ORLANDO -- Jack Nicklaus turned 75 on Wednesday, and while you don't see or hear from the Golden Bear as often as you once did, the Nicklaus brand is arguably more ubiquitous than ever.
Nicklaus and the keepers of his brand have worked hard to transform the name of golf's greatest champion into a wide-ranging line of products -- in and out of the game -- that resonate worldwide. From golf courses and their management, to consumer food products, to clothing, to wine, the Nicklaus bear is on a lot of things.
Despite warnings of a golf-course crackdown by the Chinese government, Nicklaus is on his 50th course in the country. Once faux-capitalism and all of its trappings were uncorked by the communist ruling party, it was impossible to put back in the bottle. But Nicklaus' growth isn't limited to a nation of over a billion people. Its growing in countries most people might not know exist, much less find on a map. Take, for example, an in-negotiations project in natural gas-rich Turkmenistan (situated north of where Iran and Afghanistan meet) to build three new courses. Where there's prosperity, there's room for golf.
Nowadays, Nicklaus no longer simply comes in for the design and then gets out of the way. The company has become a soup-to-nuts course developer, operator and real estate arm. Want to develop a big property for golf? Nicklaus will design it, put the resources together to construct the course, sell home lots and run the course when it's finished, including a pro shop stocked with Nicklaus golf balls, other Nicklaus-endorsed equipment like Allen Edmonds golf shoes and a forthcoming equipment deal, as well Nicklaus apparel.
The Golden Bear mark is big in Asia, where Nicklaus apparel is an almost $300 million business between the Japanese and Korean markets. Within a decade, Nicklaus hopes to be a $100 million apparel brand in China. Building a golf brand in the hyper-competitive U.S. market would yield one-tenth that projected China figure. Living on the game's frontier has its advantages.
But that doesn't mean the Nicklaus brand has shunned the U.S. Hardly. The company has teamed up with Perry Ellis to release a gorgeous line of men's and women's Nicklaus apparel at a good price point. Then there's the golf ball line, which Nicklaus launched in 2013, initially sold almost entirely online and through select golf shops, with a substantial portion of the proceeds supporting charities. That business has grown, albeit in a unique way. On the charity side, Nicklaus has teamed up with Children's Miracle Network to support their work with golf-ball proceeds. Meanwhile, companies like Costco and Wal-Mart have an interest in selling the balls at retail. Marriott is providing the balls to guests for its golf properties, as well as room guests to offer additional value for its higher-end offerings. Same thing with an airliner.
Not only could you see the Nicklaus brand on your next flight, but you'll also see Nicklaus-branded restaurants in a pair of U.S. airports in 2015, including in Charleston. Nicklaus has teamed with Delaware North -- a company you've never heard of but almost certainly have bought something from -- to create the eateries. And then there's the expansion of the Nicklaus line of consumer food products. The lemonade done with Arizona Beverage has done very well, as has Nicklaus wine. Then there's going to be ice cream, too, launching in the southeast U.S. and Ohio before a nationwide rollout.
Seriously, Nicklaus is everywhere. So raise a glass of Nicklaus wine and give a here-here to a man and his team that have turned a living legend into an icon that's turned into a label that is good as gold.