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Jack Nicklaus again free to design courses using own name, likeness

Jack Nicklaus again free to design courses using own name, likeness

Jack Nicklaus is free to design golf courses as Jack Nicklaus again after an arbitrator ruled he was no longer under obligation to Nicklaus Companies LLC,  which the golf legend no longer owns.

Nicklaus the man sold equity in Nicklaus Companies in 2007 to New York-based banker Howard Milstein, who has since acquired total ownership of the company, including the golf course design business once headed by the Golden Bear.

Nicklaus – who has designed more than 300 courses around the world – and Milstein fell out in recent years, and the winner of 18 professional major championships for the most part ended his participation with the company in 2017. His contract with the company included a five-year non-compete clause, and Nicklaus continued to work on behalf of Nicklaus Design until May of 2022. He was precluded during that period from designing courses on his own outside Nicklaus Companies.

In late 2022 Nicklaus began offering course-design services through his new company 1-JN, which operates through his family instead of Nicklaus Companies. Milstein had sought to prevent Nicklaus from using his own name and likeness as part of that new 1-JN business, but the arbitrator ruled in Nicklaus’ favor after a hearing that spanned 18 days spread over six months. The arbitrator ruled that Nicklaus “is now free to engage in the activities” once restricted by the contract’s covenants and to compete against the company that bears his name, activities that include among other things the design of golf courses and the solicitation of the Nicklaus Companies’ customers and employees.

“The arbitration process was an arduous learning experience, but I am thankful for how it ended,” Nicklaus said in a media release announcing the decision. “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. … 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.”

Milstein has expanded his reach in golf in recent years and has acquired other golf-related businesses, including Golf Magazine, TrueSpec and a variety of golf equipment and service enterprises.

The media release explains there are still conflicts between Nicklaus and Milstein. Nicklaus Companies have filed a lawsuit against the retired golfer in New York addressing similar issues under other agreements, but the judge in that case…


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