The Player: Tony Jacklin
1 July 2007
Only Severiano Ballesteros can rival Tony Jacklin's importance in the development of European golf. When Jacklin came onto the world golf scene in the late 1960s, there had been no British winner of a Major championship since Max Faulkner's Open victory in 1951, the European Tour didn't exist and the boom in the game that saw the emergence of Ballesteros, Langer et al could not possibly have been foreseen. Jacklin, from a modest background in the north of England, inspired many young golfers, and it was in part his fame that led to the creation of a fledgling tour that now spans the globe. By winning the US Open at Hazeltine in 1970, he did something that no European golfer has done since. And as the captain of Europe's Ryder Cup team from 1983 to 1989, he harnessed the talents of the generation he had helped to spawn, building the foundations of Europe's recent dominance in the biennial event. Now, in his early sixties, Jacklin wants to build a legacy of a different kind.
GCA met Jacklin shortly after his return to the UK from his Florida home. "I'm going to play this year's Open at Carnoustie, and then the Senior Open at Muirfield the week after. But I think that might be my swansong as a player. I don't want to travel 30 weeks of the year to play golf anymore," he said. "Now I want to devote myself to course design. I was involved with a few golf courses quite some time ago – I did San Roque in Spain with Dave Thomas, for example, and in 1990, I sent my youngest son and two others to Michigan State University to do turfgrass degrees, with the idea that they would work with me in a course design business. But then senior golf loomed, and I didn't want to do it half-heartedly." Course design became a part of Jacklin's life again recently, when he helped to put together the development package for a new golf course near his home in Florida.
"I knew the site, and I knew the developer was courting Jack Nicklaus to build the course," he said. "So I went and spoke to the developer, and showed him a picture of Jack and me coming off the eighteenth hole at Birkdale in the 1969 Ryder Cup." That famous moment – when Nicklaus, having made his par to ensure the US team could not lose the Cup, conceded Jacklin's four footer for a tie with the words 'I don't think you'd miss that putt, but I am not going to give you the chance' – has now been immortalised in the name of the course the two co-designed together. And The Concession has been a high-profile success, recently winning Golf Digest's Best New Private Course award for 2006.
"Jack and I and his design team worked really well together on The Concession," said Jacklin. "We both agreed we didn't want really huge greens on the course, and although we had a few differences on things like bunker design – I really like the ragged MacKenzie look – overall we agreed very closely." Like so many professional golfers who seek to become architects – but perhaps with more justification than most – Jacklin claims the links courses of the UK as his principal inspiration. One might ask why, then, so few of the courses these people have built seem to have anything in common with those links? But Jacklin is at pains to say that he wants to create courses that are traditional in outlook.
"I'm really not a fan of the TPC bulldozed look," he said. "Golf courses evolve. For me to pontificate and say, oh, anything I do will be great, would be silly. Sites determine so much about how golf courses turn out. What's important is to make the absolute best of what you have. Michelangelo could design a golf course, but if it's not conditioned right then it's not worth a thing.
"I have a lot of practical know-how and common sense. I'm good at judging terrain. But I'm not an architect, and I'm quite happy and comfortable working with other people. As a player I gave myself the best chance to be the best I could be, and I want to do the same in my course design career."