Paul Stringer, President of Nicklaus Design, joins Shon and Jim to talk about the 2020 Memorial Tournament, Tiger’s return, and the latest happenings at Nicklaus Design.
Announcer: The Golf Show on 710 ESPN Seattle.
Shon Crewe (00:04):
Joining us now on The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe, Paul Stringer, President of Nicklaus Design. Paul, it’s a pleasure to have you back on with us again, thanks so much.
Paul Stringer (00:14):
Well, thanks, Shon. It’s great to join you and Jim again and talk a little bit about golf and the upcoming Memorial Tournament.
Shon Crewe (00:31):
Of course. Well, so for people who aren’t familiar, you are Pacific Northwest native – went to Sammamish High School, played golf at Eastern Washington University, and you’ve had an incredible career. I know it started in Arizona and included time at Troon Golf, and then years later, you ended up working for Greg Norman’s group doing international golf development and design in Australia and Tokyo. After that, though, how did you land at Nicklaus Design?
Paul Stringer (00:47):
The Nicklaus organization at the time needed somebody to come out and help them with international business development, and I really wasn’t looking for a job or to move out to the East Coast. I had always been kind of a West Coast guy. And so I decided I’d come out and work for Jack and do the business development and started out as a Senior Vice President for him, looking at opportunities and signing contracts all over the international front. And so we were successful in Asia and Europe and opened up Russia and some other territories really that we hadn’t been in, and so that’s kind of my move to the Nicklaus organization.
And then, most recently, I was promoted to President of Nicklaus Design, so I run the design company for Jack.
Jim Moore (1:40):
Well, Paul, that’s a great journey you’ve been on for a Sammamish Totem. I’m an old Redmond Mustang, and it’s sure fun to catch up to you, with you today, as we enter the third round of the Memorial, hosted by Jack Nicklaus. So what’s it like working with him?
Paul Stringer (1:59):
Oh, it’s always a great experience working with Jack and his son, Jack II, is our Vice Chairman of the company and it’s a big organization that Jack started, but one that really shadows his career because he’s really driven in his design and what he expects out of his employees and designers. And through that skill set and that motivation, we’ve been able to achieve a lot of goals, both domestically and internationally. And even though Jack’s 80-years-old now, he’s still very involved with 12 or 13 projects. We just signed a project in Palm Beach Gardens just recently, and he’ll be designing that. So he’s still quite active and quite busy in the business.
Shon Crewe (2:52):
Well, and that course you’re talking about in Palm Beach Gardens, that’s going be a new Signature course of his. We hear a lot about the Jack Nicklaus Signature courses. How did that term come to be, and how would you describe it as part of the Nicklaus Design umbrella?
Paul Stringer (3:05):
Well, that’s a great question, and it’s evolved over time. At first, when Jack was designing golf courses, and many people don’t really understand this, but at Harbour Town, which was Jack’s really first design with Pete Dye. Pete was a designer who had come over from the insurance business, which some people know or don’t know, but Pete was asked to design a golf course at Harbour Town. And he knew Jack, and he asked Jack to take a look and offer some strategy and offer some questions and answers for Pete, and so between the two of them, Jack made like 20 visits to Harbour Town, and that was in 1969, and that kind of held the test of time. They still play the tournament there and the golf course, while it’s gone through a little bit of renovation here and there, it’s really in its same form as what it was when Pete and Jack designed it.
So it started kind of there and then everything that Jack did was a Jack Nicklaus Design. And so if you fast-forward after he won the Masters, we were getting so busy with design that Jack couldn’t be everywhere. So he said, “Okay, the ones that I’m going be involved with will be a Jack Nicklaus Signature.” The company, and his son, Jack II, can do design, but it would not carry the Jack Nicklaus Signature. So we have a few different levels of design now, from a Jack Nicklaus II Signature to a Nicklaus Design, which is basically our company design course through one of our senior designers that worked and trained under Jack. It still carries the Nicklaus name and the logo, but it doesn’t have Jack’s designer or influence. So that term, Signature, was kind of started by Jack, and then many of the other designers followed suit and said, “Okay, we’ll do a signature design.” But basically, it means that Jack was personally involved, he went to the site, he designed the golf course, and it’s got his name on it. If it’s got his name on it, he’s taken a big interest in the design of the golf course, made several site visits, and done the design himself.
Shon Crewe (5:28):
I’m curious now, so Panther National is this course you’re talking about in Palm Beach Gardens that’s gonna be opening up, and one of the things that’s interesting to me - not only is it going to be a Signature course but you’re talking about also doing a nine-hole par-3 short course. It’s becoming more popular in course design. Can you tell us a little bit more about this project?
Paul Stringer (5:48):
Sure. It’s based in a real growing area of West Palm Beach in Palm Beach Gardens, and there’s gonna be a lot of residential there. And what’s become more popular now and I think it’s really something that’s come from people’s time and awareness is they don’t have necessarily four hours to play a round of golf, and so people look for other options. And we’ve done several nine-hole golf courses throughout the country and throughout the world really where people either don’t have the land to do an 18-hole course, or they want a nine-hole addition to the existing 18-hole course, or in the case of Red Ledges out in Utah, it’s in Heber, Utah, we did an 18-hole signature, but then we did a 12-hole golf park. And it’s basically a par-3, but in the evenings, you’ll see people walking their dogs and throwing frisbees and on the weekends, parents and grandparents can take their sons or their grandsons and daughters out to play nine holes, just taking a few clubs and get through it in an hour’s time, and it’s a great experience. So we’re seeing more and more golf courses and even communities that are condensing say 27 holes down to 18 holes plus a nine-hole par-3, and people are finding it a lot of fun because they can get around very quickly, have a good experience and it still keeps them involved the game.
Jim Moore (7:20):
Hey Paul, the Memorial this week hosted by Jack Nicklaus, how much does this Tournament mean to him?
Paul Stringer (7:26):
It means a lot. I mean, it’s something that Jack started, and as most people probably know by now, just listening to this telecast, Jack wanted to do the Memorial Tournament because he wanted a golf course where he could have people have great viewing areas of the golf course. And so it was really one of the first of its kind to be what we would call a stadium golf course where there’s a lot of mounds and hills throughout the golf course that offer great views for spectators to get around and to see the golf. And he was looking for a great piece of property, and in the early ‘70s, he found a piece of property in Dublin, which was really at the time a lot of cornfields and not very developed, and he and a gentleman that has since passed away, Desmond Muirhead, had founded this property. And so Jack designed it, and 1976 was the first Memorial Tournament, so it’s very important to him and to the family, all the family’s very involved in the tournament. And then obviously with Nationwide as the sponsor and to give back to the Nationwide charities, which is mainly the Jack Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation, where they go to all the different Nicklaus Children’s Hospital networks to donate funds to help kids in need of medical attention, so it’s a great cause. It’s been a great opportunity to promote golf in the greater Columbus and Dublin area of Ohio and give back to charities that Jack and Barbara and the family really believe in.
Shon Crewe (9:10):
Paul Stringer, President of Nicklaus Design is with us on The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe. Paul, I know a lot of people were excited about the fan experience returning to golf, but obviously, safety has to be the number one priority. Leading up to the decision though, what were some of the conversations like and what were some of the things being looked at to determine whether that would or would not make sense?
Paul Stringer (9:30):
Sure, great question, and I think most people were anticipating and hoping that the COVID virus was not going be in this form it is today. So when they first came out with the schedule or the revised schedule, the Memorial Tournament was going be the first Tournament to have fans attend and actually sold tickets to attend. And I think through Jack and the PGA Tour and Nationwide and the Mayor of Dublin and also the Governor, they decided that it was in the best interests to keep the fans away, just because of the uptick of the virus in Ohio and everywhere else that’s in the States. So it was a tough decision, but I think they all feel more comfortable about it. I think the players feel more comfortable about it. And it’s a shame that there aren’t fans, but I think everyone’s looking forward to seeing it on television and it’s a very competitive field. You have the top eight players in the world playing in the tournament this year, and, you know, with Tiger and Koepka and Rory being paired together, I think it’ll be a very exciting tournament.
Jim Moore (10:47):
Well, it certainly should be, and if it lives up to the Workday Charity Open last week, the playoff with Morikawa and Justin Thomas and Thomas making the 50-footer there in the playoff and Morikawa following it up with a 25-footer to prolong the playoff and going on to win. So we get the chance to watch Muirfield Village twice in two weeks, it’s going to be fantastic. You mentioned the field there; Tiger Woods is coming back. He hasn’t played competitively since February on Tour. Just wondering, Paul, do you get an idea from Mr. Nicklaus how he feels about Tiger chasing down his championship record?
Paul Stringer (11:24):
Yeah, you know, Jack has talked about it several times, just saying, “Look, I support Tiger, and I really hope he can get there.” And I think, you know, if Tiger gets a few things rolling, maybe he can, but you know, his 82 wins that he’s accomplished is an unbelievable feat tying Sam Snead, so I think there’s many more wins for Tiger to come, it’s just a question of Majors. With all these young guys coming out there and they’re just bombing it. Tiger, who hits it long anyway, but when you get guys like Bryson DeChambeau and some of the other guys hitting it so far, it can be something where anybody can win on any given week. So it’s going to be tough for Tiger to I think get past Jack’s record, but Jack certainly has been welcoming Tiger to compete and, you know, would be the first one to shake his hand if he ties or beats his record.
Shon Crewe (12:26):
Well, this has been a special Tournament for Tiger Woods. It’s certainly been one where he’s had a lot of success, and he’s become more selective about the events he’s participated in. How much does it mean to have Tiger on the roster, especially given that it’s his first PGA Tour event in nearly five months?
Paul Stringer (12:42):
Well, I think that Shon, that really speaks to the quality of the Tournament and the field, and Tiger looking at the golf course and its history. Obviously winning the Memorial five times has been quite a feat, and I think Tiger is very competitive, as he’s always been, and he wants to get out and compete, but he is a little more selective. And I think the timing on this was for good for him and, you know, he wants to compete with the best in the world and I think the venue, being at Muirfield Village, I think brings out the best of all the players, and I think he wants to see how he’s going to compete against a bunch of these guys. So it should be very exciting, and I think Tiger, while you know, he hasn’t played competitive golf for a while, I think the juices will be flowing and, you know, if he keeps it in play and makes a few putts, he might be there on Sunday, who knows.
Jim Moore (13:38):
Paul, the last thing I have for you, Bryson DeChambeau is creating quite the stir with how far he’s hitting the ball, I think he’s averaging 350 yards, and he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit two weeks ago, and he’s in the field this week at the Memorial. Will it change things, course design-wise, the way he’s bombing it out there?
Paul Stringer (13:58):
You know, that’s a good question and one that Jack’s always tried to get the ball to be dialed back a little bit because the equipment is so advanced and the ball was jumping off the face and just going so far now, and all these younger guys are finding ways to hit it further and further. And there’s only a couple of ways that you can really combat that. You either have to make the golf course tighter with higher and more difficult rough, which I think you’ll see at the Memorial this week, I think you’ll see the rough with the added rainfall and just another week of growth since the Workday, I think the rough will be a little more difficult. But it comes to a decision where developers just can’t afford to have that much land dedicated to a golf course where, you know, you’re making golf courses 8,000 or 8,500 yards. It just becomes too difficult. So I think there’s gonna be a point where the golf ball either gets dialed back or, as we go on with design, I think we’d make it a little more tighter and a little more strategic for them to shoot that kind of number.
And I mentioned Harbour Town, but Harbour Town’s a relatively short course, but it has a lot of doglegs, it has a lot of overhanging trees, and you have to be a really good iron player, and you have to be very strategic how you play the golf course. So I think you’ll see more of that type of strategy where maybe the bombers can’t play those kind of golf courses as well as something that’s a lot longer in terms of a course.
But DeChambeau, you know, having won the Memorial in 2018 and getting as far as he is, he’s got to be one of the favorites this week.
Shon Crewe (15:46):
Paul, my last question for you, there’s obviously been a lot of eyes on golf in recent months because of COVID. More people out playing and showing interest in the game. With the increased interest in the game, are you seeing any benefits yet to this for golf design or is it still too early to tell?
Paul Stringer (15:58):
You know, it’s a little early to tell, although I think there is more interest because people know that you have a little better opportunity if you’re outside and it’s a good way to exercise and be with friends and family and enjoy the elements outside. So from that standpoint, I think more and more people are trying to go out to the golf course. I was talking to several of my friends in Asia. In Korea, the golf courses are all very, very busy and China’s the same way and Thailand’s the same way, so people are really playing all over the world and, you know, they’re not able to come inside or come inside as much or be more careful inside but I think golf is continuing to grow in certain markets. And the COVID’s actually helped certain things in terms of play.
And speaking of our design, we’ve got 39 courses or projects active right now, so we’re quite busy, despite the COVID, and we’re looking forward to it getting over obviously so we can travel again and get to the necessary sites that we need to be. But I do see a little bit of an uptick because people do want to be outside.
Shon Crewe (17:14):
That’s great to hear. Well, Paul, we appreciate your time as always. Thank you so much.
Paul Stringer (17:18):
Well, thank you, Shon and Jim, it’s been a pleasure and look forward to a great Tournament.
Shon Crewe (17:24):
That was Paul Stringer, President of Nicklaus Design. To learn more about their many properties and new projects, visit NicklausDesign.com. Thanks for joining us. It’s the Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe on 710 ESPN Seattle.