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Tee Party

The Golden Bear wins a Congressional Gold Medal in the same week that his new golf course in Mexico opens

Author John Scott Lewinski Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

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BAJA, CALIFORNIA – Jack Nicklaus isn’t as spry as he used to be. The 75-year-old golf legend moves deliberately along a fairway at the Quivira Golf Club, the course he designed at the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, trailed by a throng of fans and a small coterie of officials. Occasionally, he’ll stop to issue instructions: He wants that hillock smoothed out, that tee box moved forward.

The opening of Quivira, set amid the sublime bluffs of Cabo San Lucas, is a big deal down here. It is already the most talked-about course in Mexico and a major piece in the country’s drive to get on the map of elite international golf. For Nicklaus, though, seeing his ambitious project come to fruition is only the second most important thing to happen this week.

Mid-tour, word spreads through the crowd that Nicklaus will be given the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on a civilian, largely for his work with the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. “I’ve been a pretty lucky guy all my life,” he says upon hearing of the award. “I have time now to try and help people who weren’t quite as fortunate.”

When asked to comment further, Nicklaus shrugs and points out that he’s not the first golfer to win the medal—Arnold Palmer got one in 2012. He goes on to recall that year’s award ceremony, in which leading politicians spoke glowingly about Palmer, who sat deadpan throughout. “When it finished, I asked Arnold how much of the ceremony he’d heard, and the answer was zero,” Nicklaus says. “He hadn’t bothered to turn his hearing aid up.”

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