'You have 1,000 miles of 17 Mile Drive,' Nicklaus said, referring to the road that winds through Pebble Beach. 'I've flown in a helicopter up and down this property for 10 years, and I just see golf course after golf course after golf course that could be done.'
When the laughter subsided, Nicklaus added, 'Frankly, a lot of them will be done and are being done.'
Nicklaus Design recently opened its second golf course in South Africa (Pearl Valley), and has four others scheduled to open in the next three years. One of them is a joint venture with Ernie Els; another will be the first 'Bear's Best' course to be built outside the United States.
But Nicklaus has designs on more than just South Africa.
As 2003 came to a close, Nicklaus signed contracts to build golf courses in a dozen countries on the six continents where golf is played, such as South Korea, Brazil and Russia, which will be only the second 18-hole course in Moscow.
Nicklaus Design has 33 courses under construction, 17 of them overseas.
'Things slowed a little here at the start of last year,' Nicklaus said. 'And when the markets are slow, you look outside the country - Mexico, Europe, Asia. Places that haven't been very active are now more active. And we needed that to supplement what we're doing. It's far more than we ever thought.'
Over the last five years, no more than 10 percent of his design business was outside North America. This year, about 40 percent of the business was overseas.
Europe is particularly attractive.
Nicklaus has 15 golf courses in Europe, eight of which have been open for at least 10 years. Now, his company has 15 courses under construction on the continent, including nine in Spain.
'We signed more (golf course projects) in Europe this year than the last seven years combined,' said Tim Kenny, executive vice president of Nicklaus Design. 'Spain is very strong. It's the Florida of Europe, and people recognize that's where they want to be.'
This isn't the first time Nicklaus has gone global.
His first international courses were La Moraleja in Spain and Glen Abbey near Toronto, both in 1976. The Australian Golf Club in Sydney opened a year later.
Eight years passed before he opened another course outside the United States - Britannia Golf Club in Grand Cayman - but his overseas work really took off in the '90s.
He opened 82 courses from 1992 through 1998, and 47 of them were built outside North America. The majority of those were in Asia, where the economy was booming. That didn't last.
'Asia in the late '90s just died,' Nicklaus said. 'We did nothing in five years. Now, it's starting to come back.'
Nicklaus Design recently reopened its Hong Kong office when it started getting more leads and inquiries, a sign that demand for golf courses in Asia was on the rise.
Nicklaus Design sales in Asia this year were five times higher than the end of 2002.
And it's not just resort courses that cater to tourists.
Kenny says more international courses are serving the local market, and China and South Korea are among those moving toward golf course communities.
'They watch TV, they travel,' Kenny said. 'They see what we have, and they want it.'
They see a lot of Nicklaus courses wherever they go.
Nicklaus became interested in golf courses in 1966, the year he completed the career Grand Slam at age 26. He tagged along with architect Dick Wilson during the redesign of Scioto in Columbus, Ohio, and was hooked.
He first project was teaming with Pete Dye in 1970 to build Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C. (site of the MCI Classic), and Nicklaus Design now has 262 courses open for play around the world.
His courses have hosted more than 400 tour events, including four majors and a Ryder Cup.
Clearly, the Nicklaus name carries weight.
'My game gave me the opportunity to get involved in design,' he said. 'People look at me as a golfer. They don't know what I do design-wise, but obviously, I have a lot of name recognition in a lot of these countries.'
It's not just Nicklaus doing the work.
He has 10 design associates, who have been with him for the last 20 years. His three sons - Jack II, Steve and Gary - and son-in-law Bill O'Leary also work for Nicklaus Design, and each have left their mark.
Nicklaus said one of his proudest moments this year was when courses designed by Gary and Steve were ranked in the top 10 in the country among new private courses.
'I'm not going to build golf courses forever,' Nicklaus said. 'But I'm trying to build an organization so when I want to retire, the company will move on.'
Right now, it's moving all over the world.
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