Court Rules Jack Nicklaus Can Use Own Name For Golf Course Design Projects

Jack Nicklaus is being sued by former company but a court rules he can use his name for future golf course designs

Jack Nicklaus reacts to a putt during a celebrity shootout in the 2022 Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills Golf And Country Club
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the case of Nicklaus versus Nicklaus it’s one-up to Jack Nicklaus the man as a supreme court judge in New York has ruled in his favour allowing him to use his famous name for future golf course design projects.

It sounds quite complicated (and is!) but the 82-year-old is being sued by Nicklaus Companies for "repeated acts in bad faith against the best interests of the Company, including acts to intentionally and maliciously undermine the company."

What this entire case is coming down to, and will continue to as a full trial is pending, is who legally has the rights to use the name, likeness and Jack Nicklaus trademarks – the man himself or the company he sold back in 2007.

When the 18-time Major champion sold Nicklaus Companies back in 2007, he was paid $145m for all his intellectual property and to continue providing exclusive services to the company – but they now claim that he’s actively working in competition against them.

The complaint against Nicklaus claims he had been paid for promoting the Soudal Open on the DP World Tour, being involved in the development of a video game and also with negotiating with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) over joining LIV Golf in a leadership role.

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All of these actions, Nicklaus Companies says, breach the terms of him working with them and using his name, likeness and logo which should only be used for use with them.

After a three-day hearing in court, a judge has now ruled that Nicklaus can compete against his former company for golf course design work and other business, but not commercial endorsements, pending a full trial.

It means Nicklaus, under his new company name 1-JN, can look to add to his over 300 course designs around the world as one of the most recognised and prolific big-name golf course architects.

“I have been blessed in my long life to have more than one successful career – first playing the game and then designing courses for where this great game is played,” Nicklaus said in a statement.

“It has been more than 50 years since my first course, but I am even more passionate than ever about golf course design. I strongly believe that my ideas and creativity are even better now than they have ever been.

“I am inspired to continue producing memorable and sustainable golf experiences that can be enjoyed for years to come. You might say I have nothing to prove, but I have a lot left to give.”

In a statement released on social media, Nicklaus Companies said they were glad the court had placed an injunction to stop Nicklaus from commercial activity, and say their main hope is just to get legal guidance on who can use what going forward.

They added that: “It is also important to understand that while the court declined to issue a preliminary injunction as to whether Mr. Nicklaus can compete with Nicklaus Companies in designing golf courses, this is only pending a full trial to determine whether or not he has that right.

“Plus, any such design work would be subject to the court’s limitations on any use of the Nicklaus Companies' intellectual property - or any use of Mr. Nickalus’ name, image and likeness - to endorse the golf course. All of these issues have yet to be litigated in full, and after hearing the evidence at trial, we will learn the final decision of the court.

"As we have said all along, our goal was to have the court sort out the legal responsibilities of the parties so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding going forward.

“The court’s injunction is a step in that direction. We still hope for a collaborative and amicable resolution to these matters.

“Despite the disparaging statements orchestrated by Mr. Nicklaus’ attorneys against Nicklaus Companies and Jack’s business partner, we continue to have great admiration for Jack and his accomplishments, and will use our rights to his name, image and likeness to keep his legend alive. We will do everything we can to ensure his legacy lives on for generations to come."

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Paul Higham

Paul Higham is a sports journalist with over 20 years of experience in covering most major sporting events for both Sky Sports and BBC Sport. He is currently freelance and covers the golf majors on the BBC Sport website.  Highlights over the years include covering that epic Monday finish in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and watching Rory McIlroy produce one of the most dominant Major wins at the 2011 US Open at Congressional. He also writes betting previews and still feels strangely proud of backing Danny Willett when he won the Masters in 2016 - Willett also praised his putting stroke during a media event before the Open at Hoylake. Favourite interviews he's conducted have been with McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Rickie Fowler and the enigma that is Victor Dubuisson. A big fan of watching any golf from any tour, sadly he spends more time writing about golf than playing these days with two young children, and as a big fair weather golfer claims playing in shorts is worth at least five shots. Being from Liverpool he loves the likes of Hoylake, Birkdale and the stretch of tracks along England's Golf Coast, but would say his favourite courses played are Kingsbarns and Portrush.