[PHOTO: Tracy Wilcox]

Jack Nicklaus will be able to design golf courses again after winning an arbitration case yesterday against the company that bears his name.

A Florida arbitrator resolved a dispute between Jack W. Nicklaus and Nicklaus Companies LLC by ruling that Nicklaus is no longer restricted by an employment agreement with the company that expired on June 1, 2022. The ruling means the Golden Bear, 84, is now free to design golf courses and solicit the companies’ customers and employees. The case had been ongoing for six months.

“The arbitration process was an arduous learning experience, but I am thankful for how it ended,” Nicklaus said in a statement.

In late 2022, Nicklaus began offering golf course design services through a new business entity, 1-JN.

“I get to keep doing one of the things that makes me happy bringing new golf courses to life and making old ones new again,” he said. “…I am involved in some great projects at the moment and look forward to a lot more of the same now that the effort to keep me on the sidelines has failed.”

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Winner of 18 professional major titles and host of the Memorial Tournament, a PGA Tour event in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Nicklaus has more than 300 course design credits to his name – including several in Australia. He became embroiled in a legal battle with New York businessman Howard Millstein several years after he sold a minority interest in Nicklaus Companies in 2007. Millstein eventually gained control and ownership of the Nicklaus Companies and expanded it to include other golf-related businesses.

Nicklaus severed his employment with the companies in June 2017 but was subject to a five-year non-compete provision that ended in 2022. During that five-year period, he continued to perform design services for Nicklaus Companies until ending his professional relationship with the entity in May 2022. Nicklaus Companies had sought to extend the non-compete terms, but the arbitrator ruled against it.

While the arbitration case in Florida has been resolved, a lawsuit filed in New York by Nicklaus Companies against Jack Nicklaus is pending and makes similar challenges to Nicklaus’ ability to work independently and use his name and likeness in his endeavours. However, the judge presiding over the New York case denied the companies’ request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Nicklaus from designing golf courses in his own name, finding it unlikely that Nicklaus Companies would prevail in the case. A trial date for that case has not yet been set.