News & Opinion

Ohio State’s Nicklaus Museum displays Bear necessities

COLUMBUS, OHIO – A few weeks before my first trip to "Jack's Place," I asked Columbus' hometown hero, Jack Nicklaus, what I should do during my stay besides consume multiple milkshakes in the Muirfield Village Golf Club's men's locker room.

I was hoping he'd say, "Come to town early; we need a fourth on Sunday," but no cigar.

"Go to the museum," Nicklaus said. "Because it's all there, and the story is really good. You really need to do that. You love the game. You're going to appreciate it."

How could I say no to the greatest of all time? 

The Jack Nicklaus Museum, located in the heart of Ohio State University’s sports complex, is a 24,000 square-foot educational and historical facility. There are 2,000-plus items on display, more than any of the other golf museums that celebrate his career. There are programs, badges, scorecards, rings, medals, trophies, and clubs. It is designed to be a self-guided tour – $10 for adults, $5 for students, and free for children 6 and younger – but curator Steve Auch kindly toured me around before I circled back to study the storylines in the deliberate style that Nicklaus used to study a putt. 

The museum chronicles each decade of his life, starting with the 1940s, and includes standalone rooms for the four majors, U.S. Amateur and a replica of his family room. 

"People that go to museums are either streakers, strollers or scholars," Nicklaus told me. "You can streak through it in 45 minutes. You can go through it nicely and see everything in about two hours, or you can be a scholar and look at everything, and then it's going to take you six or seven hours." 

Having worked at the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier in my career, I've seen my share of sports museums. This one tells the various facets of Nicklaus' life in great detail. Where it is lacking is in interactivity, and its storytelling narrative could use some updating to engage with visitors in the era of Instagram and the like. The actual visitors, however, is a separate problem. I'm pretty sure I was the only person to step foot in the museum that morning, and while weather better-suited for golf is a legitimate excuse, I'm told that traffic often is light. 

That is a shame because as Nicklaus promised, the story is all there and it's really good. I loved seeing the autographs of golfers collected by young Jack at the 1950 PGA Championship at age 10 almost as much as the "Gone to club" note he wrote to his parents telling them that he was playing golf. There was a photo from his first victory at Scioto Country Club – he shot 121 for 18 holes in the 10-and-under competition – his varsity letter sweater from the Upper Arlington golf team, and the check from the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce for $33.33, his first winnings as a pro, at the 1962 Los Angeles Open. 

Equipment junkies will enjoy seeing everything from his first irons, a cut-down set of Spalding Robert T. Jones Jr., to the MacGregor VIP irons with which he won seven majors. Auch told me the story of how Nicklaus cracked his beloved MacGregor Tommy Armour driver on a rock in South Africa in 1966. You could see it in the neck. Later, Nicklaus filled in the details.

"I cracked it on the eighth hole, the day before Gary (Player) and I played an exhibition,” Nicklaus said. “The next day, we came to the same tee and we all got stormed by killer bees."

He used the driver to win four majors and the U.S. Amateur. A repair shop tried to fix it, but it never felt the same.

Another significant equipment change happened at the 1962 Phoenix Open when Nicklaus switched from a Ben Sayers blade putter, which he had picked up at the 1959 Walker Cup, to his famous George Low Sportsman Wizard 600 model after being told that his putter was too light. It weighed 13.75 ounces. 

"He said, 'Come with me.' He had about 10 putters on a rack. He didn't even look. He said, 'Try this one. It's my new putter that came out.' It was Wednesday. I shot 64 in the pro-am," Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus cut an extra groove in the sightline of the heavier blade and won 15 majors and 78 individual titles around the world with that putter.

And that is the beauty of the Jack Nicklaus museum. Every item comes with a story.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak