ORLANDO, Fla. — Jack Nicklaus has been designing and building golf courses around the world for the last four decades, and most of his work has been overseas during the last 10 years. But his latest project in Turkmenistan is as intriguing as any of them.
Few people there even play golf. At least not yet.
The president of the Central Asian nation, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, announced in October that he wants a golf course built ahead of the Asian Games next year. Nicklaus said the Ashgabat Golf Club should be finished in April (but not playable until July), and more courses are planned for a holiday area along the Caspian Sea.
Turkmenistan is north of Iran and framed by the Caspian Sea to the west and Afghanistan to the east.
“I don’t really know why the president wanted golf,” Nicklaus said over the weekend. “He has about 2,500 ex-pats who live in Ashgabat who wanted golf, and he knows that golf is an Olympic sport and he’s got the Asian Games next year. He wanted the golf course done before that.”
Golf is not the first sport that interested Berdymukhamedov. He also had three ice hockey facilities built in the country that is largely covered by the Karakum Desert and reaches highs of 120 degrees in the summer.
“Every time he brought something in, it’s not just the capital. He said, ‘I want all my provinces to benefit.’ He brought horses in, he brought hockey in. And he’s doing the same thing with golf,” Nicklaus said. “He takes it to all his people.”
He said the president wants a championship golf course and a “learning golf course.” Nicklaus already has made five trips to Turkmenistan, and he said the project will include golf courses in Awaza, a tourist zone along the Caspian Sea.
Nicklaus said Awaza has 33 five-star hotels occupied only by the Turkmen from June to September, even though the weather is pleasant enough to go from April until early November. He said Turkmenistan issued fewer than 1,000 tourist visas last year, but the plan was to make Awaza more of a tourist destination.
“And now we’re going to put golf in — seaside links,” Nicklaus said.