It's a lousy day for golf, 40 degrees with a cutting wind, but Jack Nicklaus stands at the tee, contemplating hole No. 13 at the Peninsula Golf Club near Rehoboth Beach. It's a tough par-3, a virtual island green perched about 170 yards away across a fluttering lake.
"That green needs a little more color," Nicklaus says, turning away from the wind. "We've got to bring that bunker around the corner on the left side. You want to see the sand from the members' tees."
Nicklaus, 65, is here not as a player but as a course designer, the profession that now occupies most of his time. And if you haven't heard of the Peninsula Golf Club, that's because it won't open until next year. Nicklaus has come to this waterfront property on the Eastern Shore for his fourth of nine planned working visits.
In addition to the 18-hole, 7,200-yard Jack Nicklaus Signature Course that is expected to open next year, Peninsula on the Indian River Bay will feature a wave pool worthy of a theme park, a nature center, a marina with a water taxi to Rehoboth Beach, a tennis complex with stadium seating, a gated entrance tended 24/7 and 1,400 townhouses, condos, villas and detached homes.
"There's nothing like this in this part of the country," says developer Larry Goldstein, the Washington-area builder who is developing the community. Goldstein cites Kiawah Island, the private golf community in South Carolina, as a likely peer.
Truth told, there is something similar not far away -- Bayside, a residential community located just outside Fenwick Island, where another Jack Nicklaus course is under construction. Bayside, an 867-acre planned community being built by Olney-based Carl Freeman Cos., will have about 1,700 houses and many of the same amenities as Peninsula.
Like Peninsula's, Bayside's course will hug the shoreline and be routed judiciously through marshland, trees and houses; water will be in play throughout. Both courses will be open to owner-members and vacation renters. Bayside will also offer daily-fee public play. It opens in July.
Once Goldstein decided to turn the 800-acre former chicken feed farm into a gated community with golf course, he interviewed "a lot of the name designers" of golf courses. Nicklaus was the most expensive -- he reportedly charges $2 million for his design services, though Goldstein won't say, in addition to the costs of building the course itself.
"He has the highest name recognition, even among non-golfers," Goldstein says. "My mother knows who Jack Nicklaus is, but she's never heard of [well-regarded designer Tom] Fazio."
The Peninsula is a Nicklaus Signature Course, a designation that means you get the Full Jack: The man himself routes and designs each hole, monitors construction over multiple visits, has a full-time associate on-site and signs off on the details. Prior to opening Nicklaus will play the course wired to a microphone, providing spoken notes for final tweaks by greens keepers.