A Quick Round with Greg Norman
GREAT EXUMA ISLAND, Bahamas – With more than two dozen design projects currently ongoing around the world, Greg Norman has his finger on the pulse of the global golf design business – and lack thereof in the U.S.
We caught up with him in Great Exuma Island at his revamped Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club, which is finishing up renovations after being acquired by Sandals Resorts in 2010.
With a sling around his left arm from shoulder surgery, the Shark shared his thoughts on why he's not buying a quick U.S. bounce-back, but is all-in with emerging markets. He also makes a pitch to build Brazil's Olympic golf course, and explains why he believes in lifting equipment restrictions for amateur golfers.
It’s all Shark, no bull.
Your Emerald Reef design is now a Sandals Resorts property. How have you found Sandals' commitment to the former Four Seasons resort and your golf design?
We came here 14-15 years ago and there was nothing here [on Great Exuma Island]. And we knew then the owner was going to be a little ahead of his time, because they didn't have the airlift.
But we knew this whole bay area would just take off because of the beauty of the land meeting the sea. As soon as I heard Sandals was looking at the property, I knew this should have always been a Sandals Resort. It was the perfect facility for them, with the sprinkling of a Four Seasons.
That having been said, the golf course needed a lot of TLC. As a designer and builder, we get down and out when we see a course of this quality get buried into the back piles of accountancy.
You've been coming to this part of the Caribbean long before you built the golf course. What do you do down around the Bahamas for a good time?
In 1983 I started coming down here for fishing and diving. My preference here is scuba diving. Whether you're a recreational scuba diver down to 60 feet, or if you're a little extreme and ballsy like I am there are some phenomenal dives. The diversity for scuba diving, fishing and the clarity of water is comparable to the Great Barrier Reef [off the coast of Australia].
Your team, with Lorena Ochoa, is a finalist to build Brazil's golf course for the 2016 Olympics. What do you think it will take to get the job?
Lorena and I put our hat in the ring. Whoever gets the job is not going to make any money out of it, I can tell you that. There is a responsibility on whoever gets the golf course design job, they have to be the spokesperson for golf in the Olympics, because golf is only in for 2016. It hasn't been voted in for 2020.
So whoever gets the job has to be beating the drum for the game of golf for the IOC for four years after that. They have to be a staunch proponent of the game of golf.
The IOC has a tough decision to make. It has to be a course built for the general public at the end of the day. It can't be a private golf club.
In October you announced a design partnership with Ochoa. How will you two work together?
I approached her about the Olympics. I've always been big fan of her demeanor on the golf course and how she's a people person, and I knew she was getting into the design business.
At 36-hole projects, on occasion we get asked to bring in somebody else. At Mayakoba [which just announced another 18 holes designed by Norman and Ochoa] we said 'Do you really need another Greg Norman golf course? How about a Norman and Lorena Ochoa?' And that was such an easy sell. It's a great marketing tool for them.
She's really in her infancy about the design business and she wants to be a sponge. So it's a symbiotic relationship in a lot of ways. If we see an opportunity for Lorena, even if it's not even involved with me, I'll say 'How about Lorena?'
Asia, and specifically China, continues to be a place of massive optimism for golf. How is the game's future shaping up out there?
The central government and head of tourism would like to see the game explode where they have more golfers playing than in the United States in the next 20 years. Will they get there? Who knows.
Everyone's talking about how there are three million golfers in China, but only 380,000 play golf 10 or more times a year. Only 50 courses in China are under construction right now, which is not a lot to say the least.
If they meet the growth they want, 25 million golfers, they have to build 3-to-5,000 golf courses. They're really going to be looking at sustainability where its handed down to the next generation where it's not in the problem America is in right now.
It sounds like they don't want to experience the boom and bust of the United States golf course industry.
I really focus on the word 'sustainability.' I blame our industry in a lot of ways for putting America in the position it’s in today.
America is in the hole they are now because they built 350-400 courses a year in the 1980s and 90s with unlimited budgets. People were building $25 million courses when they should have been $12 million. Here we are today, people can't afford to be members of those clubs.
So how do you fix it? You really can't. You have people with $50 million invested in a property and sell off for $5 million. So the next people coming in will do very well out of it because they don't have that debt over their head. But people get hurt along the way.
So take that model and plug it into China and make it sustainable golf. And in 25 years, China will be the dominant golfing nation in the world.
Where else do you see opportunity and excitement about golf?
There is a boom in South Korea because of Y.E. Yang and all the girls [on the LPGA]. A lot of Chinese money is in Vietnam and it's a great destination.
We have four projects in Vietnam. As small a country as it is, they've come out and said they'll allow 83 courses to be built in the next 100 years.
The next most densely populated area after Asia is South America. Twenty-sixteen is a big catalyst to stimulating the game of golf. We're seeing it from Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Columbia. Everywhere you look, people want to build golf courses.
How do you convince local authorities that the golf courses you are building are environmentally sound?
A great site we worked on was Doonbeg in Ireland. That site was the most sensitive I've ever worked on in my entire life. We encouraged the environmentalists to walk with us. Every step I took I had an environmentalist standing beside me. Every decision I made or Jason [McCoy, senior vice president of Norman Golf Design] made, we asked her.
And at the end of the day, we built a fantastic golf course, probably one of the best. And the environmentalists say, ‘Thumbs up to golf course designers.’
We work with them. You can get the job done if you don't fight the system.
What did you think of the player feedback from the first Valero Texas Open held at the TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks course (which Norman designed with Sergio Garcia), and how closely do you monitor tour player comments on your golf courses?
Depends on the player! (Laughs) Quite honestly the feedback we got was across the board almost 100% positive. The [negative] feedback was more the setup, not the course.
In defense of the PGA Tour, it was a new golf course for them as well. They had to understand the weather conditions and the way we designed the golf course. It was wet when it should be running.
Sunday, they set it up great. Thursday and Friday we heard some grumbling about the way they set up a few of the holes which we would never have designed it the way they set it up.
But we'll take the input of others and analyze it. I'm not afraid of making a slight change if it's a positive change.
Would you like to see any equipment changes made to help the game?
The game needs to loosen up. I say, let’s lift the veil for the masses. Why give you the restrictions on equipment? If you can hit it 340 yards, go for it. You're still going to shoot 90! (Laughs)
Where are you off to next?
I'm headed to the Sony Ericsson Open [in Miami] to watch some tennis. I'll be headed back to Great Exuma Island in April and again in June.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.
Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?
Memo to the golf gods:
If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?
Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?
It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.
With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.
It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.
We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.
We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.
Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.
Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line. Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.
We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors.
In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.
While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.
Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.
Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.
Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.
While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.
Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.
So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?
McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever
With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.
The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.
Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.
"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."
McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.
But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.
"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."
What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire
Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft
Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft
Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft
Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x