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Creating the Links

Chris Millard ’82 teams up with his friend, the legendary Jack Nicklaus, to publish a book on golf course design.

By Paul E. Kandarian

Chris Millard ’82Anyone who plays golf knows the feeling: You have the best game of your life and praise your mastery of the course’s layout. Or you play as if it’s the first time you picked up a club and spend your time at the 19th hole grousing in your beer about all those miserable bunkers you seemed to be finding yourself in all day.

At the root of all golfers’ delight and demise is design—how the course is laid out and why. And nobody does design much better than Jack Nicklaus, aka “The Golden Bear”—the visionary behind more than 200 courses worldwide, winner of 71 official PGA tour victories, including 20 majors, five-time winner of the PGA Player of the Year Award and Golf Magazine’s proclaimed “Player of the Century.”

And friend of Chris Millard ’82.

Nicklaus and Millard have teamed up to write a coffee-table book, Nicklaus by Design: Golf Course Strategy and Architecture (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), due in bookstores in November, with a foreword by Pete Dye, a top amateur player in the 1950s and himself an esteemed golf course designer.

Millard was covering the Senior PGA Tour for Golf World magazine in the early 1990s when he struck up a friendship with Nicklaus, who eventually asked Millard to become his director of communications—a position he held for two years before becoming executive editor at Senior Golfer magazine. Prior to his work in communications, Millard taught school at Mater Dei, a Catholic boys’ school outside Washington, D.C., where fellow Holy Cross alumnus, Ned Williams ’83, is now headmaster. He had also worked for his dad, Charles E.F. Millard ’54.

“Around 1996, I brought the idea to Jack about doing a book on golf course design,” says Millard, now vice president of business development for Kestrel Communications in Atlanta, a TV production company that specializes in sports television and produces, among other things, Sports Century programs for ESPN. “He’d just released his autobiography. That was a great book but dealt very little with his enormously successful design career. He thought it was a good idea.”

But, Millard says, that’s where the hard part started because, amazingly, even with the power of the Nicklaus name and reputation behind the project, it was hard finding a publisher. In 1997, when Millard and Nicklaus amicably parted professional ways and Millard went to Senior Golfer, he continued to hunt for a publisher.

“When I left Jack’s company I looked at him and said, ‘Is the book still on?’—and he said, ‘Absolutely,’” Millard explains. “I really started in earnest to approach publishers and try pushing this rock up the hill.” He finally found a welcoming editor at Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in 1999, who, Millard says, “couldn’t believe anyone would have turned this down. They jumped all over it.”

With a contract hammered out by early 2001 but with Millard living in Atlanta and Nicklaus’s packed schedule, finding the time to get together became the key issue. But the Golden Bear made the time, Millard says.

“Jack was absolutely great to work with—he’s been a real partner,” Millard says. “Time was tough, but we did most of the work on his plane. For instance he’d be flying from Florida to Wisconsin. I would go with him and we’d work, then visit the site and fly back and work some more—which added up to about six hours of his complete attention. That was the primary way we did this book.”

He also met with Nicklaus at his North Palm Beach office and at his home and did some follow-up sessions over the phone.

“My job in research was making sure whatever Jack said I could back up,” Millard explains. “He has designed over 200 courses and has an unbelievable memory but as powerful as it is, I had to make sure everything he said was accurate. If he said a par 3 in Malaysia was 189 yards, I had to make sure of it.”

For his part, Nicklaus is delighted to have worked with his friend on the book, pointing out that Millard “knows me and he knows the game. Plus, he can write. He did a nice job of putting my thoughts into readable words.”

Millard also worked closely with Dye, a former insurance man with no background in golf course design who developed an interest in it later in life. Dye and Nicklaus became friends over the years and designed courses together, their first joint effort being Harbour Town Golf Links at a mecca of golfing in the United States, Hilton Head, S.C.

The book contains 155 striking color photos and an assortment of other illustrations, including some Nicklaus scrawls on a napkin that eventually turned into the 17th hole at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. It also covers the gamut of design, Millard says, from “Breaking Ground,” which outlines how Nicklaus got into design, to philosophy to how a golf course is created—starting when shovel hits dirt to opening day.

Nicklaus and Millard also cover “Great Golf Holes,” tournament courses and the future of golf course design.

In the “Elements of Design” chapter, Millard says, “Jack looks at tees, fairways, hazards and bunkers almost like pieces of a puzzle; he tells us his thinking about how he designs, why he puts bunkers where he puts them.”

“Golf course design is very important to me; it’s more than a business, it’s a passion,” Nicklaus says. “So any time I have the chance to talk about design with someone who’s knowledgeable and interested, I enjoy it.”

“As for working with Chris, he’s been great,” Nicklaus adds. “Most importantly, he cares about golf course design, too, and I think that’s why the book works so well.”

While Nicklaus has written other books, this is Millard’s first, though he’s no stranger to writing. In his golf-writing career he has been published in Golf Digest, Golf World, GOLF Magazine and The New York Times. He has won three awards from the Golf Writers Association of America.

Millard describes the interesting dynamic in this project: “It’s a coffee-table book, which was kind of hard. Not only do you have to get the words right, but you’re dependent on quality photography. Getting the right pictures with the right words can be tough. And, on top of that, you have to make sure Jack’s happy with all of it, which he was,” Millard says. “I don’t think my next book will be a coffee-table book, but I’d absolutely love to do more books, maybe biographies.”

Without a doubt, Millard says, his love for writing got a major boost from the College’s Associate Professor of English Helen M. Whall, with whom he had studied in a first-year course, “Critical Reading and Writing.”

“A lot of times, writers are hesitant to believe in themselves—especially when you’re young. You’re afraid to admit you want to be a writer because you think people will look at you like you have eight heads,” Millard says. “I thought I wanted to be a writer, but I’m sure I kept it internalized for awhile until I met Helen. She instilled so much confidence in me.”

Millard wrote Whall a note a couple years ago to thank her for her encouragement. “I’ll never forget her,” he says.

Millard praises the entire English department at the College, describing, in particular, recently retired Professor Thomas M.C. Lawlor as “superb.”

“I also took a lot of fine arts courses, and there’s a similar dynamic that takes place when someone who is ostensibly objective affirms your creativity. It’s a very empowering thing,” he says. “In particular, Terri Priest, of the visual arts department, was a strong influence.”

Millard says he looks back with gratitude on his Holy Cross experience, “with so many good people and good classes—a strong curriculum. I was able to study some Latin, brush up on Spanish, take some music courses. In all, it was a very eye-opening and affirming experience for four years.”

While at Holy Cross, Millard played rugby rather than golf. Now a 12 handicapper, he manages to whack the golf ball around when he can these days, prompting Nicklaus to joke, “I haven’t seen him hit a ball in a few years. I think it’s safe to say that as a golfer, he’s a very good writer.”

Above all, Millard says, he attributes his lifelong love of the sport and his success in writing about it, to his dad, who served on the College’s Board of Trustees over the years.

“He got us all into golf, and he’ll always be my favorite person to play with,” Millard says. “This book would not have happened without him. I wouldn’t have had the interest in golf. All the enjoyment I’ve had in and around the sport is because of my father.”

Paul Kandarian is a free-lance writer from Taunton, Mass.

 

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