Story by Ian Guerin
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. | The greatest golfer the game has ever seen pulled his cart to the middle of the eighth fairway, coming to a gradual stop. He said nothing. For what felt like an eternity, he chose to remain tightlipped while he analyzed three decades of life on his one-time baby. Finally, he turned to one of his riding partners and opened his mouth. It was clear Jack Nicklaus was working.
With three members of the Founders Group International ownership and management team in tow on his cart and another few handfuls of camera and operations teams not far behind, the Golden Bear used 87 minutes of his highly anticipated trip to the Grand Strand on Monday to break down the Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club course he designed for its original 1988 opening. It was the first time in the Myrtle Beach area since his designs at Pawleys and Long Bay Golf Club on the north end of the Strand opened within months of each other 30 years ago. Yet, watching him on the course, the small number of onlookers could see it all coming back to him.
"I enjoy that out there the most, the course, Nicklaus said. "I see what's out there and what's been done and how much better it could be. ... I get enthusiastic about that. I enjoy being involved in what I do." In the span of roughly 7 hours on Monday, Nicklaus fulfilled every part of a packed schedule with the same zest that allowed him to win 18 majors and more than 70 professional events. There was an initial meeting with FGI and Golf Tourism Solutions - the two groups who joined forces to get him here before a quick stop-in at a luncheon for Pawleys Plantation members and lunch of his own alongside FGI’s senior staff. After bouncing out front for a quick group photo, he hopped on a high-end cart for his tour of the course.
Obviously, he took the wheel.
From there, it was over to the driving range to meet and greet the First Tee of Georgetown youth program and a brief media session. After that, it was back inside for a multi-camera production interview, a cocktail hour and photo session with another group of ticketed VIPs and the final event of the day - a question-and-answer session and seated dinner.
The 78-year-old former golfer and long-time course designer had varying levels of bounce in his step throughout his time at Pawleys. However, only his analyzation of the course came close to matching his enthusiasm he displayed while talking about his family. Like any good grandfather, he frequently mentioned his descendants time and again. We went to the Dolphins game yesterday,” he said, referring to his grandson Nick O’Leary’s NFL squad. “This Friday, I have two kids playing high school football in Atlanta. So I’m going to one of their games. Thursday, I’m going to Houston to watch Nick.”
Nicklaus’ personal pace is almost necessary for the large number of requests and engagements still asked of the man who was deemed the greatest to have ever played the game by the World Golf Hall of Fame. That body enshrined him 12 years prior to his last major victory, the 1986 Masters.
When he’s not jet-setting to his children’s or grandchildren’s events, there are more than 400 courses across 39 states and 45 countries who have his name attached who would love to host him. Relatively few succeed, and his long-time friend Gary Schaal, who grew up playing Nicklaus as a teenager in Ohio and later became the PGA of America national president, said there was a reason the celebration at Pawleys Plantation did.
“I think it’s a big deal because he’s built 400-something golf courses,” Schall said. “People are always asking him to come hit the first shot, come in for renovations, come on [various anniversaries]. He’s fond of Myrtle Beach and has friends here. It’s nice that he agreed to all the things that we asked for - meeting with the members and First Tee. He’s a big philanthropist. This was right down his alley. I think we’re just fortunate. We struck a nerve. Said FGI President Steve Mays: “You always hope the plane shows up. It’s such a big deal, you want to make sure everything’s perfect. You want to make sure it’s great for the members, make sure Jack’s gonna enjoy his time here and make sure everybody gets value out of it.That was undeniable. For the excited youth golfers who drew personalized tips from Nicklaus. For the course celebrating its 30th anniversary. And for the Grand Strand golf market looking to accentuate its positives.
The latest way to do that was Nicklaus’ appearance. Hundreds of posed photos were flooding social media by mid-day, and those and the countless others that followed predominantly featured the Golden Bear’s smile. “I have a passion for everything. I enjoy doing this right here,” he said. “This is fun for me.”