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Lawsuit: Jack Nicklaus breached deal worth $145M for his golf design services, marketing

Nicklaus Companies, LLC filed the complaint against Jack Nicklaus and GBI Investors, Inc. in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
Credit: 10TV/WBNS

NEW YORK — A company filed a lawsuit claiming Jack Nicklaus breached a contract and went back on a deal worth $145 million.

Nicklaus Companies, LLC filed the complaint against Jack Nicklaus and GBI Investors, Inc. (formerly Golden Bear International, Inc.) on May 13 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Nicklaus Companies, LLC claims the legendary golfer and GBI had a deal with the company for the rights to Nicklaus' golf course design services, marketing involving his personal endorsements and his publicity rights.

The lawsuit claims the deal also includes the right to GBI's collection of trademark registrations related to Nicklaus' name and signature, including the "Golden Bear" nickname.

According to the lawsuit, Nicklaus is accused of continuing to help design golf courses and offer commercial endorsements but not on behalf of Nicklaus Companies, LLC.

The agreement was reached in May 2007, according to the court filing.

Nicklaus Companies, LLC claims it tried to remind Nicklaus of the deal. "Mr. Nicklaus repeatedly assured the Company that he would respect its interests, only to go back on his word time and again to secretly negotiate side deals designed to benefit only him—at the expense of the Company’s business," the company wrote in the complaint.

Nicklaus Companies says this has led to substantial damages including lost profits and business opportunities.

The lawsuit claims Nicklaus agreed last year to promote and endorse the Soudal Open in 2022 but did not get prior approval from Nicklaus Companies. The company also accuses Nicklaus, through the Nicklaus Family Office, of declining any license and use of his name and likeness in a golf video game, without letting the Nicklaus Companies know while the company was trying to reach an agreement video game developer.

The company also accused Nicklaus of negotiating with Golf Saudi about a new golf league, again without letting the company know. It's a deal that Nicklaus Companies LLC said would have affected them negatively.

Nicklaus did end up turning down the deal.

“I was offered something in excess of $100 million by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one that Greg (Norman) is doing,” Nicklaus said in an article on the Fire Pit Collective website, according to the Associated Press. “I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ’Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.”

Nicklaus is also said to have negotiated a marketing agreement with a national financial advisory group, through the Nicklaus Family Office, without any revenue going to Nicklaus Companies, according to the complaint.

The company is seeking a judgment that Nicklaus can only design golf courses and provide commercial endorsements for Nicklaus Companies, the right to the Nicklaus Intellectual Property for commercial purposes, consequential damages and legal fees.

In a statement to 10TV Friday, Niklaus called the claims "untrue," adding, "Our relationship has been a difficult one, at best. I have little doubt about the outcome, but I don’t intend to make this a public spectacle, if it can be avoided." 

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