Club Champion - Greg Norman Interview

With Leonard Finkel

Greg Norman

Recently, Club Champion had the opportunity to sit down with Greg Norman to discuss his life on and off the course. The Great White Shark, now 63, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke candidly about his biggest triumph on the course, lowest moment off it, some of his favorite courses, and more.

LEONARD FINKEL: You’ve experienced an awful lot in your lifetime. What would you say is the highlight of your golf career?

GREG NORMAN: I’d say the meteoric rise that I had from a 27-handicapper at the age of 16, to winning my first PGA professional event [1976 West Lakes Classic in Adelaide, Australia] at the age of 21.

FINKEL: After your PGA Tour career, you didn’t play a whole lot of senior golf. Why was that?

NORMAN: I was focused on where I wanted to take my business. I had no interest in going to tournaments, living in a hotel room, playing 18 holes of golf, and then coming back to the hotel. I had opportunities to do other things with my company and had visions of building up my company. 

FINKEL: Do you still enjoy going out and playing golf?

NORMAN: Absolutely. I went to Augusta National recently. I took a friend of mine and my son and we played with a dear member friend. I loved it. It was a beautiful day. It was a cool, crisp day. I hadn’t played Augusta in a long, long time, about 10 years. I also played a round with my son and Dustin Johnson the other day. So, yes, I get out there and play just for kicks and giggles.

FINKEL: Your record off the course might be just as stellar as your Hall-of-Fame career on it. What would you consider your greatest business triumph? 

NORMAN: Making the decision to go it alone, starting my own company, and founding the Great White Shark Enterprises, which is now the Greg Norman Company. I wasn’t educated in this world, but I built a business over a long period of time. I slowly piecemealed it together and created a very good foundation. It was vertically integrated through golf and now its foundation has allowed me to evolve into technology and data analytics, and a lot of other things I never thought I would actually be into.

FINKEL: What would you consider to be your greatest disappointment in business?

NORMAN: No question, the deal I did with MacGregor Golf [in 2006], where I was investing in the company. It wasn’t a powerhouse like a Callaway or Titleist, or a Ping, TaylorMade or Cobra. I thought we could take the MacGregor brand, which was an iconic sports brand, and do what I did a little bit with Cobra. It wasn’t anything to do with the brand or the product. It had to do with human resources. I just got tied up with the wrong person and some poor decisions were made. 

FINKEL: What would you consider one of the highlights after your playing days were over?

NORMAN: The Shark Experience. I recognized an opportunity 4½ years ago in the basement of a golf cart storage barn. You have a choice of whatever you want on TV—live-streaming sports, music, adult content, entertainment. Why can’t we do this [with TV screens] on a golf cart? We’ve given birth to the Shark Experience, which I believe is going to be a game changer for a golfer’s experience. I have some iconic partners with Club Car, Verizon, and GPSi. We’re all standing side by side with each other, to bring this connected software platform to golfers, to give you your game, your way. 

FINKEL: The Greg Norman Golf Course Design business has done 103 tracks worldwide. What are your personal favorites, both in terms of your own designs or other architects?

NORMAN: I like Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast from the old era. And, Shinnecock Hills [site of this year’s U.S. Open], for example, is the hardest, fairest golf course on the planet. You could go there any time of the year and host a PGA Tour event without touching a thing. It’s a classic design. 

I like Pete Dye in the modern era. I like what he did at Harbour Town. Just majestic design work, the layout the way it is, short and tight. It tests every aspect of your golf game. In Australia, there are the classic Mackenzie courses like Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath. St. Andrews in Scotland and courses like that are timeless designs. Unfortunately, technology today has forced some of these golf courses to change a little bit of their design characteristics. 

Of my courses, my all-time favorite, because I built it by hand, is Doonbeg in southwestern Ireland. I worked very closely with the environmentalists to protect the environment while making sure the developers’ wishes were understood and met. I’m no longer involved with it. Today, the Trump organization owns it. I also love a golf course in Australia called Cathedral Lodge, as well as a course in Livermore, California called The Course at Wente Vineyards. 

FINKEL: If you could share with our readers one golf tip, what would it be?

Norman: It’s a fairly simple one. Work with your club professional to get your game dialed in with the right equipment. At the end of the day, you see so many people out there just go buy a golf club or win a golf club in a raffle and they go play with it. Customizing your equipment to your likes or dislikes is so important. It makes the game a little easier to play. I’d say that the majority of people overlook this simple opportunity.