new golf courses typically open with a grand shindig or highfalutin hullabaloo. the developers, city fathers,
various local dignitaries and the golf course architect are
all on hand, invariably engaging in various forms of mutual
admiration and self-congratulation.
enthusiastic speeches, back slaps and incomprehensible
inside jokes are most often accompanied by a chafing dish
heaped high with hard-scrambled eggs and another laden
with deeply greasy bacon. nearby, a few canisters of weak
coffee tempt the desperate, and a straw basket or two of
rather aged-looking pastries lurks.
usually after the questionable cuisine and formalities, the
golf course architect invites the gathered group to stroll the
fairways with him. he struts to and fro like a proud peacock,
a microphone clipped to his lapel, discussing every facet of
his brilliant design. he waves his arms around in the air and
points at distant land roilings. he speaks of “shot values,”
“strategically placed bunkers” and “driveable par-4s,” mag-
nanimously addressing us as if we could actually break 90
or hit a drive out past 180.
other times, course openings feature a full-blown exhibi-
tion match between pros or legends. this latter format—an
exhibition match between legends—produced what may
just be the worst golf hole Jack nicklaus has ever played…
and i was there to witness it.
it took place on the magnificent little hawaiian island
of lanai. two of golf’s greatest players—greg “the great
white shark” norman and Jack “the golden Bear” nick-
laus—were on hand to play an exhibition match to celebrate
the opening of the experience at koele, a course norman
had co-designed on the island with ted robinson.
on hole eight—which nowadays plays as hole
17—nicklaus learned firsthand why the course is called
the signature hole on the course, the tee boxes for num-
ber eight are cut at the top of a steep hillside, and the fair-
way drops to a distant swath of green grass 220 feet below.
the hole is bordered along the right side by a sprawling lake
they might as well have named waterloo—since so many
golfers meet their fate in it—and on the left by a hillside
thick with underbrush. said hazards demand of the player
a straight and long tee ball, an exciting shot for any mortal
golfer, and so it was this day for greg and Jack.
the shark was first on the tee. after his characteristic
waggle (at which all the ladies in the gallery, eyes fixated on
his behind, murmur ohh and ahh) greg proceeded to hook
his tee shot into the hillside left. the golden Bear did too
(albeit not to any ohhs and ahhs).
someone in the gallery yelled, “mulligan!”
everyone laughed and the golfers re-teed. the shark then
placed a drive in the middle of the fairway. But Jack—golf’s
immortal golden Bear—proceeded to kiss six consecutive
“aloha balls” into the lake on the right, claiming through
clenched jaw that it was a “hit-till-you’re-happy” hole, be-
fore finally steering his 14th shot in the fairway below.
“who designed this damn hole, anyway?” nicklaus
quipped as he and norman left the tee box. we all laughed
politely, but could see Jack’s face was a bright shade of red.
someone in the gallery answered as they passed, “well,
after all, mr. nicklaus, it is the number-one handicap hole!”
as nicklaus putted out for an 18 a few minutes later, the
gallery breathed a collective sigh of relief, as happy as he
that the hole was done. on the walk to the next tee, though,
i overheard a young reporter, notebook and pencil at the
ready, ask, “mr. nicklaus, was that an 18? what happened?”
nicklaus stared straight at him and deadpanned, “son,
weren’t you watching? i missed the putt for 17,” and then he
turned and walked on.
i’ve had the occasion to interview nicklaus several times
since that day, but i’ve never brought up that rip in the time-
space continuum. can you blame me? to him, carding an 18
is probably a memory that ranks in his forgettable file right
next to bad eggs and bacon—and that memory, my friend,
i wouldn’t want to force on anyone.