courses he played the most during his junior and college golf days. He worked as a consultant on the redesign at Scioto Country Club in 2005. His college golf course, the Scarlet Course at Ohio State Golf Club, also saw a redesign by Nicklaus in 2006.

The Golden Bear’s design career has grown exponentially since the end of his playing days. Nicklaus Design, a company partnership between Nicklaus and his four sons, is now one of the most prominent golf course design ventures in the world. While most of their courses can be found in the United States, there is also a commitment to building courses internationally, specifically in Asia.

According to the Nicklaus Design Company, their golf courses have hosted 292 PGA TOUR competitions and 59 major championships. In total, the firm has worked on 430 courses throughout the world, which makes up over 1% of the world’s total golf courses.

Notable Courses Designed 

Muirfield Village GC (Dublin, Ohio)

Host of The Memorial Tournament, only course in the world to host the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, and Solheim Cup

Valhalla Golf Club (Louisville, Ky.)

Host to three PGA Championships, 2008 Ryder Cup

Harbour Town Golf Links (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)

Host of The Heritage on the PGA TOUR, in collaboration with Urbana native Pete Dye

Castle Pines Golf Club (Castle Rock, Co.)

Host to The INTERNATIONAL, a PGA TOUR event from 1986 to 2006.

Sebonack Golf Club (Southampton, N.Y.)

Consistently rates as a top-100 course in the world, host of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open

Other Contributions

Outside of his work with the Memorial Tournament and golf course design, Nicklaus has been active in business and philanthropy since his playing career began to come to a close in the 1990s.

The Nicklaus Companies have since been involved with equipment, apparel, grooming products, and wines. Like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus even has his own drink through the beverage-maker Arizona, called “Golden Bear Lemonade”.

A commitment to helping children has been at the forefront of Jack and his wife Barbara’s minds since a health scare with their child, Nan, when she was 11 months old. Columbus Children’s Hospital saved her life, and the Nicklaus family hasn’t forgotten it.

The Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation began in 2004, with Barbara Nicklaus serving as the chair of the foundation. Over the past 20 years, it has raised over $100 million to provide care to children in all 50 states and over 100 countries.

The Memorial Tournament’s charitable impact is also notable, as almost $20 million has been given to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the tournament’s history.