The first time Gary Player spoke to Jack Nicklaus was at the 1959 Masters.
Nicklaus, then a 19-year-old amateur, had just missed the cut.
“No matter who you are, it never hurts to hear words of encouragement, so that’s what I gave him,” Player recalled recently. “I said, ‘I saw you hit the ball and I have no doubt that you are going to be a great champion.'”
What Player couldn’t have predicted was the evolution of their relationship.
For over 60 years, the two legends have faced each other on and off the course, creating a rivalry in golf and business based on mutual respect.
This week they drew another tie.
In a bid to strengthen individual architectural interests, Nicklaus and Player announced Wednesday that their design firms had formed a “strategic alliance”.
Under the agreement, Player will call on the resources of Nicklaus Design to help launch his new Gary Player Design business. (Nicklaus Design is a subsidiary of GOLF.com’s parent company, 8AM Golf.) This business has been largely inactive for the past two years, blocked by a legal dispute between Player and a company run by one of his sons.
With that dispute now behind him, Player said he was eager to get back to designing and building courses around the world, and that the relationship with Nicklaus Design would be essential as his own design business started from scratch.
“When I have a class to do it will be great to have Jack’s folks in the design,” Player said. “They have so much experience with the best courses in the world.”
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Nicklaus said the arrangement was in line with his own goal of providing “the expertise and resources to develop and support the people who will design the courses of the future.”
In this case, Nicklaus added, he and his colleagues were “happy to be able to facilitate the next phase of my dear friend Gary’s career”.
With 27 majors and hundreds of pro titles between them, Nicklaus and Player are two of the most successful golfers of all time. But they have been even more prolific in golf design. Gary Player Design is credited with over 135 courses around the world, while Nicklaus Design has created over 425 courses, in 40 countries and also 40 US states.
While each man has established his own aesthetic, Player said their design philosophies are “very similar”, emphasizing environmental sensitivity and shooting requirements suitable for golfers of all skill levels.
“That’s why I’m so happy Jack accepted this,” Player said. “We’re not partners as such, but I love designing courses, and now we can take advantage of Jack’s resources and help bring my design ideas to life. “