New York judge rules Jack Nicklaus can resume career as golf course designer under his name

Jul 11, 2022; St. Andrews, SCT; Three-time Open champion Jack Nicklaus during a press conference at the 150th Open Championship golf tournament at St. Andrews Old Course. Jack Nicklaus will join Americans Bobby Jones in 1958 and Benjamin Franklin in 1759 to be awarded honorary citizenship in St. Andrews.
Jul 11, 2022; St. Andrews, SCT; Three-time Open champion Jack Nicklaus during a press conference at the 150th Open Championship golf tournament at St. Andrews Old Course. Jack Nicklaus will join Americans Bobby Jones in 1958 and Benjamin Franklin in 1759 to be awarded honorary citizenship in St. Andrews.
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Jack Nicklaus once again is free to design golf courses on his own and will be doing so under a new company jointly owned by Jack and his wife, Barbara.

In a statement from the Nicklaus Family Office, a New York Supreme Court judge recently ruled that Nicklaus can resume his career as a designer on his own and in his own name. He will be providing golf course design services through a new design entity owned jointly by Jack and Barbara. The new entity is named 1-JN, LLC. Jack and Barbara live in North Palm Beach.

“I am looking forward to this next phase in my life where I am again designing golf courses under my own banner and in my own name,” said Jack, who has been designing golf courses for 54 years.

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Following a three-day evidentiary hearing which concluded just prior to Thanksgiving, Justice Joel M. Cohen determined that Jack is free to compete with his former employer — the Nicklaus Companies, LLC — for golf course design work and other business, except commercial endorsements.

The court issued an order Dec. 9 finding that the Nicklaus Companies were not entitled to a preliminary injunction prohibiting Jack Nicklaus from competing with the Companies for golf course design work. That ruling leaves Jack free to engage in golf course design work in his own name.

A Nicklaus Companies spokesperson issued the following statement, pointing out a full trial has yet to be held to determine whether Jack Nicklaus does have the right to design golf courses:

"According to the court’s order, the injunction extends to all 'officers, directors, agents, shareholders, successors, employees, representatives, heirs, attorneys, and all other persons who are in active concert or participation' with Mr. Nicklaus or GBI Investors. This would include golf course developers, commercial sponsors, and any other entity who would look to exploit Mr. Nicklaus’ name, image or likeness, or any of the company’s intellectual property—including its “JACK NICKLAUS” trademarks—for commercial gain.

"It is also important to understand that while the court declined to issue a preliminary injunction as to whether Mr. Nicklaus can compete with Nicklaus Companies in designing golf courses, this is only pending a full trial to determine whether or not he has that right. Plus, any such design work would be subject to the court’s limitations on any use of the Nicklaus Companies' intellectual property -- or any use of Mr. Nickalus’ name, image and likeness -- to endorse the golf course.

"All of these issues have yet to be litigated in full, and after hearing the evidence at trial, we will learn the final decision of the court."

In May, Nicklaus, 82, was sued by the Nicklaus Companies. A complaint filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York alleged, among other things, that Jack Nicklaus did not have the legal right to compete with the Companies for business. A preliminary injunction was sought prohibiting Nicklaus from competing with the Nicklaus Companies while the litigation was pending.

Nicklaus ended his employment with the Nicklaus Companies in June 2017, but he continued to perform services for the Companies as a consultant for the next five years. This included the design of dozens of new golf courses worldwide. He no longer has any continuing association with the Nicklaus Companies.

The Nicklaus Companies' executive chairman is Howard Milstein, a real estate developer and financier. Milstein had been Jack’s business partner since 2007.

In 2020, Milstein contributed to the Palm Beach Post's tribute to Nicklaus for his 80th birthday.

“I quickly learned that the laser-like focus Jack had in handling the pressure of tournament golf shows up in everything he does,” Milstein said. “Jack's competitive drive is as powerful now as it's ever been. …

"Jack is one of the most accomplished golf-course architects ever. He brings creativity, pragmatism and focus to our course-design business. It's something to see."

With more than 120 professional wins worldwide, including a record 18 major championships, Nicklaus is considered the greatest golfer of all-time. That success has spilled over into his career as a golf course designer.

Nicklaus has been involved in the design of almost 320 courses currently open for play. His courses have hosted more than 1,000 professional tournaments around the globe, as well as significant national amateur championships. More than 100 Nicklaus courses have appeared in various national and international Top 100 lists.

Nicklaus has won every significant award tied to course design, including the highest honor bestowed by numerous industry organizations: the Donald Ross Award (American Society of Golf Course Architects); The Old Tom Morris Award (Golf Course Superintendents Association of America); the Don A. Rossi Award (Golf Course Builders Association of America); and the International Network of Golf’s Achievement in Golf Course Design Award.

“I have been blessed in my long life to have more than one successful career, first playing the game and then designing courses for where this great game is played,” Nicklaus said. “I am even more passionate than ever about golf course design. I strongly believe that my ideas and creativity are even better now than they have ever been, and I am inspired to continue producing memorable and sustainable golf experiences that can be enjoyed for years to come.”

“You might say I have nothing to prove, but I have a lot left to give.”

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: NY Supreme Court judge: Jack Nicklaus can design courses under his name