Golf: Golden Bear finds new cave in Garden of England: Jack Nicklaus jets in to oversee progress on his course design for the London Golf Club

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The Independent Online
JACK NICKLAUS stood on a green in Kent yesterday, staring at the pronounced slope. Slowly, he began to pace around, establishing in his mind the degree of likely movement downhill. Yet underfoot, the great man did not tread a grassy putting surface, but light brown soil. This is a course still under construction, and as one of Nicklaus's own designs, he had flown in to authorise the final building stage.

The London Golf Club, near Brands Hatch, will open in September under the ownership of a Japanese consortium, headed by Masao Nagahara, a property tycoon. He promises, among other things, a teppanyaki bar serving raw fish and spa baths. Nicklaus would not say if he was tempted by either, but as a course architect charging between dollars 1.3m ( pounds 852,000) and dollars 2m for 18 signature holes, he will be one of the few who can afford the membership fee.

His place in the record books is safe. Like Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player, Nicklaus has won all four of golf's major championships. Unlike anyone else, he went on to win each of them on at least two further occasions.

Since 1980, however, he has had only one big victory, and some have claimed that he no longer plays for pleasure, but simply to keep his name and therefore his business in the public eye.

Golden Bear International has offices in London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Florida. 'I don't know how much money we make,' Nicklaus, 53, said yesterday, 'maybe we're worth a billion, it's kinda hard to quantify, but I can tell you I haven't made a living from tour earnings for 15 years.'

Of Golden Bear's eight divisions it is course design which is Nicklaus's pride and joy. 'I've got 96 courses in play all over the world,' he said. 'Most people, if they can be somewhere near the top of their field in one thing in their lifetime, have done well. I'm lucky because after playing golf, I find myself at the top of my field in design, too.'

By his own admission, Nicklaus's early courses were monuments to himself: long monsters that favoured left-to-right hitters. For Nagahara, he says he has built a championship course which can nevertheless accommodate club standard players. 'This is a user-friendly golf course,' he said. At a total cost of nearly pounds 40m for the entire development it had better be.

When completed, this will be only Nicklaus's second course in England, the other is at St Mellion in Cornwall. He has put a lot of his own time and energy into the project. 'Jack does everything except draw the plans,' Ron Kirby, his No 2, said. Kirby himself has designed the other course at the club.

Nagahara said he had chosen to build the club of his dreams in England because 'I was persuaded by former Prime Minister Thatcher', and in Kent because 'it is the garden of England'. Nicklaus flew out of it, courtesy of his own airline, Air Bear. He plays his own Monarch's course at Gleneagles today.

(Photograph omitted)