Special Features

Greg Norman Means Business

Photo: R.J. Muna

Greg Norman's vineyard in Napa is like his other business ventures: high-growth

Just try shooting Greg Norman's horse out from under him these days. What have you got? A 140-foot chip shot that dives into the cup like a mole into a hole? That one hurt most. Norman sat on the beach at 3 a.m. and cried after the Larry Mize miracle at the 1987 Masters. He'd laughed off Bob Tway's bunker shot at the '86 PGA, but this was too much, too soon — two straight majors, two stakes through the heart.

Have you got any of those? Doesn't matter. Norman hardly plays golf anymore, not for the wounds to his psyche, but because his body said it was time. He had a shoulder reconstructed in 1998, a hip in 2000, and last March submitted his back to Pittsburgh Steelers neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon for a laminectomy.

The golf gods can't touch Norman anymore, nor can anyone else. After Hurricane Wilma last fall, Norman, 50, cranked up the chainsaw, cleared his Hobe Sound, Fla., manse and played through. His production company went ahead with the Franklin Templeton Shootout, an unofficial Tour event, in November. His courses — he's designed more than 50 and his fee is an estimated $1.25 million — were unscathed except for one in Cancun. The Norman clothing collection under Reebok has enjoyed 11 straight quarters of double-digit growth, and his wines got a recent buzz from Wine Spectator, which anointed his 1999 Shiraz Reserve one of the top 10 of 2004, sending the grape-ful golfer to New York for the awards banquet.

"There he is sitting at this table at the Marriott Marquis, with 1,500 people in the room," says Bart Collins, who oversees Norman's businesses. "And they're going through the top 10 wines, and for the other nine people, it was like their British Open, the culmination of their careers, and for Greg it's kind of a hobby."

If you are a golfer or even a linebacker, odds are you've been touched by the Norman brand. His GN1 turfgrass has appeared in two Super Bowls, a World Series and the Sydney Olympics. He's got a stake in GPS Industries of Vancouver, which may someday allow parents to track their kids at Disney World in addition to telling golfers how many yards they've got left to the flag.

"With WiFi and GPS now you can have the player's unit hooked up with the fan's unit, so the fan can say, 'Well, he's got this much left to the green, and this type of shot,'" Norman says. "It's great technology. NASCAR does it, sort of."

You just can't stop this one-man multinational. Medallist Development, which Norman has run since 1997 with Macquarie Bank in Australia, has five master-planned communities completed and 10,600 residential units under construction. In total, Great White Shark Enterprises grossed more than $300 million in 2005.

Not long ago Norman was just another millionaire jock. When the FTC upheld Tour bylaws that limit player participation in non-PGA events, allowing commissioner Tim Finchem to squash Norman's world tour idea in 1996, it was Norman's hazing into the business world.

But who's laughing now? As Finchem tries to get his house in order, courting the networks for the Tour's next TV deal, Norman's busy not providing for his kids.

"I'm providing for my kids' kids' kids," he says with a wink. Norman's said for a while now the Tour would have trouble sustaining its astronomical growth, and he gives the impression that he would like nothing more than to see Finchem fall flat on his face. Collins describes their relationship as "measured."

In fact, Norman and Finchem need each other. Norman hopes his new Lansdowne course near Washington, D.C., someday will replace the TPC at Avenel as host of the Booz Allen Classic, and that's just the beginning. The Norman-Finchem connection extends to the Shark's unofficial Tour event (the Shootout); the Norman-designed TPC at Sugarloaf, home of the BellSouth Classic; and a piece of land in San Antonio which Norman won the right to turn into another TPC course that's expected to become the new home of either the PGA Tour's Texas Open or the Champions Tour's SBC Championship.

Norman also has been mentioned as a possible captain of the International team at the 2007 Presidents Cup, an event owned by the Tour, but says he hasn't been contacted about the job and wonders why he wasn't invited to attend the 2005 Cup.

"The PGA Tour plays things very close to the vest," Norman said recently. "You really don't know until Finchem says something, and [even then] he really doesn't tell you anyway."

Norman is a decade removed from his prime, but looks as he did when he ruled the World Ranking for 331 weeks: fit, crisply dressed, with the same blindingly blonde hair tousled atop the same copper brow.

"Norman was probably the most photogenic guy we ever had on camera," says Frank Chirkinian, a former CBS golf producer.

A natural introvert, Norman seemed uncomfortable around the swishy country club set that permeated his profession. He flew solo — in his own chopper. With few exceptions, his peers rolled their eyes and steered clear of the enigmatic superstar, as he did of them.

"I played on Tour with him for six years and didn't have one conversation with the guy," says Tour journeyman and TV announcer John Maginnes.

In any case, Norman refused to tone down his glitzy lifestyle or temper his bombast. Caddie Bambi Levin recalls Norman annihilating his drive down the 13th fairway at the 1991 Masters, then wheeling around and boasting, "If that's not the best drive you ever saw, Bambi, I'll eat the cover off that golf ball."

"It was a great drive but I was caddying for Brian Tennyson, not him," Levin says. "He connected better with people outside golf. I was in Perth when he was having his boat built and Greg went down there with a keg of beer to give to the workers."

Norman's bravado was not only good cover — it was good business. His "Attack Life" credo appealed to alpha males, wannabe alpha males and sofa spuds who attacked mostly hoagies. He broke away from IMG in '93, creating Great White Shark Enterprises; hired Collins away from the Cleveland-based agency two years later; and sold his lifestyle one piece of clothing, bottle of wine and golf-course villa at a time.

"He can assimilate information very quickly," Collins says. "He can walk out of one room where you're on subject A, into another where you're on B, and then play golf 20 minutes later and have no residual hangover from the other meetings."

Norman's also an astute judge of people. Still, he was surprised at the outpouring of support for him after he blew a six-stroke lead to Nick Faldo in the '96 Masters. "At the end," says Chirkinian, "it looked like a car wreck with the left-front wheel just spinning to a close. It was awful to watch."

Faldo embraced the fallen star on the 18th green, a snapshot that summed up a bitter irony — Norman's greatest failure had finally won over the competition. Still, his body had begun to fail him long before the back nine at Augusta, and the office had more appeal than ever.

Norman typically rises at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the day ahead and begins answering e-mail from his home office by 7:15. He's in the office by 8, leaves after lunch to work out and hit balls (when his back allows) and does some telephone work from home in the evenings. He's away on business roughly 40 weeks of the year, as he has been since he turned pro.

His biographer Lauren St. John and others have suggested his drive for business success and everything else he's ever done has been to please his stern father Merv, who didn't hide his disgust when at 17 Greg ditched his plan to fly for the Royal Australian Air Force and set out to become a pro golfer.

Merv was never the hugging type to begin with, but his son's career choice left him cold, and the two were estranged for almost two decades. The relationship began to thaw in 1991, and, although Merv seemed relatively unmoved by Norman's on-course heroics, he told Sports Illustrated in 1996, "He's a very good businessman."

Norman remains a very good golfer, too, still capable of reverting to his vintage, mid-80s form. He and Steve Elkington were threatening to finish last at the Shootout in November when Elkington tweaked his partner's swing late Saturday. Revitalized, Norman got his swagger back in the final round, hitting towering drives and laser-like iron shots, the best of which was a 4-iron to within inches of the cup for an eagle on the 17th hole. The duo shot a 55, low even for the birdie-fest scramble format, climbing from 11th to fourth place.

"I'll probably play in one senior tour event in 2006, the Outback Steakhouse event, because of my friendship with [Outback founder and CEO] Chris Sullivan," Norman says. "Then I won't play a senior event until the Senior PGA Championship and the senior majors — and some regular Tour events. I'll go back to my favorite stomping grounds like Harbour Town, and I'll play the British Open."

The British, in which Norman has made 20 straight cuts, a record among active players, is where he made his return last summer with a tie for 60th. He went on to notch top-five finishes at the Senior British Open and the U.S. Senior Open before missing the cut at the International, which he played as a favor to friend Jack Vickers, the Denver oil-and-gas magnate. (He WD'd from the PGA Championship with a sore back.)

But it's business, the tie that binds, that will be Norman's legacy and blot out the freak shots and strategic miscalculations. (By the way, where is Larry Mize now, anyway?) The 88 worldwide victories and two British Opens were means to an end and Mize and Tway can't do a thing about it. Nothing can stop Norman now, and if that isn't the God's honest truth he'll eat the cover off that golf ball.

The Secret of My Success
Hard work and vision are keys to Norman's conquest of the business world.

1. "Trust your instincts. Trust your gut. But do your due diligence."

2. "Understanding your enemy is the greatest secret in life. If they work for eight hours a day, I'm going to work for 10. If they're hitting the ball 300 yards, I'll hit it 305."

3. "My interests are directed toward putting money back into the companies and seeing them grow."

4. "Our success is a result of knowing how to market a brand and having the right people represent that brand."

5. "I've had some three-putts in the business world, but if you're going to be in the game, you have to accept those and move on."

6. "All of our businesses are set up for the long term."

7. "To become successful, an entrepreneur has to have vision. If you go into a project with no vision for the future, it is destined to fail."

The Norman EMPIRE
The Shark's estimated worth is $160 million. Here's how he takes a bite out of seven industries.

Golf Course design
Norman has nearly 90 projects around the world, almost two-thirds of which have been completed. His design fee is reportedly $1.25 million.

Apparel
Norman started with Reebok and Reebok gave him his own label, the Greg Norman Collection, in 1992. The label surpassed $100 million in annual sales in 2005.

Wine
Norman formed a partnership with Foster's Wines Estates in 1997. Greg Norman Estates now controls a 60 percent market share of all premium Austrailian wines.

Real Estate
Norman began a real estate partnership in Australia in 1997. Today, Medallist has 12 communities in development in the U.S., Australia and South Africa.

Turfgrass
"Not a big part of our business," Collins says. "It's run as a licensing business ... People have this image that Greg's got thousands of acres of sod he's mowing every day."

GPS Industries
Norman began endorsing the Vancouver company before providing a cash investment and taking on an ambassador role in December 2004.

Restaurants
Norman may yet figure out a way to turn Greg Norman's Australian Grille at Barefoot Landing in Myrtle Beach into a franchise by partnering with a major restaurant chain.

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