Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus talk about their unique relationship prior to the Bass Pro Legends of Golf Classic at Top of the Rock.
By Ken MacLeod
An interview with golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player prior to the start of the Bass Pro Legends of Golf Classic at Big Cedar Lodge proved as enlightening for Nicklaus as it was for the media in attendance.
Nicklaus, who designed and redesigned the tremendous nine-hole Top of the Rock par-3 course where the tournament is being contested along with the Tom Fazio-designed Springs Course at Buffalo Ridge (formerly Branson Creek), seemingly had no idea that the man sitting next to him on the couch had been hired last year by Bass Pro owner Johnny Morris to design a family course a few miles away on a portion of the former Murder Rock Golf Course.
Nor did he know that Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore had been hired to design a championship course alongside Player’s course on another portion of the former Murder Rock course and additional land that Morris has purchased. A bit of the legendary Nicklaus competitive spirit, which he possesses in his design career as well as on the course, flared for a second when he digested that news.
"Both of us didn’t know anything about it and we both would have liked to have done the job ourself, right?" Nicklaus said in response to a question about the Coore-Crenshaw course.
Player explained that he did know about the course and was doing one himself. Combined with the Tom Watson-designed Himalaya putting course and the amazing Arnold Palmer-designed driving range, it’s already an all-star lineup of contributors to Morris’ wonderland, and both legends agreed that he’s not done yet.
"Johnny is never finished," Nicklaus said. "If you know Johnny at all, he is continually trying to improve everything that he’s got. He’s terrific in that way."
"He’s unique," Player said. "He’s actually a genius. I’ve been traveling the world for 63 years, been everywhere, and there’s nothing like this anywhere in the world."
Aside from Nicklaus learning about all the goings on at Top of the Rock, one of the best stories to come out of the press conference was Nicklaus’ retelling of his epic battle to land a 1,358-pound black marlin, a replica of which is on display at Top of the Rock. Nicklaus caught it after a six-hour and 25 minute battle in 1978 off the Great Barrier Reef while preparing to play in the Australian Open.
Nicklaus wrenched a knee trying to land the monster, which is still the largest black marlin by measurement at 15.5 feet long, with a seven-foot girth. Then he hurt a shoulder in a tennis match with Bruce Lietzke and Ben Crenshaw. He shot a 74 in the first round of the tournament, but took some phenylbutzone, or Bute, as it is commonly called, an anti-inflammatory meant for use in horses, and shot 67 the next day and went on to win the tournament.
"Did you play that year," Nicklaus asked Player.
"C’mon, I had to beat you one year. Gary won seven Australian Opens , I won six, so that tells you how much international golf we played down there together."
Notes: The Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum housed underground at the Top of the Rock complex is due to open to the public immediately following the tournament. Media were allowed to tour this week and while we’re not qualified to compare this collection with other Native American, natural history and early American collections of pottery, apparel, arrowheads, weapons and such, it has to be one of the finest in the world. But what sets it apart is the fossile remains and recreations of the fascinating creatures that once roamed Missouri, including massive meat-eating "Hell Pigs," giant cave bears and lions, huge moose, beaver that stood nearly four feet tall, mastadons and other creatures. It is sure to be a hit with nature and history buffs worldwide.