City officials and backers who raised $130,000 in private funds to create a permanent tribute to golf legend Jack Nicklaus at a park named for him celebrated the completion of the project with the Golden Bear himself.
A dose of spring rain didn’t stop neighborhood residents and friends from turning out May 30 for the unveiling of a monument of sorts at Jack Nicklaus Park, 2470 Tremont Road.
“I didn’t realize that I had so many classmates that were still alive – and had so much idle time on their hands that they could do this,” Nicklaus said to open his comments to onlookers and dignitaries crowded under and around a tent just in front of the park that was renamed in his honor in June 2016.
It was another homecoming for the 79-year-old Nicklaus, who graduated from Upper Arlington High School in 1957. He grew up about 50 yards away from what formerly was known as Parkway Park, in a house at the corner of Collingswood and Coventry roads and, as legend has it, honed his game at an early age by hitting golf balls from his yard into the roughly 2-acre swath of green space.
Nicklaus didn’t recount those memories during remarks to celebrate a project his cousin, Jim Nicklaus, helped spearhead to bring a permanent commemoration to the all-time leader in Professional Golf Association titles.
Instead, he talked about playing basketball in the neighborhood with people such as Bill Cook, who came from San Francisco for the celebration, and playing another sport in the park.
“We used to come out and we used to play baseball out here,” Nicklaus said. “The only thing was, those trees weren’t there. It was a nice open park that we could play baseball in.
“And that little creek that runs down through it was just a little bit of a trickle and hardly anything came down it, so we could still ... run back and forth. It’s amazing how things happen.”
Nicklaus said the park was a frequent pathway for rounds of practice and competition at Scioto Country Club.
“I would come down the street from the house and walk down through here and pick Bob (Obetz) up in the morning. We’d head off to the golf course.
“Little did I know that, here we are 60 years later, I guess – it’s at least 60 years later – that I would be honored by having this park. I’m very honored that you would do that here in Upper Arlington.
“It’s nice when you come back to where your roots are. It’s just really nice. I don’t know what else you could say.”
The park was renamed for Nicklaus after his cousin and former councilman David DeCapua proposed the action.
On the heels of that move, Jim Nicklaus, Jack Saeger and Bob Wandel launched a fundraising campaign to fund the installation of a permanent tribute to the Golden Bear at the park, an effort that was aided by the Upper Arlington Community Foundation and more than 70 donors.
Jim Nicklaus said the campaign was expected to total nearly $135,000 when final donations are tallied.
“I thank each of you in attendance here today, personally, (including) Jack’s wife, Barbara, and of course (Jack’s sister), Marilyn (Hutchinson), who are here, and the community for your support to honor Jack,” he said. “We have worked very hard to make this thing happen.
“At age 10, Jack living behind you ... with encouragement from his father, Charlie, made many trips to and through the park, and played sports, various sports, at this park with some of you here today.”
Jim Nicklaus added that groups of boys would gather at Jack’s house to play basketball, only for Jack often to disappear.
“All at once, no Jack,” Jim Nicklaus said. “Where did he go? I’m sure he made a little trip off and took off through the park here and went off to practice golf at Scioto.”
The tribute now standing in Jack Nicklaus Park includes a 40-foot stone bench, along with pavers that cite the golfer’s accomplishments in the sport from age 10, when he started playing, through his college years at Ohio State University.
Jim Nicklaus said the idea was to honor his youth and time in Upper Arlington.
Marjory Pizzuti, Upper Arlington Community Foundation Board of Directors chairwoman, said the project commemorates Nicklaus and his “lifetime of accomplishments with a journey that began in a UA neighborhood.”
“The naming of this park in his honor is a meaningful addition to our community, and serves as a powerful reminder of a child who had a dream, and a family and community that fostered his personal passion,” Pizzuti said.
“The Community Foundation is proud and privileged to participate as a partner in supporting the dreams of all our children by way of the example Jack Nicklaus set in becoming the greatest golfer of all time.”
Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation director Debbie McLaughlin added that the “quaint neighborhood park” now has a “subtle tribute telling the story of a local legend and the beginning of his career accomplishments.”
“The tribute illustrates the impact neighborhood parks can have as children explore and dream of future opportunities,” she said. “The recognition of Jack Nicklaus was through the efforts of community members who created the concept and raised private funds for a new feature in our park system for many to enjoy decades into the future and showcases the possibilities of collaborations between the city and community members.”