It’s been seven years since the legendary Jack Nicklaus retired from professional golf, but he continues to contribute to the game through his design projects across the world-including India. With golf becoming a vital amenity for luxury communities worldwide, the legend continues to be associated with golf-related real estate through his company Nicklaus Design. In an exclusive interview with Golf Digest India Editor Himanshu Singhal, he talks about opportunities in the Indian golf real estate market, designs he would like to see in India, along with his perspective on Indian and international golfers and the state of the game.GDI: What do you think makes India an interesting golf course design destination for real estate developers and course designers like you? JN: Golf has been played in India for decades, but there has not been a great amount of play relative to the incredible population of the country. While cricket and soccer continue to be popular in India, golf has been a bit slow to catch on with the masses. With golf becoming an Olympic sport, combined with the population in India and a large middle class, there’s a real opportunity that exists to introduce and grow a game that really fits the demographics and also the collective talents of an athletic nation. The opportunity truly exists and it’s an exciting one. I think you’re going to see the game of golf grow in India because of golf’s inclusion as an Olympic sport. My hope is that this heightened global awareness will help promote the game.advertisementGDI: Have you ever followed any of the Indian pro golfers, playing outside India? Arjun Atwal & Jeev Milkha Singh have both been your guests at The Memorial.JN: I have met both Arjun and Jeev, but I don’t know a great deal about them. I do know they are both very good players and wonderful ambassadors for India, as well as the game of golf within India. As talented as they are, they are just two from the country and there are more people from India that play the game and could perhaps compete on the world stage. There will be more as time goes on, which will be healthy for the overall growth of the sport in India.GDI: As a player, did you ever hear about India from anyone?JN: Although I have not spent a great deal of time there, I have had the opportunity to visit India for golf course design work. It is a beautiful country, with such diversity in land. The people are kind and welcoming and have embraced us whenever we have visited.GDI: What is it about golf related real estate in India that excites you the most? What’s so unique about the Indian golf real estate market?JN: There is a certain lifestyle that surrounds the game of golf and I think that lifestyle appeals to many potential consumers in emerging markets such as India. I also think there is a greater understanding in these markets about the increased value associated with residential tied into golf. There is a growing market in India of aspirational, second-home buyers and golf-related real estate helps respond to that demand.GDI: What kind of projects would you like to associate yourself with, in India, and where?JN: I think I’d like to be able to design golf courses that display and reflect the beauty of the game of golf and layouts that highlight the beautiful land and destinations within the country. I would like to design courses that help introduce people to the game, attract them into the game and help the game retain its fans. I want to design golf courses that are enjoyable to play on a daily basis, but when needed, you can hide the pins on the right areas of the greens, move the tees back and have the ability to play a tournament on that same golf course. One of the challenges for a designer is to find that balance in design when you can create a beautiful golf course that people can enjoy on a daily basis, but one that can also be a tournament site. It can be a difficult thing to do, because you’ve got to make the design simple enough to encourage new people to learn the game as well. So it’s a combination, but it’s a goal we as a design firm try to meet, each time we are given the opportunity.GDI: Do you think you can contribute to the development of golf in India in any way? How would you like to go about it?advertisementJN: We have been working hard to contribute to the development of golf in India. But like many emerging markets, India has its own challenges. It can be very difficult to acquire land and assemble people to put it together and commit to it. We’ve done a couple of projects in India but it’s been relatively slow. I can understand that because of the world economy and because of the lack of available land and water. Having said that, I have challenged everyone in our design firm to make certain that if someone comes to us with the desire to create a golf course, no matter how much land they have, we should do everything in our power to provide them a golf experience. Nowhere does it mandate that we have to create for the client an 18-hole golf course of championship length. The best thing we can do for India and the development of the game is to provide every interested owner or developer a ‘golf experience.’ This can be anything from 12 holes to nine to six to just three. It can be a golf academy or even a learning center that has practice holes and greens. The game of golf has always been controlled by how far a golf ball goes. But, I think it should be the other way round. We have a lot of people coming to us with 40-acres, 60-acres and 80-acres of land and an intent to do a golf course. I think we owe it to the game of golf to introduce them to the game, retain them and design a course on that piece of property. We need to develop a golf ball to fit the property and not the other way round. If we can do that, the game of golf will grow in India and golf will be a far more affordable and accessible sport.GDI: Despite some good starts and tournament victories, Tiger Woods hasn’t been successful in finishing at the majors. How would you rate his game at the moment and where do you see him going? Do you think Tiger will ever be able to break your record of 18 majors?JN: I have said many times before that I believe Tiger will break my records, but he still has to do it. We are in the midst of an incredible streak as it relates to the majors and first-time winners. So what that emphasizes is not only how tough it is to win multiple major championships but the depth of young talent currently out there. Tiger needs to win four majors to tie me and five to break the record. I believe that would be one more major than the career total of any other active player in the game today (Phil Mickelson has won four majors). Tiger has the talent and the work ethic to accomplish it, but he would be the first to tell you that he still has to go out and do it.advertisementGDI: Who is the best player in the world right now?JN: I would have to say that the actual number one position is up for grabs. The top-ranked player in the world right now is Luke Donald. But if you look back at the recent major championship, when Webb Simpson won the US Open, he became the 15th player to win the last 15 majors. That’s the longest streak in almost 80 years (it matches the longest such streak since the Masters began in 1934). Perhaps more interesting, however, is that Webb Simpson’s win made it nine straight first-time major champions. That shows me that there is wonderful parity and depth in golf. Any one of these players can emerge and win their second and third majors. Then, all of a sudden, they will be looked at as being number one. The game being played at the highest level is very healthy, exciting and positioned well for the future.GDI: What is the secret of your success in golf as a player as well as a designer? Do you have any advice for the Indian pro golfers to help improve their game?JN: There is only a small percentage of golfers-be it in India or elsewhere-who will eventually play tournament golf and hopefully enjoy success, so I don’t think that’s as important as focusing on the average or beginning golfer. I think the important part is getting people to try the game, experience all the wonderful aspects of it and simply enjoy it. Golf is a game you play for a lifetime and one you can enjoy with your sons or daughters, your grandchildren and even your great grandchildren eventually. I picked up the game of golf when I was 10-years old, but I also know people who did not take up the game until their 40s, 50s or even 60s. Golf, as much or more than any sport or game, has the ability to teach valuable, character-building life lessons. That’s why various junior programs, such as The First Tee or SNAG, have enjoyed such success. They not only introduce the game to young boys and girls, but golf becomes a vehicle to teach them important life lessons-be it honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, discipline, or how to interact with adults and other children. The first book I ever wrote was called “The Greatest Game of All,” and I think one of the reasons the sport is so wonderful is because golf is a game for a lifetime and you should have the time of your life playing it.As for any advice I might offer an aspiring professional golfer in India, it would be the same advice I offer to any golfer who wants to develop his or her skills. You need to know who you are, understand your game, and play within yourself. It’s what I tell beginning and high-handicap golfers and essentially what I have told golfers such as Rory McIlroy. I have told this story many times before, but I think the best lesson I was ever taught-and it came from my long-time instructor Jack Grout-was to understand why I play golf, what I thought about when I played golf, how to teach others and most important, how to teach myself. Jack was my first instructor and he was a part of my life until he passed away when I was 49. During my entire career, he rarely stepped foot on a practice tee during a major championship. A successful golfer occasionally has to win without their best game and I won many times. I did so because I could control what I was doing. Because of the lessons taught to me by Grout, I not only understood the game, but understood my game. He taught me to understand why I was doing something on the golf course. He made me use my head, not just my golf swing. When I went out to play golf, I didn’t have to run back to him. He would teach me to be independent. That’s how I became a better player.