There is no more Jack Nicklaus at the Nicklaus Companies.
According to a press release put out on Thursday, the 78-year-old Nicklaus, who formed his eponymous company nearly 50 years ago, will step away from day-to-day operations.
“I have spent my life building the Nicklaus Companies,” Nicklaus said in a statement. “And there has come a time in my life when I need to reduce my level of involvement and pursue many other things I am interested in, such as charity work – specifically efforts focused on children’s healthcare – supporting the industry’s initiatives to grow this great game and being involved in many other things.”
While Nicklaus said his health, energy and enthusiasm are still excellent, something no one who has been around him would argue, he also said, “It became apparent by last fall that it was time for me to spend more time on these other activities. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and there is no reason for me to do so.”
That is where Nicklaus is wrong. While his brand may continue to grow, the fact that golf’s greatest champion is stepping away from the company that bears his name is, indeed, a big deal.
Nicklaus will remain co-chairman of the Nicklaus Companies and his family will retain its majority ownership position, with Howard Milstein assuming the role of executive chairman, according to the statement.
Milstein’s Initial Involvement
In 2007, Milstein – the chairman, president, and CEO of New York Private Bank & Trust, , the country’s largest family owned and operated bank – assumed a minority stake in the Nicklaus Companies. The deal was reportedly worth $145 million to the Nicklaus family.
At that time, golf course design was the company’s cash cow, although the Nicklaus and Golden Bear brands maintained a presence in the industry. Since that deal, Nicklaus’ name and likeness has appeared on such non-golf-related items as ice cream and lemonade, and the company has expanded into everything from new clothing lines to high-end furniture.
For the better part of nine years after the Great Recession of 2008, the domestic golf course design business all but dried up. No firm was unaffected. But Nicklaus fared better than most, opening three courses around the world in 2017, including the firm’s first in Denmark. That brought the total of Nicklaus-designed golf courses to 415 in 45 countries, making Nicklaus one of the most prolific designers in the game’s history.
Numerous golf-industry sources have noted varying stages of acrimony in the relationship between Milstein and Nicklaus in recent years. The Nicklaus Companies aren’t Milstein’s only foray into golf. One day before Nicklaus released his statement, it was announced that Milstein had closed on the purchase of Golf Magazine and Golf.com. He also owns distribution rights to Miura Golf, the privately-held Japanese club manufacturer, as well a GPS and club-tracking app called GolfLogix.
The Nicklaus Family
Nicklaus’ sons, Jack II and Gary, will continue to serve on the board and Jack II will continue to be president of Nicklaus Design.
Nicklaus will continue to design courses as opportunities arise. He and Jack II are currently working at Superstition Mountain in Arizona and at Florida State University as well as developing projects in Malaysia and Vietnam. Whether or not his style of architecture remains in vogue in in America, the impact and legacy Jack Nicklaus has had on golf course design potentially could eclipse his major championship record.
“I will continue to support the Nicklaus Companies and I want the company to be successful,” Nicklaus wrote. “However, my life has changed and I wish to support my wife, as well as other family members in any endeavor they are involved. I have said many times that Barbara spent much of her life supporting me and my career, and for the last few years, I have dedicated my time and energies to supporting her and what she is involved in. I am enjoying that aspect and want to continue to devote my time to her and these other life-changing efforts, and to enjoy our lives together.”
In the statement, Milstein said, in part, “Everywhere you turn, Jack Nicklaus has left his imprint on the game of golf. Jack has certainly given far more back to the game than it has given him and I know he will continue to impact the game and the charity on a daily basis. I am proud to call him a partner.”
Nicklaus was equally gracious to Milstein in the statement, saying: “I would like to thank Howard. He has enabled me to monetize what I have built in this company, take care of my family, and allowed me the time to focus on these other priorities in my life.”
In 2016, Nicklaus told CNN that he loved the work he was doing. “It’s not about money for me,” he said. “I think I passed most of my part of the company off to the kids years ago.” Then he added, “I don’t mind dying penniless, just not right now.”