NicklausSaharamoment18-LVNB10733-091Jack Nicklaus Remembers Vegas

Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, has paw prints all over Las Vegas. He won here six times as a professional and has designed four golf courses in the region. Here Nicklaus reminisces about the longest putt in his career, racing through the streets of Vegas, and being taught to play craps by Arnold Palmer.

Jack Nicklaus, In His Words:

“My first opportunity to play in the Tournament of Champions was 1963 because I didn’t win early enough in ‘62 to qualify. I won it that year, and I remember that the first prize was about $11,000, and it was presented all in silver dollars. The most significant thing that I remember that week was Arnold saying, “You’ve never been to Vegas? You gotta learn to shoot craps.” And it cost him three thousand to teach me to shoot craps.”

“Angelo also came along in 1963. That week in Las Vegas was the second time he caddied for me. Angelo caddied for me earlier that year in Palm Springs. He caddied for me at the Tournament of Champions and the Sahara Invitational, and then Palm Springs again, which I lost, but then in 1964 at the Tournament of Champions and the Sahara again. I won five of the first six times with Angelo.”

“The Desert Inn was a nice golf course. It was probably a little more difficult than the average desert golf course at the time. I thought it was a pretty good test of golf.”

“I remember making the longest putt of my professional career at the Desert Inn. I walked it off at 118 feet. I think I made it on the par 3, 11th hole.”

“In those days, Las Vegas was very upscale, particularly the Desert Inn. “You would walk into a casino and it was very refined with people in suits and the women were dressed up. It was a social event as well as a golf tournament. It was a lot like regular golf tournament today but with a casino. It was like a really nice vacation along with playing golf in a tournament. I enjoyed the gaming and some of the other stuff.”

“I remember Bo Wininger, he was the pro at the Desert Inn at the time. I remember one night he took me back to the hotel in his Shelby Cobra after a round during the Sahara Invitational. He had one of the original ones.  We came back at about 110-115 mph through the streets of Las Vegas. I do remember that. And I said, “Bo slow down!” And he said, “Oh, I’m just having some fun.” And I said again, “Bo slow down!” Fortunately Bo didn’t kill us there and he didn’t kill himself in a car. I think that is as scared as I have ever been in an automobile.”

“There was the year that Angelo didn’t show up for a day at the Sahara Invitational. I borrowed a set of aluminum-shafted Spaldings from the assistant professional and I shot 77. And I didn’t win the tournament. Angelo was not on my good side you might say.”

“Then we had the year of the wind storm. That was 1963. We played the first round and I had shot 77 in about an 80 mph wind. Herb MacDonald was running the tournament and we went fishing out at Lake Mead after the round. And I said, “Herb, you know it’s not going to work out for you.” He wanted me to win because it was great for publicity and ticket sales. And I said, “Some donkey is going to win your tournament now.”  I didn’t mean it as a real derogatory phrase but it was a little bit. But I came back to win the tournament. So when he presented me the check on the 18th green he gave me a donkey with it. We had a lot of fun in those years. We made a lot of friends. Herb became my first manager at Muirfield. I always enjoyed going back to Vegas. It was always good fun. It was a good time to be had.”

From City of Champions: the History of Professional Golf in Las Vegas

(Interview by Scott Tolley)