BY JACKSON WAGNER
The scene was golden at the Old Works on Wednesday afternoon, as Jack Nicklaus returned to the course he designed 20 years ago for an anniversary celebration.
Nicklaus drove around the course, seeing the 18 holes that he designed over 20 years ago for the first time since the grand opening.
“Golf course looks good, they did a nice job taking care of it,” Nicklaus said. “I remembered half the holes probably, as far as what they were, but then I remembered, I knew we tried to use the elements of the old flumes and furnaces, I remember how we tried to use that.”
The day couldn’t have been nicer for Nicklaus’ return trip, with the sun shining all day and temperatures nearing the 80’s. The course is still a lush emerald green, even late into September.
“It was pretty when we started, but I think it’s extremely pretty now,” Nicklaus said. “It looks mature, it looks like it fits here. As we drove in, you couldn’t see the golf course, you couldn’t see anything. Then all of a sudden you pop out and here’s this beautiful green golf golf course with native grasses out on it, up against the mountains, some remnants of the old smelting plant are here.”
The one element of the course that stood out in Jack’s mind 20 years later? The slag bunkers.
“The bunkers obviously, when we looked at it I said, you know, I wonder if that stuff is usable,” Nicklaus said. “So we tested it, and it tested out, pretty darn good bunker sand. I don’t think you find the ball buries in it, you probably find that you have a hard time spinning the ball out of it.”
He said it took more effort to create the course because of requirements from the EPA. He said they had to do double the work as they would have on any other course.
The slag and the environmental issues that surrounded the Old Works just made it that much more important to Jack, who said it encouraged him to do more projects where he leaves an area better than he found it.
“This to me was one of the most significant projects I was ever involved with from the standpoint that, of all the things it created out of virtually a wasteland, it was a toxic wasteland,” he said.
“It was more of, how do you clean it up and how do you protect the people and the environment from what was here. That’s really what it was, that was the EPA’s whole focus.”
After visiting the golf course and before the dinner and question and answer ceremony, Nicklaus stopped by the range where some Anaconda High School golfers were receiving a lesson from Tim Mahoney, a Top 50 teaching professional according to Golf Digest and Golf Magazine based out of Troon North in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Nicklaus stopped by, providing tips on grip, head positioning and balance, which he said were the keys to a good golf swing.
“I don’t think it will change their whole lives, but I think the few that I helped will hit the golf ball better,” Nicklaus said. “It was fun, I enjoyed it, I work with a lot of kids.”
He also touched on Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday at the age of 87.
“Arnold never met a stranger. Everybody was a friend,” Nicklaus said. “He was a good guy; we will all miss him a lot.
“He just came along at the right time and he was sort of a swashbuckling guy. He took up the imagination of the public. He played golf a little bit like they did. When he was young he was not a good driver, he’d hit everywhere, but he’d recover and everybody loved how he’d recover. And boy could he putt the eyes out of the ball.”
Nicklaus said he had to cancel some travel plans for a golf course he is working on in Turkmenistan in the Middle East for the funeral, which will be held next Thursday.
“I had to move the President of Turkmenistan back too. Everybody understood.”
As for the Old Works, despite some recent financial problems, Jack said the impact that it has had on the community and the current condition make it a success.
“Success should not be measured on dollars and cents,” Nicklaus said. “Success should be measured on what it did for this land, what it did for the community, what it did for the people here, jobs and everything. That to me is a successful project.”
Nicklaus will complete his trip tomorrow in Anaconda with a scheduled breakfast with local dignitaries. He will then travel with his entourage and his wife, Barbara, to the Ryder Cup Thursday afternoon being played at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Wisc.