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Welcome Back, Jack

© Bill Foley

Photo: Bill Foley

By the time Grout became the head professional, in 1949, Scioto was evolving from a men’s-oriented golf retreat to a family country club that would also feature tennis, swimming, fine dining and an active social calendar. Located less than a ten-minute drive from the heart of downtown, it was becoming as much a city club—and a lunch refuge for businessmen—as a place to tee it up. But it never lost its strong link to the game, and a year after Grout took over the pro shop, Scioto hosted another major championship, this time the PGA.

That, obviously, was a very big deal. But something even more significant happened that same year, when Grout stopped by Charlie Nicklaus’s pharmacy to fill a prescription. The elder Nicklaus, a club member, asked Grout if there might be room for his ten-year-old son in the junior golf class the pro was starting. A few days later, Jack Nicklaus took his first golf lesson.

Jack fell hard for the game, and Scioto quickly became his home away from home. He won his first junior tournament that summer. Partway through his third year as a player, he broke eighty for the first time.

The following year, Nicklaus passed a milestone that was greater still. “My dad and I played nine holes, and I shot thirty-four on the front,” he says, sitting before club members on the night of the grand reopening. “Obviously I wanted to keep going, but he said we had to get home for dinner because my mother was expecting us. I said, ‘Dad, I have a chance to break seventy,’ and he said that maybe if we got to the house quickly we could get in another nine. So we ran home, ate very fast and came right back. And coming up eighteen, which was then a par five, I needed a three to shoot sixty-nine. I hit a drive and then a long iron to within thirty-five feet of the pin. It was so late it was almost dark, and I had to move a sprinkler and hose that were on the green. Then I sunk this big rainbow putt.” Not bad for a thirteen-year-old.

Nicklaus remained a fixture at Scioto through his teens, and the club reveled in his success. After he won the 1959 U.S. Amateur, for example, members held a testimonial dinner for him and made him an honorary member. And in 1960 he celebrated his marriage with a wedding reception at the club.

But soon thereafter, Nicklaus began to spend less and less time at Scioto—and more and more days on the road playing competitive golf. That separation became even greater when he turned pro in 1961, although he still teed it up at Scioto on occasion, such as for an exhibition with Bob Hope and James Garner in 1965.

“But what I remember most about that day was what happened after our game,” Nicklaus says. “Bob and Jim came back to our house for dinner, and Barbara, who was pregnant at the time, cooked us some steaks. At around nine o’clock she left the table and then came back half an hour later, carrying a suitcase and announcing that she had called the doctor. Well, you have never seen a house clear out so fast. Hope and Garner disappeared, and we decided on the way to the hospital that if it was a boy, we would name him Robert James, after our two guests that evening.”

(As it turned out, the baby was a girl, Nancy Jean, also known as Nan, so those names went unused. But Nan heard the story so often that years later she gave them to one of her own children.)

During his infrequent visits, Nicklaus noticed how differently the course played after Wilson “modernized” it. The Ross routing remained intact, but the relatively flat greens had been reshaped and elevated and most of the bunkers reconfigured. “Dick was not well at the time and made only token appearances,” says Nicklaus. “So his associates Joe Lee and Robert von Hagge did most of the work. One did the front nine and the other the back, and what you ended up with was a very mixed feel.”

Says Bill Stines, the current head professional at Scioto: “People would ask Jack about the course after that, and he’d say it was not the Scioto he grew up on. Which was true. But those comments were often misconstrued as criticism.”

Nicklaus says his goal with this project was to make Scioto as balanced as it once was. “Mike and I certainly couldn’t go back and lower all those greens,” he says. “But we could make it better.”

All told, the redesign Nicklaus and Hurdzan oversaw cost roughly $2 million and entailed moving and modifying a number of greens and improving drainage; building or rebuilding tee complexes and pulling some back so the par-seventy-one course could play at more than seven thousand yards; and relocating and deepening bunkers.

On the night of the gala, Scioto members chat excitedly about the renovation as they sip cocktails and munch hors d’oeuvres. Many men wear green blazers embroidered with the club’s arrowhead logo. They wander with their wives and friends between the Donald Ross bar, which is decorated with black-and-white photographs of the architect, and the Stag Grille, which has the convivial feel of a neighborhood saloon. They amble past the exhibits describing the 1968 U.S. Amateur and pictures of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. They go by the barbershop, which still does decent business, and the pro shop, which has a picture window that looks out to the first tee and the eighteenth green. They talk about the next day’s tournament to commemorate the reopening, and some even discuss the possibility of Scioto hosting another major.

To be sure, the golf course is big news at the club this night. But there’s something even bigger in the air.

Jack is back.

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