ORLANDO, Fla. — Jack Nicklaus has been designing and building golf courses around the world for the last four decades, and most of his work has been overseas during the last 10 years. But his latest project in Turkmenistan is as intriguing as any of them.
Few people there even play golf. At least not yet.
The president of the Central Asian nation, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, announced in October that he wants a golf course built ahead of the Asian Games next year. Nicklaus said the Ashgabat Golf Club should be finished in April (but not playable until July), and more courses are planned for a holiday area along the Caspian Sea.
Turkmenistan is north of Iran and framed by the Caspian Sea to the west and Afghanistan to the east.
"I don't really know why the president wanted golf," Nicklaus said over the weekend. "He has about 2,500 ex-pats who live in Ashgabat who wanted golf, and he knows that golf is an Olympic sport and he's got the Asian Games next year. He wanted the golf course done before that."
Golf is not the first sport that interested Berdymukhamedov. He also had three ice hockey facilities built in the country that is largely covered by the Karakum Desert and reaches highs of 120 degrees in the summer.
"Every time he brought something in, it's not just the capital. He said, 'I want all my provinces to benefit.' He brought horses in, he brought hockey in. And he's doing the same thing with golf," Nicklaus said. "He takes it to all his people."
He said the president wants a championship golf course and a "learning golf course." Nicklaus already has made five trips to Turkmenistan, and he said the project will include golf courses in Awaza, a tourist zone along the Caspian Sea.
Nicklaus said Awaza has 33 five-star hotels occupied only by the Turkmen from June to September, even though the weather is pleasant enough to go from April until early November. He said Turkmenistan issued fewer than 1,000 tourist visas last year, but the plan was to make Awaza more of a tourist destination.
"And now we're going to put golf in — seaside links," Nicklaus said.
The European awards are starting to pile up for British Open champion Henrik Stenson.
The 40-year-old Swede was European Tour player of the year for a season in which he won his first major, the Race to Dubai for the second time and was the silver medalist in golf's return to the Olympics.
Stenson also has been awarded the Golf Writers Trophy by the British-based Association of Golf Writers.
"I'll never grow tired of being weighed down with trophies," Stenson said.
The Golf Writers Trophy is for those who were born or reside in Europe and have made the most outstanding contributions in golf for the year.
Stenson set the major championship record for a 72-hole score at 264 in a duel with Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon, where the Swede joined Johnny Miller as the only players to close with a 63 to win a major. He also won the BMW International Open in Germany.
Stenson also won the Golf Writers Trophy in 2013.
"We talk about receiving recognition from your colleagues and your peers but in this instance it's great to be receiving that recognition from some of the most knowledgeable media in the sport," Stenson said.
NICKLAUS & TRUMP
Jack Nicklaus said his schedule kept him from going to two previous presidential inaugurations, but he plans to be in Washington next month when president-elect Donald Trump is sworn in.
And he won't be alone.
"Donald called and said, 'I want you to bring that kid that can really talk,'" Nicklaus said.
That kid is 55-year-old Jack Nicklaus II. Trump still raves about his speech Jackie Nicklaus gave when his father was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
"Every time he talks to Barbara and me he says, 'That is the best speech I ever heard,'" Nicklaus said. "He called personally to ask me to come."
Nicklaus has known Trump for years and designed Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx.
THONGCHAI'S LAST STAND
Just when you thought golf was done for the year, there is one final tournament that ends on Christmas Day and could decide whether Thongchai Jaidee returns to the Masters.
It's called the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship, an Asian Development Tour event in Thailand from Dec. 22-25 at Rancho Charnvee Resorts and Country Club. Such events typically award only six points to the winner. However, Thongchai is No. 52 in the world, and that raises the strength of field enough to award nine points. And that's just what he needs to make the top 50.
The top 50 in the final world ranking of the year on Dec. 26 are invited to the Masters.
"I've one more week at the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship, and I hope to do well then," Thongchai said. "I'm going to take a rest at home, but also spend some time at the gym to build up my physical fitness."
He also might want to work on his putting.
Matt Kuchar had no idea how much the Olympics would mean to him until that bronze medal was draped around his neck. Kuchar, the last of four Americans who made it to Rio when Dustin Johnson withdrew, closed with a 63 to finish behind Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
"The emotions of winning a medal overwhelmed me," he said. "I didn't know the gravity, how big of a moment that was and what that would mean to me until it happened."
He has taken his bronze medal with him most everywhere, including a trip to Friar's Head on Long Island. Kuchar went out to play and left the medal in the clubhouse for all to see, and it was hard to miss.
"The barkeep was in charge and he had it hanging on a light fixture," Kuchar said. "It got a lot of hands and eyeballs on it. It was a cool place."
There was one time he didn't have the medal with him.
Hurricane Matthew barreled toward Sea Island, and the Kuchars had to evacuate. But he wasn't worried about it being blown away.
"It was on the third floor," he said. "I knew it was safe. I knew there could be flooding, but the third floor? It wasn't going anywhere."
The winner and runner-up of the Kolon Korea Open next year will be exempt into the British Open. The Korea Open, held in August this year, is moving up two months in 2017 and will be held June 1-4. ... The LPGA Tour will stage the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship next year. The 54-hole event will be July 10-12 at French Lick Resort in Indiana with a total purse of $600,000. ... John Karsten Solheim takes over as president of Ping on Jan. 1, succeeding Doug Hawken who retires after 45 years. Solheim is the son of Ping chairman and CEO John Solheim, and the grandson of founder Karsten Solheim.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Bill Haas is the only American whose sole qualification for the 2017 Masters is top 50 in the world ranking at the end of the year.
"He not only has my record to contend with, he's got a lot of kids who are really good. And (Phil) Mickelson is not done yet either, I don't think." — Jack Nicklaus on the return of Tiger Woods.
This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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