The 82-year-old sportsman, known as the Golden Bear, was made an Honorary Citizen of St Andrews – the equivalent of the Freedom of the City – at a public ceremony in the town’s Younger Hall in North Street on Tuesday.
Nicklaus was the first to receive such an award from the city’s community council since Bobby Jones was made a Freeman of the town at the same venue in 1958.
He is now one of only three US citizens to have received this honour, the other being Benjamin Franklin in 1759.
The legendary sportsman gave an acceptance speech at the ceremony where he was joined by Lee Trevino, Jose Maria Olazabal, Catriona Matthew, Sir Bob Charles and Sandy Lyle who were presented with Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Laws by St Andrews University as recognition of their achievements and outstanding service to the game of golf.
After the service, a procession through the town took place with Mr Nicklaus and his wife Barbara leading the way in a vintage car supplied by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
Fans looked on from the sidelines as the international star, who has 18 majors to his name, won The Open twice at St Andrews and is the only golfer alongside Tiger Woods to achieve three career grand slams, smiled and thanked them for their support.
Speaking after the procession, Nicklaus said: “It’s a whole lifetime in one town.
“I cried today. It’s emotional for me.
“It’s great to be here. I am sure this will be my last visit to St Andrews, I won’t have any real reason to come back again.”
He added: “So many great times and great things that have happened to me with people of Scotland and St Andrews and I feel very strongly about that and I wanted to let them know how I felt.
“I didn’t get any help with my speech for today, I wanted to do it myself, and as I dictated the speech to my assistant in my office I started crying.
“She said ‘Jack, you’re crying’ and I said, ‘well it’s emotional for me.'”
Catriona Matthew, who collected an OBE earlier this year at the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, said it was “tremendous” to share the experience receiving an honour with the other golfers.
Matthew, who plays mainly on the US-based Ladies Pro Golf Association circuit, added: “To then walk through the town where I first started playing, I could never have imaged I would be doing this, it was very special.”
These golfers join an established roll of St Andrews’ honorary graduates which includes Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Peter Alliss, Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Peter Thomson, Gary Player and Padraig Harrington.
The Open Championship in 2005 was Jack Nicklaus’s final competitive golf tournament. He birdied the 18th hole at the Old Course in an emotional finale to his career.