Greg Norman the man behind the Saudi backed golf revolution
By April Tod
Those who have been lucky to have watched this genius at play are more than aware that there’ll never be anyone quite like Greg Norman again. His blonder than blond hair, aggressive mode of play and unorthodox style is what landed him on many a tournament’s leaderboard. Ironically his interests in golf only began when he was 16 when working for the local pro shop in Brisbane where he would also caddy for his mother, a four handicapper. “My attitude was, if she can do it so could I”, explains Norman.
It wasn’t until he decided to take up golf seriously, mostly by teaching himself and watching top pros play that his hidden and extraordinary talents emerged even though there were times when he resorted to taking the occasional lesson – mostly paid for by his parents.
His famous trademark nickname ‘The great White Shark’ actually stems from his passions of all things to with the sea from fishing to scuba diving on the local beaches where he lived as a youngster. Now the name is often simply shortened to ‘The Shark’. “I’ve always liked my nickname and even named my clothing range after it”.
Much of his young life was spent in Townsville not far from idyllic beaches where water sports were plentiful and where his parents owned a small hut on the nearby Magentic Island about eight kilometers from the Great Barrier Reef. This was where he loved to be as a kid, and where he spent most of his free time fishing, snorkeling and diving – it was his utopia. “ I’d occasionally ride my horse bareback along the beach, skim board and sometimes fish in a small boat with an 18-horsepower motor on the back. I was very fortunate; I had a wonderful childhood.”
The family moved to Brisbane after his father changed jobs and where Norman found life in his new surroundings very different compared to the carefree existence of Townsville. “ To start with I lost all my mates but I still managed to do a bit of surfing on Sunshine Beach and Bryon Bay which cheered me up.”
Yet he still enjoyed regularly caddying for his mother which in the end was to change his passions from water sports to playing golf after the urge to take up golf more seriously to prove to his mother that he, too could achieve a low handicap.
To everyone’s amazement he took to golf like a duck takes to water and through his unprecedented talent on the golf course, took the uncustomary step of giving up all his favourite water sports as well as cricket, rugby and Aussi Rules football, sports he had passionately followed since childhood to concentrate on perfecting his game. For the next few years every spare moment was spent hitting endless balls in his pursuit for perfection.
Yet despite his newly found passion, his love for the ocean never waned even after qualifying for the PGA tour. “When I was 11 my dad built me a boat with wood framing and I thought the wood working process amazing. I had watched him working on the boat under our house and was fascinated by how much work was involved in shaping the hull, and the tools involved. This whole experience really stayed with me”.
Sailing was a passion that never left him and as soon as he could afford to, he bought his first boat he called Aussi Rules, a 27-foot fishing boat by Oceanfast. “My passion for deep-sea fishing and scuba diving were always the motivators, they also gave me the idea of building a 69-meter Aussie Rules at Ocean Fast yacht and combining it with all the things
I needed. This fascination is this is what led me to study boat building to have a better understanding of the industry”.
Known worldwide as an outstanding athlete and business man with international success both on the golf course and in the boardroom, Greg who first joined the PGA in 1983, always played his golf alongside his other passion, boat building.
“I loved understanding the engine room and working spaces, the generators, centrifuges and water makers, all that stuff. At one stage there was a question of where to put all this stuff and the boat just grew and grew, ending up a massive 230 meters”. To build something of this magnitude and sophistication in the late 90’s, he and his team had to be innovative in their mindset. Much to their surprise, that year the yacht Greg personally designed won the Showboats Yacht of the year award and was described as being 10 years ahead of its time.
Something Greg readily admits is that he never got to enjoy his first boat as much as he wanted, he was still a full-time competitor on the pro tour and free time very precious. “If I had the yacht now you would never see me working. I regretted the day I sold her!
Talking about his enormous business empire he built from scratch, he says, “my businesses are global, so it’s not a one-size that fits all answers. I think the world is a confused place right now. From a geopolitical standpoint, there’s so much white noise and media bias. I have this saying: ‘The Voice of the Critic is far louder than the voice of the Advocate’. Nowadays one person challenging and complaining about a company can change everything. You have to be extremely sensitive to those situations and demands from customers.’
‘All of that being said, I love where we are at, and I think we’ve done a very good job of managing the whole process with my consumer products during the pandemic. We are in a strong position. Now we are expanding further into health and wellness space and looking at new opportunities – you have to be a forward thinker – I never look to the past always to the future.