Norman Seeks Olympian Feat

By Randall MellDecember 10, 2010, 6:12 am
NAPLES, Fla. – Greg Norman’s competitive nature is flaring once more.

He’s burning to win something big again. You can sense it in his voice and in his eyes.

We’re not talking about this week’s Shark Shootout or any future golf tournament.

We’re talking about his teaming with Lorena Ochoa to win the bid to design the golf course that will be home to golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Norman knows he’s got some fierce competition with Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam also teaming to try to win the bid.

It’s a huge project, Norman will tell you, because of the monumental impact the Olympics could have on the future of the game and the business of the sport.

“I think there are seven others [making bids] at the moment,” Norman said. “There might be more potential designers putting their hats in the ring.”

Norman said he and Ochoa have submitted preliminary application letters. Though he’s not yet certain of the complete Olympic timetable, he said he expects the field of potential architects will be trimmed to three finalists by next summer. Those three finalists will then submit Olympic RFPs (Requests for Proposals). Norman believes the winning bid could be announced in less than a year. He suspects the intricate nature of the planning may require it.

“They’ve got to make a decision here no later than August of next year, I would think,” Norman said.

Norman’s passion for the project is palpable.

“Since [the Olympic golf announcement], the rest of the world has really kicked into gear, as far as I’m concerned,” Norman said. “Not only from a professional standpoint, but from the growth and development of the game of golf.”

Norman said he has 43 architectural projects in the works around the world, just two of them in the United States.

“That pretty much tells you the state of the game in America,” Norman said.

Norman estimates there are 25 million or so golfers in the United States.

“It’s been that number for decades and decades,” he said.

While Norman estimates there are only 3 million golfers in China, he’s impressed by the push to grow the game there. Norman said he was recently asked by the Chinese government to make a speech at a tourism and golf forum, where Chinese officials relayed their intense interest in the game.

“The minister before me said they want 30 million golfers in China in the next few years,” he said.

China isn’t alone in seeking a golf boom.

“The development of the game of golf in Malaysia and Indonesia and Vietnam and Cambodia is just starting to skyrocket,” Norman said. “And then you bring in India. So you’ve got pretty much 50 percent of the world’s population just starting to get into the game of golf. So when you start looking into the future, it’s extremely healthy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s American based, Australian based, or whoever the dominating player is.”

No site in Rio de Janeiro has yet been identified as the potential home for the Olympic golf course. Norman said he and Ochoa’s proposal was based on general philosophy.

“I’m excited about it,” Norman said. “I’ve got work in Brazil right now. Lorena is excited about it. Obviously, her Spanish heritage and her connections down there are important as well. She loves the idea of being involved.”

The nature of the design of the course is only part of the architectural bid, Norman believes.

“Whoever wins or gets the nod to build this golf course actually has to spend four or five years promoting the game of golf,” Norman said. “The decision to get [golf in the Olympics] in 2016 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be there in 2020. The success of the event is paramount.”

With Nicklaus and Sorenstam in the architectural mix, winning the right to build the course ought to come with a gold medal of its own. You know the competition will be fierce, the reward for winning immense. It’s why you sense the competitive nature in Norman when he speaks of golf in the Olympics.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell
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