How Golf Legend Greg Norman Built A Mega Brand
Like everyone else in the world, golfing legend Greg Norman was forced off the golf course for much of the spring, as a result of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. But in typical Greg Norman fashion, the longtime pro, who spent 331 weeks as the world No. 1 golfer, has been plenty busy.
For starters, Norman has been active on his Instagram account, connecting with fans and fellow golf enthusiasts about swing techniques and the deep-cut points about clubs, grips, shafts and what exact drivers, irons and wedges he used while winning on the PGA Tour. He’s also spent time at his South Florida home, he says, doing relatively mundane activities he loves like planting grass and trees.
“I’m typically up anywhere between 4:30 A.M. or at the latest sometime before 5:50,” said the early riser. “The other morning I had some work to do before sunlight, and I like to make sure I get the most out of every day.”
I first got to meet Norman back in January of this year in the Bahamas, during the Korn Ferry Tour’s Great Exuma Classic, which took place at Norman’s own course at Sandals Emerald Bay. Over that weekend I was also fortunate to get to interview Norman, who talked about designing golf courses, his style of play and his favorite golfers.
We spoke again last month, by phone to talk more about golf.
Andy Frye: You've recently showed off your home golf room on your Instagram. What’s it been like to connect with other golf lovers?
Greg Norman: Yeah, I think with everybody locked in with stay-at-home, people are trying to keep their brains active. Because of my history with golf I thought it would be fun to do two segments on golf clubs. I think people are fascinated by the history of equipment. Most people go into store and order their golf clubs, and often don’t hear much about the make-up or DNA of what a good golf club really is.
I was surprised by how well it was received. Talking about golf clubs and the aspects of them brings back old memories about playing. If, for example, I was going to Australia to play, I’d get my sand wedge a little different than I’d have it for play in America, say, in the northeast, because of the different grasses or firmness of the ground. All that stuff came back flooding back to me, which is pretty impressive.
AF: There’s been light-speed change in golf technology of over the last few years. What do you make of that?
Norman: I’ve always held that if you take the best golfers of every generation—each of the best players of every 15 or 20 years—and played them together, that the best will be the best in any era, no matter what clubs or equipment you gave them. I still believe that, and I think most golfers look to the best of each era.
I know X100 shafts and steel shafts have been around for a while, but when you go to the generation before that played with hickory shafted clubs, I marvel at those guys at the equipment they used. Sure, their scoring was a lot higher than ours was, but it shows the talent and the hand-eye coordination of the great players.
AF: Earlier this spring I got to talk with Justin Rose. He mentioned your style and achievements, but he also something else people know about you—that you know how to live well.
Norman: The simplest thing of it is, I like to squeeze everything I can out of my day. It’s no different with what I’m doing with my landscaping. I’ve just put in new irrigation lines and heads to get maximum coverage on the grass I just laid down last night. That’s the kind of thing I just enjoy doing. As for my lifestyle, I squeeze everything I can out of my day that I can, even though I’m not on full-on mode like in my 30s and 40s—when you feel like you’re bulletproof.
AF: When you were on the PGA Tour were you able stop and smell the roses? Or does that level of play keep you focused entirely on the game?
Norman: Quite honestly, I never got to experience some of the great cities, museums and stuff like that, because you went from the hotel to the golf course and back to the hotel. Tuesday to Sunday off the course became a monotonous routine, because the more successful you are the more focused you had to be. If you missed the cut, you got on a plane and went home. And if you're a good player, you play well and stay playing into the weekend, and sometimes you’re just dying to get home. You’re there to do a job, which is to win the tournament.
So, I never got to experience the magnificence of different cities and what they had to offer until much later.
AF: Both amateurs and pros are inspired by golfers they watch. Who inspired you when you were learning to play?
Norman: Definitely Jack Nicklaus. I read his books and that’s how I learned to play. I had a 27 handicap and I was doing junior clinics with 10 other kids on a Saturday morning. So I read Golf My Way and My 55 Ways to Lower Your Golf Score and that’s how I studied to get better. I went from that 27 handicap to a scratch golfer in 18 months, and started to win. And in less than five years, I won my first professional tournament—five years from the first time I picked up a golf club.
Going back to Justin Rose, one time we were both in Houston, and I saw him at the driving range. We talked about equipment and I pulled out my Sharpie and drew on the face of his golf club, a sand wedge. I told him what my sand wedge did and how I’d grind it down. We talked about different courses and how to play differently in Scotland, Australia and California, and he was fascinated by that very brief conversation about equipment and about a flange on a golf club. Golfers love to talk equipment.
AF: Just a hunch, but it seems like you enjoy business as much as golf. When you started, did you have visions of a mega brand or did it all grow organically?
I realized early on I was a pass-through entity, signing five-year deals. With that, you’re just a revolving door of endorsements and there’s no equity built into it. I was lucky in that I did (and do have) a good logo that is recognizable. So I started focusing on being golf-centric in the things I wanted to do when not playing.
I started with designing golf courses, and then other opportunities opened up in real estate and in branding. Then I started branching out, and focused on what I was passionate about, what I was a believer in, what I could authenticate and get behind.
I also think about what my friend the late Jack Welch said. He said that formal studies and university are good, but that it’s really the “street smarts” you gain by living real life that serve you best in business.