Nicklaus Gets His Name Back

Nicklaus Gets His Name Back

In one of the stranger golf stories in a year filled with strange golf stories, Jack Nicklaus has won the right to continue to use his own name in golf course design.

The strangeness began in May 2022, when Jack Nicklaus was sued by Nicklaus Companies for breach of contract and of fiduciary duty. It is a convoluted story involving payments to Mr. Nicklaus for services and his name, a DP World Tour event in Belgium, a video game and — of course — LIV.

A recent ruling, however, has determined that Mr. Nicklaus may compete against the Nicklaus Companies for golf course design work and other businesses — except commercial endorsements.

I for one, am happy for the GOAT. I have had the chance to meet him a couple of times, and he could not have been nicer to this unknown blogger (see my story on Jack Nicklaus at Oakland Hills).

A press release on the subject from Nicklaus follows:

Jack Nicklaus is given the green light to return to golf course design on his own and in his own name

December 14, 2022

NORTH PALM BEACH, FL. – A New York Supreme Court judge has ruled that Jack W. Nicklaus, one of history’s most acclaimed golf course designers, can resume his 50-plus-year career as a designer and once again engage in design work in his own name. 

Following a three-day evidentiary hearing which concluded just prior to Thanksgiving, Justice Joel M. Cohen determined that Jack is free to compete with his former employer – the Nicklaus Companies, LLC – for golf course design work and other business, except commercial endorsements.  Going forward, Jack will be providing golf course design services through a new design entity owned jointly by Jack and his wife Barbara.  The new entity is named 1-JN, LLC.

“I am looking forward to this next phase in my life where I am again designing golf courses under my own banner and in my own name,” Jack said.

Jack Nicklaus is widely considered to be the greatest champion in golf history, with 120 professional victories worldwide, including a record 18 major championships. But he long ago transcended a six-decade-long playing career by becoming a global businessman, ambassador, and philanthropist. Jack and his wife Barbara share a passion for helping children and families in need, and Jack’s transformational career led him to become the first athlete and sportsperson to be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015), and the Lincoln Medal (2018). 

Jack’s deep-rooted interest in golf course design stretches back to the mid-1960s, when he began dabbling in design as a hobby.  It quickly turned from an avocation to a vocation, as he found he thoroughly enjoys the challenge of taking a raw piece of land and figuring out creative ways to use its natural features to produce a memorable and environmentally sustainable golf experience. His goal has always been to create designs that respect the land and add to the beauty of the terrain.

Since Jack’s debut design – a collaboration with the late Pete Dye – was unveiled with the playing of a PGA TOUR event in November of 1969, Jack has been involved in the design of almost 320 courses which are currently open for play.  Nicklaus courses have hosted well over 1,000 professional tournaments around the globe, as well as significant national amateur championships. And more than 100 Nicklaus courses have appeared in various national and international Top-100 lists. 

Jack retired from his employment with the Nicklaus Companies in June 2017, but he continued to perform services for the Companies as a consultant for the next five years. This included the design of dozens of new golf courses worldwide.  In May 2022, Jack ended his professional relationship with the Companies and no longer has any continuing association with them. 

Shortly after Jack ended that professional relationship, the Nicklaus Companies filed a lawsuit in New York claiming, among other things, that Jack did not have the legal right to compete with the Companies for business.  The Companies also sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting Jack from competing with the Companies while the litigation was pending.

On December 9, 2022, the Court issued an order finding that the Nicklaus Companies were not entitled to a preliminary injunction prohibiting Jack from competing with the Companies for golf course design work. The Court found that the Companies had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their argument that Jack’s non-compete restrictions remain in effect and are enforceable. The Court ruled that the Companies were only entitled to a preliminary injunction against the use of certain intellectual property and the licensing of Jack’s name, image, and likeness for commercial endorsements.

That ruling leaves Jack free to engage in golf course design work in his own name and allows one of the most storied golf course design careers in history to continue.

Over the course of Jack’s 54-year career as a designer, he has won every significant award tied to course design, including the highest honor bestowed by numerous industry organizations: the Donald Ross Award (American Society of Golf Course Architects); The Old Tom Morris Award (Golf Course Superintendents Association of America); the Don A. Rossi Award (Golf Course Builders Association of America); and the International Network of Golf’s Achievement in Golf Course Design Award.  He has also been named Architect of the Year by GolfWorld and GOLF Magazine, as well as Golf Course Designer of the Year by the World Golf Awards in 2017. He is one of only two people to make Golf Inc. magazine’s “Most Powerful People in Golf” list every year since it premiered in 1999, including a record six consecutive years when Golf Inc. ranked Jack “The Most Powerful Person in Golf.”

“I have been blessed in my long life to have more than one successful career – first playing the game and then designing courses for where this great game is played,” Jack said. “It has been more than 50 years since my first course, but I am even more passionate than ever about golf course design. I strongly believe that my ideas and creativity are even better now than they have ever been, and I am inspired to continue producing memorable and sustainable golf experiences that can be enjoyed for years to come.”

“You might say I have nothing to prove,” Nicklaus added, “but I have a lot left to give.”

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