Jack Nicklaus wasn’t always called the Golden Bear. In fact, in the earlier days of his professional career, Nicklaus wasn’t well liked by Arnold Palmer fans who resented that Nicklaus was taking Palmer’s place as the best on the PGA Tour and in professional golf.
Many fans and media called Nicklaus “Fat Jack” as a reference to his husky stature.
However, by the time 1967 rolled around, Nicklaus had started to win over fans and win more majors. And it was during the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey that Australian sportswriter Don Lawrence coined Nicklaus’ nickname, Golden Bear, based on Nicklaus’ blonde hair and burly physique.
Nicklaus’ agent Mark McCormack asked Lawrence what he thought of Nicklaus, and the writer told McCormack he thought Nicklaus looked like a “big, cuddly, golden bear.”
In addition, Nicklaus attended Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, Ohio, and the school’s mascot was the Golden Bears. It all kind of fit.
As it turns out, Nicklaus liked the nickname because it played up to the idea that he had a deeper-pitched, growling voice like a bear, as opposed to his higher-pitched tone about which he was self-conscious.
Ultimately, not only did Nicklaus adopt and welcome the Golden Bear moniker, but he also made it his personal logo for his companies, akin to what Arnold Palmer did with his umbrella logo. The Golden Bear appears on Nicklaus’ equipment, in the logo for his design company, in his clothing lines and ice cream, and in other business ventures.
A three-hole stretch at his Champion Course design at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is named The Bear Trap.