ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Benjamin Franklin. Bobby Jones. Jack Nicklaus.
This is the full extent of honorary citizenship granted to Americans in the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews.
It is something special to be in the company of Jones, the great amateur golfer who won the 1927 British Open here and childhood hero of Nicklaus, and Franklin, known as the first American, the Newton of electricity and the prophet of tolerance. It left 18-time Major Champion and three-time Golfer of the Year Nicklaus choked and teary-eyed.
“When I won the Open in 1966 at Muirfield I couldn’t speak and I can’t speak right now,” Nicklaus said as he wiped away a tear with a handkerchief on Tuesday at Younger Hall at the University of St. Andrews after receiving the only- accolade of some sort.
Nicklaus, 82, won two of his British Open titles at the Old Course – in 1970 and 1978 – and played eight Opens in all here. He planned to walk across the famous Swilcan Burn Bridge, located at 18e hole, one last time at the 2000 Open and for it to be his championship farewell until he asked then-R&A Executive Director Peter Dawson when the next Open would be held in St. Andrews.
When told it was planned for 2006, Nicklaus replied that it was too bad. He would then be 66, a year after the maximum age exemption allowed for former champions. Dawson wondered if Nicklaus would consider playing once again if the Open was held there in 2005. “Be here in a heartbeat,” Nicklaus said.
And that’s all it took for the program to change to accommodate Nicklaus’ swansong in 2005. At 65, he birdie putted on the final hole to end his career at the Home of Golf.
Winner of The Open Championship in 1966, 1970 and 1978, Jack Nicklaus gestures as he is led through the streets of St Andrews with his wife Barbara after being made an honorary citizen of St. Andrews by the Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council on July 12, 2022. (Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
“I refused to come back the last two times to St. Andrews,” Nicklaus explained. “I didn’t want to come back and water it down for what it was.”
But he made an exception when his invitation arrived this time to be made an honorary citizen of St. Andrews.
“To keep up with Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin, I have to come back,” he said. “We’re actually back in the same hotel room that Barbara and I have stayed in every time we’ve been to St. Andrews.”
St. Andrews Community Council considered making Nicklaus an honorary citizen at the 2005 Open, but the measure did not receive enough votes. When the resolution was moved again, this time the board passed it unanimously.
Franklin received the Freedom of the City award in 1759 from St. Andrews City Council, while Jones received the honor in 1958 and said, “I could get everything out of my life except my experiences at St. Andrews and I would always had a rich and full life. (Nicklaus quoted Jones during his acceptance speech and added, “I feel exactly the same way.”) The city council was disbanded in 1974. The honorary citizen honor for non-residents awarded to Nicklaus was established in 2000, and it is deemed to be the equivalent of freedom of the city.
Nicklaus made his first foray into Scotland as a 19-year-old student at Ohio State to compete in the 1959 Walker Cup at Muirfield, during which time his father traveled to St. Andrews with some friends and came back delighted. . Nicklaus fell in love with St. Andrews instantly when he made his maiden voyage there in 1964.
“And I’ve had a love affair with her ever since,” he said.
He remembers winning the title in 1978 when fans clung to rooftops and windows. Tears streamed down his face as he walked down the fairway about to claim his second title there.
“I get pretty sentimental about this stuff,” he said. “I remember my caddie Jimmy (Dickinson) hit me on the back and he said, ‘We’ve got another hole to finish. Deal with it.’ ”
In his acceptance speech, Nicklaus quoted famed sportswriter Grantland Rice. “You start with nothing, win, gain notoriety and you will soon be forgotten.”
But not the latter for Nicklaus. With his cracking voice, Nicklaus noted how much it meant to him to be remembered 44 years after his last win at the Open in the Home of Golf.
“Thank you, St. Andrews,” he said.
When the ovation finally died down, one of the faculty at St. Andrews University spoke for everyone when he said, “As long as the game is played, you will never be forgotten. in this place.