World Golf Hall of Famer and globally renowned course designer Jack Nicklaus was honored early this month as the recipient of the 2014 National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) Award of Merit during the Association's Annual Conference in Orlando, Fla.
The Award of Merit is the NGCOA's longest-running award and is designated for long-term and significant contributions to the game of golf. Nicklaus was honored during the NGCOA's Celebration Dinner and Awards Gala at the Rosen Centre Hotel on Wednesday, February 5.
"Jack Nicklaus has made an unparalleled impact on the game of golf and we are privileged to bestow our Award of Merit on the ‘Golden Bear' this year,' said Mike Hughes, CEO of the NGCOA. "While his incredible playing career has set a standard for generations, his accomplishments as a course designer, businessman, philanthropist and NGCOA member truly make him deserving of our highest honor.'
Among the other honorees Wednesday night, the winner of the National Course of the Year Award was the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch, which opened for play in 2007 in Boerne, Texas, just outside San Antonio.
"More than anything, it's you, the owners and operators of our golf courses across our nation and across our borders that deserve my thanks - our thanks,' Nicklaus said. "You are the pioneers of our game; the stewards and caretakers of today's game; and the innovators for tomorrow's game.'
Over a championship career that spanned five decades, the Memorial Tournament's host and founder won 120 professional tournaments worldwide, including a record 18 major championship titles. One of only five golfers to win all four of golf's modern majors - and the only one to do so on the senior circuit - he also played on six Ryder Cup teams, captained two others, and served as U.S. captain for four Presidents Cup teams.
Nicklaus has been honored as "Golfer of the Century' or "Golfer of the Millennium' by almost every major golf media outlet in the world, and was tabbed as the Individual Male Athlete of the Century by Sports Illustrated and one of the 10 Greatest Athletes of the Century by ESPN. In 2005, the Golden Bear was honored at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to any U.S. civilian.
His legacy on the course is being rivaled by the lasting mark he is currently leaving off the course, as well. The Golden Bear's thriving business, Nicklaus Design, has created 380 courses in 36 countries and 39 states, and has had no fewer than 75 courses appear in various national and international Top-100 lists. Nicklaus himself has been involved in the design of close to 290 of the firm's courses, no fewer than 100 of which have hosted a combined total of over 750 professional tournaments or national amateur championships.
His Ohio home club of Muirfield Village Golf Club - the recipient of the 2008 NGCOA Jemsek Award for Golf Course Excellence - just became the first in history to have hosted the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and now Presidents Cup. That began a run of three consecutive years in which Nicklaus courses will host the world's most prestigious international team event, with the 2014 Ryder Cup going to Gleneagles in Scotland and the 2015 Presidents Cup going to the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in New Songdo City.
Jack is also the Chairman of the privately held Nicklaus Companies, which for more than 40 years has provided services such as golf-course design, development of golf and real estate communities, and marketing and licensing golf products and services. Nicklaus-branded products have been marketed worldwide since 1962. The Jack Nicklaus- and Golden Bear-branded lifestyle collection of products include: restaurants, beverages, wine, home appliances, flooring, cabinets, apparel, and footwear.
Jack and his wife Barbara have a long history of involvement in numerous charitable activities, from junior golf to children's hospitals to several scholarship foundations. Jack and Barbara are the guiding light for the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which supports numerous pediatric health-care services in South Florida, as well as nationally, and has raised over $24 million in just nine years.
In July 2013, Jack received the Ambassador of Golf Award, presented annually to a person who has fostered the ideals of the game on an international level and whose concern for others extends beyond the golf course.
The association also recognized winners of the Jemsek Award for Golf Course Excellence; the Don Rossi Award for significant and long-lasting contributions to the NGCOA; the Champion Award for service to course owners at the state level; the Player Development Award for success in attracting new players to the game; and the Paul Porter Award for commitment, service and leadership to a chapter or international affiliate.
The NGCOA's Annual Conference is the golf industry's largest gathering of owners and operators of daily fee, private, resort and municipal courses. The conference, which will be held Feb. 3-6, offers educational and networking opportunities and guest speakers. NGCOA members and non-members can register for the conference at www.ngcoa.org/conference.