Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Jack Nicklaus, center, walks the Red Ledges Golf Course in Heber. Nicklaus is assisting in designing the course.

Jack is back, building his third golf course in Utah.

Earlier this week Jack Nicklaus not only played in the Johnny Miller's annual Champions Challenge, but he spent a couple of hours checking on his new Red Ledges course east of Heber, making what he calls "adjustments" to the layout that will open a little over a year from now.

After his pro-am round, the Golden Bear was whisked in a helicopter from Lehi to Heber to tour the course along with a cadre of workers and executives from Red Ledges and his son, Jack II. Wearing sunglasses and a hat, Nicklaus drove a four-wheel-drive vehicle over rocks and dusty paths, stopping every few minutes to get out and walk around and suggest improvements, while a bunch of people followed him.

It was Jack's fifth or sixth visit to the property — he can't remember which — since he turned the first shovel of dirt a year ago this week, along with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and owner Tony Burns. He's already switched the two nines and changed a par-5 finishing hole into two holes, a dogleg par-4 and a spectacular par-3 with a tee atop an outcropping of red rocks.

"It's a beautiful site," he said. "It's a golf course in the mountains, so you've got a little up-and-down and you have the red rocks and it has great views. It's a very special place."

Nicklaus said he's personally been involved in more than 270 signature golf courses, and his company's done about 350 courses with half of those part of real estate developments.

As he showed this week, he has a hands-on approach to designing a golf course. He doesn't just make a drawing on paper and let someone else turn it into a golf course. He makes several visits during construction and suggests improvements along the way.

"This is what I've been doing since 1967," he said. "I play golf in my spare time."

Even though Nicklaus was sort of making a joke, it's true that, for at least the past 20 years, golf course design has been his main focus.

"I enjoy being able to create something that's going to be here long beyond my golf game," he said. "It's something I've learned as I've played golf. I must have some artistic ability to look and see something on a piece of ground. Some guys look at it and don't have a clue what they're looking at. I'm able to look at something and am able to transmit that to people and how to get it done."

Back in 1982, Nicklaus designed the Park Meadows Golf Course in Park City, a course that hosted the Champions Tour tournament for a decade. Recently he designed the second course at the Promontory development east of Park City, which opened last year.

"Jack has been a great partner for us all the way around," said Red Ledges project manager Todd Cates. "Some designers like to move a lot of earth, but his philosophy is work with the natural land. He likes to come here and sign off on the different aspects of it."

While the Red Ledges course, which features spectacular views from Deer Valley to Mount Timpanogos, will be open to public play initially, it won't be open indefinitely. Cates said ultimately, perhaps in three to four years, the course will become private as the home lots around the course fill in.

The development will feature 1,200 units, including 800 custom lots, 300 cottages and 100 condominiums. Unlike some golf-course developments with lots in between every fairway, most of the homes will be around the edges of the golf course.

It also will feature a nine-hole Nicklaus-designed short course west of the main course, a Cliff Drysdale Tennis Academy, a Jim McLean Golf Academy and an Equestrian Center.

This won't be the last time we'll see Nicklaus. He'll be back a few more times to check on the Red Ledges course, and he also has other projects starting in Utah, including one down at Mount Holly, near Beaver and a couple in the St. George area.

"I've been blessed with that to have two careers and stay in the game of golf and be able to do this," he said. "Not many guys are lucky enough to have that happen to them."

E-mail: [email protected]