While 2014 marks 60 years of professional golf at Firestone Country Club, some might consider the storied South Course more legend than a standard of perfection.
The legendary Jack Nicklaus does not seem to agree.
During a conference call Tuesday to discuss his selection as Ambassador of Golf for the Aug. 1-4 Bridgestone Invitational, Nicklaus said he believes Firestone has “withstood the test of time.”
“I think it’s always been one of the finer courses in the country. I don’t think anybody would question that,” Nicklaus said. “It seems as though the golf ratings come from the flavor of the day, and I don’t know whether Firestone is the flavor of the day today. In the 1960s and early 70s, it was definitely the flavor of the day.
“A lot of the old golf courses have had so much work done on them; I don’t think Firestone has had that much work done on it. It’s stayed the course. It didn’t have to make many changes because it was a good, solid golf course.”
The South Course, which opened in 1929, was designed by Bert Way and redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1960. Nicklaus redid the course in 1985, but said he changed very little, concentrating mainly on the greens.
“The only thing about the golf course, and it’s only because of the nature of the property, that 16 of the holes run north and south, and the fifth and sixth holes run east and west. But there’s nothing you can do about that,” Nicklaus said.
“It has only has two par-5s, one very reachable and very playable early in the round [No. 2], and of course 16 was the monster hole. The par-4s are strong. I think it’s a really, really good test of golf. As the golf ball has gone farther, it makes all golf courses play a little bit shorter. Probably doesn’t have quite the teeth that it had in its early years.”
Nicklaus won seven times at Firestone, including the 1975 PGA Championship. He also praised the Akron community for its support of multiple events during the days of the World Series of Golf and American Golf Classic.
“What always amazed me in the Akron area — it’s a good size city but it’s not a huge city — and they managed to support two events every year,” Nicklaus said. “They have always done a good job of selling the tournament and the people did a good job of supporting it. It’s always been a favorite of a lot of guys because they know there are going to be enthusiastic golf fans.”
Nicklaus, 73, will be honored July 31, the eve of the $8.75 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. In addition to a private reception, he will be feted at the first tee in a 5:30 p.m. ceremony open to Wednesday ticket holders. A social media sweepstakes will be held for fans, with winners allowed to pose for a picture with Nicklaus.
In 1990, Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara, was chosen for the award, given annually to a person who has internationally fostered the game’s ideals and shown concern for others off the course.
Nicklaus said all five of their children attended that night, but he’s not sure that will be the case this time. He said a copy of the painting of Barbara Nicklaus, which includes all their kids, still hangs in their home in North Palm Beach, Fla. One is displayed in the lobby of the Firestone clubhouse.
“You don’t ever miss something when Barbara does it. You may miss some things when Dad does it,” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus took it in stride that Barbara was selected 23 years before him and said she has resisted the temptation to rib him about it.
“She’s actually been very nice and quiet,” he said.
“Anytime you follow my wife, that’s a pretty good person to follow. To get that award is a nice award, and certainly to have two of us in the same family receive the same award, I think we are a proud family. I’m happy that I am now included in the Ambassador of Golf award, and it’s one that I treasure.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.