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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Vegas Pro

The Vegas Pro

The flamboyant Arthur Nightingale was the perfect first head professional for Las Vegas’ first private club

Story by Brian Hurlburt, @LVGolfInsider

If Hollywood was writing the background and characteristics of the first golf professional at Las Vegas’ first private country club—what is now The Las Vegas Country Club—then Arthur Nightingale’s real life would have been just perfect for central casting. Nightingale, who grew up during World War II in Great Britain, getting to know American soldiers who would give him cigarettes as a young man, was a hard-driving drinker who lived his Las Vegas life to the fullest. He came to the Las Vegas International Country Club in 1967 when the original founder, a New Yorker business tycoon named Marvin Kratter, hired him away from the Stardust Country Club.

Nightingale, who passed away in 2014, was the guy in charge when the course first opened. He vividly recalls visits from the flamboyant Kratter, a big thinker who had huge plans for the Club and Las Vegas.

“What Mr. Kratter used to do is he would have his pilots fly in low over the golf course in his Lockheed Jetstar so he could take a look at everything,” says Nightingale. “He would fly in low over the golf course three or four times. I don’t know if he got permission to do that, but he broke the rules all of the time, so who knows. Then he would land at the VIP airport. He loved to have a sort of a group of VIPs go to meet him. He had a very nice station wagon. He would demand that you all get together and meet, then we would head back to the course, and then to his office for meetings and updates. I was overwhelmed by the money spent by Mr. Kratter. I think that was the main thing; it was unbelievable. Mr. Kratter loved class. He was a big Jewish guy and everything for him was first class from his Lockheed Jetstar equipped with two pilots to how he paid attention to every detail.”

Nightingale didn’t stay long at the Club, nor did Kratter’s reign as owner last for that matter. But Nightingale went on to make a mark as a teacher of note nationally, writing a cover story for Golf Magazine and several other articles, each urging golfers to go against the philosophy (don’t ever move your head during the swing) of golf’s best players and teachers. However, his brilliant and revolutionary methodology never caught on because of his to-the-point presentation and the downgrading of other teachers. But there on the November, 1978, cover of Golf Magazine was an article entitled, “New Proof: You Should Let Your Head Move.”

That was in direct disagreement with the common philosophies of Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and many other golf heavyweights. “My head stays just as steady as if I had it in a vise,” Palmer wrote in his book, My Game and Yours, in 1963. To which, Nightingale responded in the magazine article: “even to non-golfers, ‘head still’ is the sacred dogma of golf. For openers, because of such erroneous teachings, I’m forced to waste 90 percent of my teaching curing the results of such ‘headlock’ instruction.”

Nightingale proved his philosophy had merit by creating an exclusive grid system that proved through photography how players like Palmer, Nicklaus and other greats did, in fact, move their heads during the swing.

Unfortunately, his headstrong attitude led to a falling out with his editors. His philosophy was kept in the shadows, practiced only by a small and loyal following. But even in his later years while battling diabetes and overcoming the loss of both legs and much of his sight, he kept a dream alive of publishing his manuscript and “curing” the golfing public. Many times he was brought to tears when he thought about the millions of golfers who had read the books and articles of the experts, who he believed were teaching the game in absolutely the wrong manner.

Nightingale made a deep impact on the Las Vegas Country Club during his time there, and remembered fondly the days of Dean Martin playing the course on a daily basis even before it was officially open. Nightingale was one of those mythical-like figures that makes Vegas the city it was, is and always will be.

 

Portions of this article were published in The Las Vegas Country Club: Chronicle of an Icon written by Brian Hurlburt. Limited copies are available via Amazon.com.

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