A Shark-Infested Golf World
SCOREGolf's Rick Young interviewed Greg at the recent opening of his 101st golf course and wrote this insightful article about his business acumen, golf course design prowess, upcoming Shark Tank and exciting plans to disrupt the golf industry in 2017.
Greg Norman plans to summon media to his Florida office next year. According to The Greg Norman Company’s chief executive officer, the timing will coincide with the middle of his business’ 2017 second quarter.
Having followed the two-time British Open champion’s corporate career closely — even closer than when he was dominating the game as the world’s No. 1 player for 331 weeks — this is a first. Never to my knowledge has the Shark put out a request for a media summit.
What’s his angle? A tasting of the Greg Norman Estates award-winning Shiraz or to sample the company’s premium Australian Wagyu beef makes some sense, right? Maybe a fashion critique of the fall 2017 Greg Norman Collection? No, the agenda is bigger than Norman branded commodities — much bigger.
By his own admission the Shark is planning to rock golf’s paradigm. He will do so, he says, in partnership with Verizon, the communications giant with whom he recently signed an eight-year deal. Verizon, incidentally, has never been associated with the golf industry on any level. That is until its hook up with Norman through 2024.
All of this and more came to light at the launch of his newest design, the Greg Norman Signature Course at Vidanta Neuvo Vallarta, Mexico last month. Norman hosted a fireside chat for eight media members, speaking at length on all Shark-related matters both on and off the golf course. The most fascinating aspect of this one-hour media session, however, was the end. Why the end? Norman turned the tables on our small group gathering. He became the interviewer.
“Let me ask you guys a question, you all have your fingers on the pulse of this: Where do you guys see the USGA, the PGA Tour, the R&A going? Where do you see corporate dollars moving, networks, sponsorship. Where is this game heading?” Norman asked.
Insert lively banter here. A variety of opinions came out, some notable, others poignant. Touched on was the obvious: time to play, the rules, cost, difficulty and the often boring nature of tour golf on television.
Next question to us: “Is golf out of sync because the USGA, PGA Tour, PGA of America, R&A and the other institutions are out of sync? Do you think they have their constituent’s best interests at heart when they do what they do?” the Shark inquired.
More debate, more conversation. None of us was completely sure where this was going. That is until Norman put forward this teaser, and with it, a request to pick up this conversation again in West Palm Beach, Fla., in a few months.
“In the middle second quarter of next year, I’ll invite you guys down to my office,” he said. “We will tell you exactly how we’re going to break this cast iron that’s been wrapped around golf for so long. We’re going to shatter it. The institutions (USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA Tour) will eventually buy into it because they will have to buy into it. They won’t have a choice.”
Norman’s detractors? They will call this Shark rhetoric. Not the first time, not the last. Me? I’ll be circling my calendar. See, this is Greg Norman. He looks at the business world through a unique set of eyes. He is a corporate visionary, in my opinion, the most successful athlete turned businessman of this or any generation. His multi-national private company’s portfolio of consumer products and services stands on its own merit. Quality is the founder’s hallmark, his one and only standard of brand measurement.
That hasn’t changed since he signed off on a recent re-brand either. Great White Shark Enterprises is no more. That company was aligned 30 years ago by the founder with sports marketing and management. Consumer products and services were not ‘front and centre.’
But things change, aspirations transition, time moves forward. Two years ago at the PGA Merchandise Show, Norman explained for me two business plans he was working on: one for 12 years, the other for 200 years. That 200 by the way is not a misprint. He reaffirmed his intentions last month in Mexico as part of the re-brand to what is now, The Greg Norman Company. That includes a freshened version of his infamous Shark logo. It will roll out across all divisions early next year.
“If I died tomorrow what would happen to a lot of my businesses. Eventually they would die off,” he explained. “I never want that to happen because I want my brand to go on to perpetuity. So I started to think about a game plan about three years ago, in 2013, revolving around a 12-year game plan AND a 200-year game plan. You have to build a company for today but also for the future. Re-branding and repositioning is a big part of that.”
Norman did not engage in this significant exercise without assistance. Richard Kirshenbaum’s New York City creative agency, NSG/SWAT was retained to analyse the business then lead its creative development and brand architecture. That objectivity was critical for the CEO. Despite the massive undertaking Norman could not be more pleased with the results.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life and that includes when I played in the prime of my career,” he explained, “because I’ve never felt so good about where my company is today and where it could go in the future. We have 14 divisions right now. By the end of next year I’m going to scale that down to five or six and I’ll know exactly where those five or six are going to go.”
Even though Norman has made provisions and plans to take a step back from The Greg Norman Company his world remains an ambitious one. At 61 he still attacks business the same way he does life. His signature course at Vidanta Neuvo Vallarta is the 101st of his design career. Currently his company have 18 courses under construction worldwide with a total of 45 under contract. The course at Vidanta, on a non-descript parcel of floodplain, is masterfully crafted. It makes tremendous use of the Sierra Madre Mountains for visuals, features generous fairways, a beautiful balance of strategic bunkering and greenside collection areas and creative playability angles. It is fun stem to stern.
Something head scratching? Norman gets little to no credit for his course design abilities. Rare, if ever, is his name mentioned with modern architects like Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, or Tom Doak. Design based on a least disturbance approach? Norman was engaged in this philosophy long before it became en vogue.
“I think I got slammed in the early part of my career for designing golf courses that were too hard,” he said. “But in my own defense, that was quite often the owner or developer that wanted that type of golf course. On at least a half-dozen occasions I’ve gone up to owners or developers, walked off the site and told them, ‘You build the golf course.’ Nobody every writes that of course. They just say Greg Norman builds too hard of golf courses.”
Deep down it bothers him. He tries not to show it but it has to. The man has eclipsed the century mark in courses. He has to be doing something right. He has to be delivering what’s expected by the client. Continuing to speak on design, some of the pride that has come to personify the Shark bubbled to the surface.
“Opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one. And I respect people’s opinions if they respect mine. What I despise are people, bloggers especially, who write articles about me who don’t even know me, never picked up a phone or even asked me a single question about my design philosophy. That blows me away,” he added.
Norman has precious little time for haters anyway. He continues to create opportunities, seeks ways to challenge himself and his business acumen with fresh ideas and innovations. Defying convention is something he seems to crave. Consider this week alone. Coinciding with his host duties at the Franklin Templeton Shootout, Norman announced the first-ever ‘Greg Norman’s Shark Tank.’ Not exactly a new idea but certainly a unique take.
This version of the Shark Tank will be conducted in partnership with the University of Miami (UM). It seeks the next great sports entrepreneur, idea, start-up or expansion-seeking business with Norman financially backing the winning venture. Four finalists will be selected and get a chance to pitch Norman and his panel at the UM Sports Industry Conference on March 24, 2017.
“I receive business plans, emails and letters from entrepreneurs looking for me to invest every day,” he said. “When presented with an opportunity to do this formally and with some structure, with the help of UM, it was a no-brainer.”
Norman sounds energized by the recent U.S. election results. While he admits to not being a fan of how the candidates conducted themselves the past 12 months the Australia native and Florida-based resident thinks the incoming president-elect will be good for America.
“The country is going to start turning around,” he said. “I think this election is positive for small business. When all the dust settles and the people give Donald Trump a chance I think you’ll see the money will start flowing again in the U.S. And when the river starts flowing disposable income will be there and sports, particularly golf, will be one of the benefactors.”
Before he had to hustle off for a meet and greet with Vidanta members and guests, Norman left us dangling again, circling back to those prospects already mentioned for next year.
“I can tell you this: by the third quarter of next year we’re going to market with a new product. You guys are going to say ‘Wow, nobody has ever thought about this,’” said Norman with a grin. “The partnership with Verizon goes beyond golf. They have never been involved with the game before and now they’re my partner going forward for the next eight years. It’s related to golf to some degree but totally related to some other places. These are the opportunities I have always seen within the company but I never had the right personnel or opportunity to do it.”
Apparently, Greg Norman does now.
Rick Young‘s article for SCOREGolf precipitated additional coverage around the globe.