Greg Norman Speaks
BY ANN MILLER
GREG NORMAN HELPED bridge the greatest-golfer gap between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Now the 57-year-old Australian is living the life with a logo on his forehead. It is his own logo, no one else’s. The subtle and distinctive “Shark” stands as the brand signifier for his Great White Shark Enterprises, a multinational corporation with offices in Jupiter, Fla., and Sydney, Australia.
Norman, Great White Shark’s chairman and CEO, is quite literally the “living brand.”
Ultimately responsible for everything from the blades of grass on his golf course designs to the crush of the grapes for his wine, the cut of his clothing, tenderness of his steaks, tint on his sunglasses and layout of his master-planned developments, Norman has many hats to wear.
He is not one to shirk professional responsibility, nor an honest answer. “I’m a big believer,” Norman says, “in just getting it done.”
In person, here in Honolulu during our springtime interview, he explains why he travels 330,000 miles a year in his Gulfstream jet that sleeps six.
“There’s not much you can do,” Norman shrugs. “Your name’s on the door and people’s expectations are for you at the end of the day. That’s where it’s hard. Being a living brand is the hardest part. You have to be on point all the time.”
He still travels 40 weeks a year, even though he only plays some six golf tournaments annually. His appearance in September’s Pacific Links Hawai’i Championship will only be his 13th on the Champions Tour since turning 50.
He is an “ambassador” for Pacific Links, which has purchased a handful of Hawai’i golf courses during the past few years. Norman’s first course design was the breathtaking Experience at Koele on Lana’i more than 20 years ago. He is in now the process of redesigning the old Makaha West course (on O’ahu) for the company.
He calls it “minor adjustments” related to “playability” and “sustainability.” Those who have seen the work say the course will be transformed-which would certainly be more Norman’s style. He has always believed in “attacking life,” whether it was going for the green, on a surfboard or pitch, fishing or diving with sharks (hence the nickname), or taking on entrepreneurship and the PGA Tour.
In 1994, he was the first to envision a world tour, which is basically what professional golf has become. He paid the price, literally, for his foresight and the $100 million television rights deal he brokered with Fox on his own.
“I was portrayed as a person that was bad for the game of golf,” Norman says. “It really hurt me. It hurt my industry, my clothing business. We had a lot of accounts canceled in the United States because of this portrayal. I blamed the PGA Tour for that at the time because they liked the idea and they didn’t think of it.”
“It still runs deep in me. Things are different now because they tried to do a world tour and couldn’t do it. Everybody relates it back to me so … did I win? No, but at the end of the day people realize my idea wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”
Norman got started in golf while caddying for his mother in Queensland, Australia. One day he told her he wanted to play, and 18 months later he was a scratch golfer. Totally taken in by the challenge of such an introspective and individual game, Norman gave up rugby and Australian rules.
There was a tree in the middle of the driving range at Royal Queensland Golf Club. Norman would trim the branches with his shots to work on ball flight.
Six years after taking up the sport, and making $38 a week as an assistant pro, he went on tour. He would win 91 times worldwide, including two British Opens. He often earned more notoriety when he didn’t win, most memorably in 1986. Norman led going into the final round of all four majors that year, but could close only at the British.
Jack Nicklaus, a living, scorching, 46-year-old legend, ran him down at the Masters that year. A few months later, Bob Tway holed out from a bunker at the PGA to break Norman’s heart.
But not for long. Norman is nothing if not resilient. He is the only Australian man to be ranked No. 1 in the world and he stayed there 331 weeks, whacking up to 1,000 balls a day. Just four years ago he led the British Open on the back nine of the final day.
“My one goal in golf was to be the best I could be,” Norman says. “I never wanted to be No. 1 in the world. I figured if I could be the best I could be-everything else would take care of itself. I never played golf for money.”
He made millions but, far more importantly, he met many, many people who made more and forged alliances. In the late 1980s Norman was already thinking about life beyond golf. The Greg Norman Collection of clothing was only the beginning.
Corporations began paying him incredulous sums for three-and five-year endorsement contracts. He sensed the flaws in that strategy and knew he could do better on his own.
“You never could build value in your brand,” he says, “because you were only a pass-through entity.
“My exposure in the game of golf gave me access to a litany of great corporations and great individuals. We really parlayed that, making the decision in 1993 that I wouldn’t re-sign with my management company and I’d capitalize my own business.
That’s where it all started.”
The blond Aussie with the straw hat, perpetual 32-inch waist and eclectic passions built Great White Shark Enterprises. It includes his golf course design business, apparel and turf companies, residential golf community developments and academies, Greg Norman Estates wine, prime steak and production companies and Greg Norman’s Australian Grille in Myrtle Beach, S.C. And in addition to being an ambassador for Pacific Links as previously mentioned, his reach extends to other fields as well-Norman is also an ambassador for OMEGA watches.
“I haven’t made all the right decisions, but in here (GWSE) nobody sees the mistakes,” he says. “I put them in the shredder, and the shredder gets used quite a bit. On the golf course there’s not a shredder. You become the shred-ee.”
When his passion for the game waned, he was more than ready. He already had so many more passions.
Most of the time that was formerly devoted to tournaments and training is now taken up by his diverse business pursuits, as well as his children, Morgan and Gregory, who work with him.
“As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to go to the driving range every day. I didn’t want to go away on weekends anymore,” Norman says. “Golf is a very selfish and demanding sport, whether it’s your private life or your public life. If you’re traveling as much as I traveled to maintain your success, your position of being No. 1 in the world, you pay the price.”
Not playing allows him to work on his many and varied projects “in a more refined fashion.”
It also allows him to pursue his pleasures around the world and at his homes in Florida and Colorado, where he is happiest.
There he is not a “living brand.” Norman can enjoy diving with his kids or taking friends out on his yacht, which he helped build. He can jump on his “motor-grader” at the Colorado ranch and grade the roads for hours.
Or he can “do nothing,” which is a relative term in Norman’s life. Mostly it means he can press the pause button on his brain for a bit.
Over the years he has grown to trust those who work for him and delegate more. He thinks long and hard of leaving a legacy now, but that is not to say he is running out of energy or interests.
Name a subject and he is open to educated discussion. Favorite designers? Giorgio Armani and Zegna.
Favorite restaurant (besides his)? Botin in Madrid, which dates back to 1725 and was frequented by Ernest Hemingway. Norman loves the cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig).
Favorite singers? A varied group that includes Keith Urban, Louis Armstrong, Madonna, Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett.
Favorite wine? It was his 1998 Reserve Shiraz, although the cork is always out on that one.
“My wife and I always have a Chardonnay at night,” Norman says. “But if I’m going to sit down and have a great red, I’ll have a heavy body kind, a deep Shiraz or a Cab Sav. Australia has the best red wines across the board. California, I think, has some excellent Chardonnays. Our (Australian) champagne is very underrated.”
Favorite golf courses? Royal Melbourne, St. Andrews, Augusta National, Harbor Town and Shinnecock.
And all of his, of course. The Shark is everywhere, and does not believe in signature holes.
“I want a person who plays my golf course to remember all 18 holes, not just one,” Norman says. “That’s a testament to a good design.”
Environment and sustainability are always critical parts of his design. He is on the board of trustees and heads the advisory council of the Environmental Institute for Golf.
Two other non-profits also are close to his heart.
The Greg Norman Foundation (gngf.org.au) began in 1988 in Australia and has helped players like Karrie Webb and Adam Scott give sports-mad Australians new national golfing heroes.
Norman also has been heavily involved with CureSearch for Children’s Cancer for more than 20 years. His annual Shark Shootout (now Franklin Templeton Shootout) has raised millions for cancer research at the Children’s Oncology Group.
The game plan for his life has always been remarkably diverse. Even Norman admits “there never is a final score, if you keep evolving.”
The evolution always includes time to enjoy all the fruits of his labor. He grew up in the Great Barrier Reef and his natural inclination is often to enjoy those fruits on an island.
Hawai’i provides plenty of options-”from six-star resorts to whatever your budget allows you to do”-for a man like Norman with a passion for present-day life and a sense of history and the world around him.
“From golfing in the desert to a tropical rain forest,” he says, “to kite boarding to wake boarding to surfing to fishing and sitting out on the beach. It is an active lifestyle here. You don’t want to forget the history of Pearl Harbor either, and what the U.S. military does for O’ahu and the state.”
Hawai’i reminds him of home, but he enjoys it here for its many other attributes as well.
“The culture is just such a laid-back culture,” Norman says. “Hawai’i is the antithesis of the mainland United States-right? And, you have such a diversity and cross-section of nationalities and different cultures and everybody just gets on fantastically well.
“I’m a big believer in island lifestyle. If a friend … if you put him on a place like the Bahamas or Hawai’i for a week and he’d say ‘I’d get island fever,’ I’d say ‘bad for you, man.’”
Norman organizes new PGA tour stop in HI.
Greg Norman will be in the field when the inaugural PGA Champions Tour Pacific Links Hawai’i Championship tees it up Sept. 14 through 16 at Kapolei Golf Course. The tournament consists of three rounds with no cut, preceded by a pro-am.
“Over the years, Hawai’i has served as a mid-point for my commutes between the United States and Australia,” says Norman, winner of two British Opens, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and now an ambassador for Pacific Links. “It is my pleasure to now have a direct involvement in the development of the Pacific Links Hawai’i Championship, which will afford me the opportunity to spend more time in Hawai’i on a consistent basis.”
Pacific Links Hawai’i also owns and operates Kapolei Golf Course and recently purchased Olomana Golf Links in Wind-ward O’ahu.
“Hosting this tournament at our scenic Kapolei course falls in line with the company’s goal to elevate the quality of golf in Hawai’i, while helping to build our Pacific Links Hawai’i brand by showcasing Kapolei, promoting golf tourism and strengthening the local economy,” says Micah Kane, Pacific Links’ chief operating officer.
Players finishing in the top 10 at the Pacific Links Hawai’i Championship also will earn valuable Charles Schwab Cup points. The Charles Schwab Cup is a season-long competition designed to recognize the Champions Tour’s leading player, rewarding week-in, week-out consistency in all official events.
The Pacific Links Hawai’i Championship will be televised nationally in the United States on Golf Channel, which reaches some 83 million homes in the United States. The tournament also will be broadcast in China.
Those interested in volunteering at the tournament can go to www.pacificlinksvolunteers.com or call 738-9200.