Making of a Mogul: Greg Norman

Before the QBE Shootout returns to the Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Resort, Naples, Dec. 11-15, we spent a day with golf legend, powerhouse CEO and tournament founder Greg Norman.

BY December 1, 2019
Greg Norman
Perhaps better than any other athlete, golf's most recognizable personality turned his sports career into a multi-faceted empire. Here, Greg Norman wears a shirt, leather jacket and boots by Brunello Cucinelli. Pants by Eleventy, from Marissa Collections. (Photo by Omar Cruz)

“Hand me my driver,” Greg Norman asks, reaching for the golf club and leaning on it like a king with a scepter. The 6-foot-tall athlete is perched on a high, octagonal table,  with his legs dangling inches above the floor.

It’s 11:15 a.m. on a Friday, and his lips are curled into that slightly crooked, easy smile he used to flash during his days on the golf course. The collar of his black blazer is popped up slightly, and a watch—one from his collection of more than 80—is displayed on his right wrist. Years ago, when he was still playing professionally, Norman started wearing his watches on his gloved hand, his non-dominant hand, to avoid the glare of the setting sun. The habit stuck.

On this particular morning, he’s taking direction from the photographer on how to position his face, how to place his legs, as he poses for the magazine’s cover shoot. But it’s clear the 64-year-old knows exactly which angles show off his best side.

During his 40-year career as a pro golfer, Norman scored 90 tournament wins, including two British Open Championships; ranked No. 1 in the world for 331 weeks in the 1980s and 1990s (the second-longest record in history); and became the first player to pass the $10 million mark in career earnings. These days, the Australian’s golfing days are long behind him. Maybe he’ll make it to the greens a few times a year, but now, he prefers designing them, along with focusing on many other business ventures that keep him and his $300 million brand busier than ever.

Look around South Florida and you’ll find the World Golf Hall of Famer’s shark logo as commonplace as palm trees. The skinny emblem is stamped on hats and polo shirts baby boomers sport on the 70-plus courses in and around Southwest Florida, as well as on retail shops in the area. It’s also on the private residential golf community Medalist Village, which he founded in Hobe Sound 25 years ago when he first delved into real estate. The par-3 golf course ranks among the best in Florida, drawing players like Tiger Woods and former world No. 1 Justin Thomas.

That’s just one speck of sand in his ocean of design, which includes over 100 courses in 34 countries across six continents. The self-made businessman has amassed quite a portfolio in the 30 years since he launched the Greg Norman Company, where he’s CEO and chairman of a dozen Greg Norman-branded ventures.

“In sports, you have a life expectancy,” says Norman who played his last tournament in 2008 and seamlessly transitioned from athlete to entrepreneur. “Everything I did in the beginning was vertically integrated with golf. You have to be willing to recognize that there’s an opportunity, and you want to chase it.”

It all started during the 1981 Masters, when his aggressive playing style was publicized on the front page of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The headline read “Great White Shark Leads The Masters.” The nickname was ownable, brandable. Soon, he was among the first athletes to move away from an established sports brand and create his own. In 1992, when Paul Fireman, the CEO of Reebok at the time, wanted Norman to launch a line of golf clothing, the logo—and the Greg Norman brand—were birthed.

Now, even with his business ventures, he’s still able to balance the typical routines of retired life. Norman spends the majority of his time on Jupiter Island, where he owns a $65 million, 8-acre, 10-bedroom estate he’s rebuilding from the ground up. In summer, he heads to his Meeker Valley, Colorado property,  Seven Lakes Ranch, which “captures everything I like to do: horseback riding, fly fishing, long-range shooting, hiking.”

One of his less-publicized hobbies involves private planes. Not flying them but buying and flipping them. For the past 40 years, he’s owned seven Gulfstreams. The most recent is a G550 model, which he spent nine months redesigning with his wife, Kirsten, or “Kiki.” Just like the rest of his empire, the plane sports the Great White Shark’s logo.

The community in Southwest Florida, however, is more familiar with Greg Norman, the philanthropist. Every December, Norman brings together 24 of the world’s greatest and most promising golfers at the annual PGA Tour-sanctioned QBE Shootout in Naples. This year’s event, Dec. 11-15, will feature Lexi Thompson, the highest-ranked American player on the LPGA, and 2019 NCAA champion Matthew Wolff. The Shootout debuted in California 31 years ago, but since 2001, it’s taken place on The Gold course—one of the two, 18-hole courses Norman designed at Tiburón Golf Club. In all its years, the tournament has raised more than $13 million for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, an organization that aims to end childhood cancer and make treatment available to children diagnosed with cancer. “I’ve been to hospitals and seen kids who live in tents in their rooms, and they can’t come out of that,” he says.

Greg Norman photoshoot
These days, Norman is more likely to spend time designing courses—like the two he did for the Tiburón Golf Club—than playing them. In this photo, he wears a turtleneck and blazer from Ralph Lauren at Waterside Shops. Norman wears a suit jacket, trousers and pocket square by Eleventy, and a T-shirt and desert boots by Brunello Cucinelli. Pieces from Marissa Collections.

One time, Norman had a special suit created for a kid in Houston who had an allergy to the sun, so the boy could watch the legend tee off. “It hits you pretty hard to see there are kids out there who can never leave a hospital room—but they love golf.”

During his days on the greens, Norman built up a reputation as a risk-taker. He never took the safe shot. He’s hit high hooks over 200 yards of water, and pulled off winning shots like the ones he took in the record-setting 16th Saturday at The Players Championship in 1994. But he’s more conservative in business, he says. “In golf, you’re executing one shot; in business, you’re executing a plan that’s going to last for 15, 20, 100 years.”

One conversation barely scrat-ches the surface on how much Nor-man has achieved in his 12-year “retirement.” Many former athletes struggle in their search to find their purpose and identity beyond the game, but Norman dove right into the “where am I going next” phase. He exercises five to six days in his at-home gym and plays cardio tennis a few days per week (“My heart rate spikes, it keeps me alive,” he says). He travels nearly 400,000 miles a year, but mostly for business.

He turns 65 in February, and he feels good about where he is in life, with his health and his work. He doesn’t rattle off yoga mantras when he talks about balance. He’s much more rational. “One word—compartmentalize. It’s simple: focus on what you have to do, whether it’s good or bad, find a solution to a problem and move forward,” he says plainly. “That’s my whole motto, really.”

The photo shoot wraps just after 1 p.m., and Norman’s team says they’ve got to get going. He nods, but doesn’t seem the least bit stressed. This is a guy who has clearly mastered time management. He’s used to juggling multiple projects, multiple companies, and now, he can’t be late to his own party. It’s the 20th anniversary of Greg Norman Australian Grille in North Myrtle Beach, and his private jet is waiting for him.

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