Particularly from a financial standpoint.
After turning pro in late 1962, Nicklaus quickly became one of the PGA TOUR’s top money earners. He was second on the money list in his first full season in 1963, then led the TOUR in winnings in 1964 and 1965. During that span, he made $415,946 (which today is less than an average third-place check at one event). It was certainly plenty to live on and support a family back in the mid-1960s.
But while the money made him well off, it did not necessarily make him rich.
Buying huge parcels of land did not come cheap. After finalizing his initial 180-acre purchase in September of 1966, it was clear that Nicklaus was on a shopping spree. As a result, other landowners began to raise the price of their plots. Other costs began to skyrocket.
Nicklaus’ agent, Mark McCormack, tried to dissuade his young star from the project, fearing the financial burden. Nicklaus himself admitted his lack of experience in this kind of real estate venture produced enormous strain in dealing with what he called “financial Everests.”
“If you would like a primer in how not to become a golf course and real estate developer, talk to any of the guys involved in the early days of the project.”
— Jack Nicklaus
“If you would like a primer in how not to become a golf course and real estate developer, talk to any of the guys involved in the early days of the project,” Nicklaus wrote in his book, “My Story.” “If we had known what we were getting into, there is a good chance there never would have been a Muirfield Village or a Memorial Tournament. It was a painful learning experience.”
But Nicklaus took the same approach with the project as he did while playing in a tournament: He was intent on winning, and nothing would stop him. Others around him would worry about the finances, but Nicklaus kept the ship moving forward.
“It was only frustrating to the people trying to handle my finances,” he told Columbus sports editor Paul Hornung. “A lot of people wanted me to abandon the project before we got started, but I never thought of abandoning it. … It was just a case of a stubborn kid deciding he wanted to do something and just blindly going ahead with it.”
On Feb. 11, 1968, Nicklaus went public with his plans to build Muirfield Village, but ground wasn’t broken until more than four years later, on July 28, 1972. Nicklaus acknowledged he was nearly wiped out financially, as the 1,500 acres he eventually acquired sat without generating revenue.
In the end, though, it was worth it.
“Muirfield did cost me a little,” he said. “It nearly cost me a lot. But I didn’t care. It’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to provide a great tournament to the people of Columbus who supported me, and I wanted to give something back to the game of golf.”