Jack Nicklaus delivering golf to … Turkmenistan?

Jack Nicklaus delivering golf to … Turkmenistan?

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Jack Nicklaus delivering golf to … Turkmenistan?

With more than 400 golf course designs in his portfolio, Jack Nicklaus, the man with 18 major championships, has visited some interesting places around the globe.

Currently, he has courses in the works in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia and is getting ready to start a project in Oban, in Scotland.

But there’s one little place where he could build as many as 10 courses the next few years that he considers a little more interesting than the rest. The country is called Turkmenistan, located in the western portion of Central Asia, and its president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, wishes to bring golf to his people. Hearing Nicklaus blurt out the names of cities was like being part of some old “Seinfeld” episode.

As of yet, Nicklaus said nobody there really plays the game.

“I don’t really know why the president wanted golf,” Nicklaus said in Orlando over the weekend, where he and his oldest son, Jack II, played in the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

He also unveiled a new venture called The Bear’s Den Club, consisting of privately-owned vacation homes along the 17th and 18th holes at the Tradition course he designed at Reunion Resort, just south of Orlando.

Discussing his interactions with Berdymukhamedov, Nicklaus said, “He’s a really nice man, doesn’t speak English, but through interpreters we talk. He has about 2,500 expats who live in Ashgabat (the capital) wanting golf.

And he knows that golf has become an Olympic sport, and he has the Asian Olympics, for all intents and purposes (the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, scheduled for Ashgabat in September, though they do not include golf), so he wanted his course finished before that.”

The first course (Ashgabat Golf Club) should be done in April and playable a few months later. Nicklaus said the buildings in the capital city of Ashgabat are constructed in brilliant white marble, and that the president is a sportsman who is bringing three areas of sport to his country’s seven provinces: show horses, hockey and golf.

“First one, he wanted a championship golf course to start with,” Nicklaus said. “Now, he’ll want a learning golf course, which we talked about last time I met with him. I think I’m the only American he’s met with in the last 10 years, outside of one consultant.

“And we’re going to Avaza, a city on the Caspian Sea, they built like 33 five-star hotels that only the Turkmen come to. . . . It’s neat to go to different parts of the world, see different cultures, different people and what they do, how they live their lives and so forth. And you design to those customs. It’s really a life-learning experience. ”

According to Nicklaus, Turkmenistan – 80 percent of which is Karakum Desert and has a warmer climate – is very difficult for outsiders to enter. He said there were fewer than 1,000 tourist visas into Turkmenistan issued this year, and that work visas are even more difficult to procure. Nicklaus said he has visited the country five times and he will travel there again next month.

Turkmenistan is a former Soviet republic that became an independent state in 1991. It borders Iran to the south, and Ashgabat is only a few miles from the border.

“You talk about interesting places; that’s an interesting place,” Nicklaus said. “We’re deciding how to get from Ashgabat to Oban. Right in the middle is Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I’m trying to figure out how to get there.”

He smiled, his arm motioning as if he had to go way around something, and added, “I’ve got a two-hour flight that’s going to be about an eight-hour flight.”

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