Nicklaus To Get Fifth Scottish Honor at St. Andrews During British Open

Jack Nicklaus, St. Andrews,Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Jack Nicklaus, St. Andrews,Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

Jack Nicklaus has not been back to St. Andrews since he hit his last competitive shot there in 2005.

But he was highly regarded by the town even then. He already had the keys to the city. He had been given an honorary doctorate from St. Andrews University (1984). He was made a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (1990).

He’s been put on currency by the Royal Bank of Scotland (2005), an accolade he shares with exalted company, Queen Elizabeth II and her mother, the late Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mum).

Now, he will become an official citizen of the “Auld Grey Toon,” as St. Andrews is sometimes called. It’s an honor he shares with Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin.

Despite Nicklaus’s love for St. Andrews, he didn’t want to return without a very good reason.

“I didn’t want to come back and dilute that for what it was. It was fantastic then,” he said at a press conference held at the British Open about his 2005 farewell.

"“But when I got the invitation this time to be an honorary citizen of St Andrews and to follow Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin, I’ve got to come back.”"

Jack Nicklaus has had a high regard for Bobby Jones since he started playing golf mainly because his father, Charlie Nicklaus was a Jones devotee.

The reason for that is that Nicklaus grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, where Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open.

Jack Nicklaus, British Open, St. Andrews, Old Course, Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones, British Open, (Photo by Kirby/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images) /

Charlie Nicklaus was only 13 when Jones won the U.S. Open at Scioto CC.  And in those days, Charlie’s family was not wealthy enough to join a club.

But Charlie eventually became a pharmacist, and one of his brothers became a dentist, and through a quirk of fate, one of their customers backed Charlie for membership at Scioto.

Eventually, Scioto started a junior golf program in which Jack was enrolled, and the rest is golf history.

As a youngster, Jack Nicklaus heard the legends of where Jones hit this shot and that shot because the tales permeated the membership. And Nicklaus would remember them when he played the course.

Because his father’s admiration of Jones was passed down to him, receiving an award that was also given to Jones has extra meaning to Jack Nicklaus.

The Jones connection to the Masters was also an extra motivation for him to win that tournament, although no one expected him to win it six times.

While it’s been 15 years since he’s visited St. Andrews, Nicklaus brought a cadre of family members with him. He and his wife Barbara are staying at the same hotel they’ve frequented in their previous journeys to the town, and in fact, they have the same room. (See Rufflets Hotel. )

In his press conference, Jack Nicklaus reminisced about his earlier visits, the first of which was in 1964.

"“The only thing I knew about St Andrews before I got here was my father came over with a couple of friends in 1959 when I was at Muirfield,” he recalled.“They were saying how much trouble they had, and I couldn’t understand what was your trouble? But one of them had three-putted 13 times, the other one 14, the other one 15.”"

Jack Nicklaus, British Open, St. Andrews, Old Course, Bobby Jones
Jack Nicklaus, The 150th Open, Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

He would eventually learn what caused the problems.  St. Andrews diabolical, raised greens. And, of course, the challenges of the bunkers.

Once he had an opportunity to play the course, he began to appreciate the problems the course presented as well as the lovely setting and proximity of the town.

"“I stepped on it in ’64, all of a sudden, to step out of the clubhouse, step here, look at the 1st tee, look at what was there, see the town, see everything, I fell in love with it immediately. And I’ve had a love affair with it ever since,” he admitted."

The citizen of St. Andrews award, which he will receive is also special because only two people from the U.S. have received the citizenship award previously.

“I’m sure it will be a humbling experience tomorrow,” he added.

What amazes him to this day is that the course, despite being land locked and without room to expand, still challenges.

“To believe the game of golf essentially started here, and it just absolutely is mind-boggling to me that it still stands up to the golfers of today,” he said.

Jack Nicklaus won three British Opens in his career, two of them on The Old Course at St. Andrews.

It’s been 15 years since he’s visited, which was on the occasion of his farewell appearance in the tournament.

John Devlin, current president of St Andrews Golf Club, will give a tribute to Nicklaus and present him with a scroll on behalf of the town and the Provost of the Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council.

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Then along with others who will be given honorary degrees, they will make a procession through the village.

It’s clear why Bobby Jones received the distinction, just as it is with Nicklaus.  Franklin, though, was chosen in 1759 for his experimental work on electricity and other scientific subjects.