Jack Nicklaus has made more money hitting long drives than anyone else in the history of golf. Yet he wanted to make the game more accessible by developing the first shorter-playing ball. The Golden Bear designed and is building the first golf course on Grand Cayman in the British West Indies. Nicklaus had decided that a standard $2 golf ball shouldn't dictate how the land on this tiny island, where prime beachfront property goes for $10,000 per foot, is used. So he instructed the MacGregor Company, a golf-gear firm he owns, to develop a ball with shorter flight. After spending $100,000 on research, director of manufacturing Troy Puckett came up with the first Cayman ball, made of a plastic called Surlyn, and it will be officially introduced when the course opens in December of this year. At Grand Cayman Nicklaus designed a regulation nine-hole course on which he has overlaid a par-71, 18-hole short-ball course and a par-57, 18-hole "executive" course (a layout playable in a couple of hours).
The new ball makes it possible to build courses in a quarter of the normal acreage—the Cayman course covers just 38 acres—and playing time can be cut in half. The Cayman drives about half the distance of a regular ball. "It feels a little light on the club face," Puckett says, "but it has a nice click to it." Because of its unique weight distribution it reacts like a regular ball—you can hook it, fade it, make it back up. The closer a player gets to the hole, the smaller the difference in the distances that regular and Cayman balls play. Putts from 10 feet play exactly the same, according to Puckett. (The ball floats, and Nicklaus has thought about putting the driving range on the beach, letting players drive into the bay. The balls would be washed ashore by the prevailing wind.)
Many golfers will resist the idea of a ball that doesn't travel as far as the usual ones. But if Nicklaus can tolerate his drive setting down after 135 yards instead of 270, the average player perhaps can adjust to seeing his travel 90. Says Puckett, "I've been secretly playing this ball all of my life."