There are few people within the golf world who would not rank Jack Nicklaus as the game's greatest player. Yet Nicklaus's work as a golf course architect has had an even more profound influence on golf.

Beginning with iconic collaborations with Pete Dye (Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C.) and Desmond Muirhead (Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio) in the 1960s, Nicklaus embarked on a golf course design career that has birthed some 400 courses worldwide.

Nicklaus layouts generally reflect the strengths of the Golden Bear's own game, with an emphasis on precision and intelligent play. Doglegs generally flow from left to right, as Nicklaus preferred to hit power fades. The aerial game is preferred to the ground game, with many greens surrounded by hazards or otherwise defended against run-up approaches. And there is also usually a stretch of holes -- often at or near the end of the round -- that stand out as especially memorable for the demands they place on one's game.

The high standards that Nicklaus held his own game to are often embodied by his golf course designs, especially those from the 1970s-1990s. Although Nicklaus has always espoused strategy over power, typical Nicklaus designs impose a strategy. Players are required to choose the right club and pick the right line off the tee (and hit that line); failure to execute in any way will likely result in the loss of a shot or more, as recovery options are limited. This philosophy, whether it was conscious or not, has resulted in layouts that have hosted some 900 championships and have both frustrated and delighted countless amateurs. As an example, consider the Bear Course at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan. When the owner decided he wanted to build the most difficult course in the country, Nicklaus complied. After the Bear opened in 1984, six-hour rounds soon became the standard pace of play (the course has since been softened a bit).

Since 2000 or so, however, Nicklaus designs have grown increasingly more playable for all skill levels. His greens are still, and always have been, multi-tiered and difficult to navigate if your approach lands too far from the hole. Yet the recent routings always seem to include a handful of shorter, more forgiving par 4s, and one or two par 3s that require no more than a mid-iron off the tee.

When Jack Nicklaus ruled the PGA Tour, you could recognize his distinctive, powerful swing no matter how far away you were standing. Today, golfers who play a Nicklaus design will likely recognize its distinctive features, whether or not they know who built it.

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