Golf is struggling, and the game's most decorated player has identified a culprit: the golf ball.
Speaking at the HSBC Golf Business Forum in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on Tuesday, the 18-time major winner turned prolific course designer blamed changes in the golf ball for the recent spate of course closures throughout the United States.
"Fact is, more golf courses have closed in the U.S. in each of the last 10 years than have opened," Nicklaus said. "This is thanks in great part to changes in the golf ball and the distance it travels. Courses have had to change along with it. It's now a slower game and more expensive than before, and that can't be a good thing."
Nicklaus' solution is a creative one: create golf balls specifically tailored to each course instead of forcing courses to add length in response to longer-traveling golf balls.
"We don't want to change the game for the core golfer, but we need to make every effort to offer alternatives to bring more people into the game and keep them in the game," Nicklaus said. "I think we need to develop a golf ball to suit the golf course, rather than build courses to suit a golf ball. Whether it's a ball that goes 50%, 75%, or 100%, you play a ball that fits the course and your game."
According to Nicklaus, it's an easy fix for a very real problem for the game.
"It's not that big a deal," Nicklaus said. "We used to do it when traveling to play the Open and switching from the large ball to the small. It took us only a day to get used to a different ball. But when land is a dear commodity and water is scarce, you need to do something to respond to today's situation."