For 15 years, it wasn’t hard to find Greg Norman. All you had to do was turn on the golf telecast on a Sunday afternoon, especially a major championship.
Today, however, a Shark-spotting on a golf course is as rare as an albatross. The 61-year-old Aussie has played only a pair of PGA Tour and Champions Tour events since 2010, although he makes a ceremonial appearance at the annual Franklin Templeton Shootout, which is held on a Norman-designed course and sponsored by some Norman-owned companies. His curtain call—not that we knew it then—came when he finished third at the 2008 British Open, almost winning at 53 after a litany of hip and shoulder injuries.
Like so many other Hall of Fame golfers in their mid-40s, Norman planned to transition from concentrating on his game to focusing on his business, Great White Shark Enterprises. But unlike many other top golfers, he meant it. He’s still heavily involved with golf; he just does it behind closed doors, in boardrooms, and on his private Gulfstream V, flying around the globe to facilitate his still-strong course-design business. GWSE has become about much more than golf.
In addition to the usual forays into land deals, apparel, and a golf academy, Norman has branched into wine, prime beef, eyewear, a restaurant, even an investment firm. And he just opened his first wakeboarding complex with his son, Greg Jr.
Norman has spent the last three years rebranding GWSE, transforming it from a sports marketing company to a “B2B”—corporate lingo for business to business. “I made a conscious effort to change the direction of the company,” he says. “GWSE was a marketing company for many years because I was a player. I knew I had to make a transition. It’s not an easy thing to do. I slowly started to change the foundation of the company. Not many people noticed it, and that’s the way I wanted it.
“I’m making sure we are all drinking the same Kool-Aid. It’s a lot different than just signing a contract and putting a name on your bag. Building a business takes years and years.”
There are always going to be setbacks, such as when he was removed as Fox Sports’s lead golf analyst earlier this year after just one season. In recent years, he’s also had a nasty split from The Medalist, the high-end club he founded and designed near his mansion in Jupiter Island, Fla.
He took those body blows and moved on because there’s always a “next deal” to concentrate on. Norman says he has been working on several major opportunities—“game changers” he calls them—that he hopes to roll out soon.
“I haven’t been this excited about my business since I was No. 1 in the world,” Norman says. “We are going to spaces nobody has been before with a major corporate partner.”
As a small-business owner, Norman is extremely interested in the presidential election between the wife of his longtime buddy and his occasional business partner. Since he’s not an American citizen, he can’t vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but Norman has his opinions, and he’s not shy about voicing them.
“Donald has stirred up the base of America,” he says. “A lot of people wish they could say what he’s saying. I’ve been fortunate enough to know a few presidents. A lot of what you say on the campaign trail to get to be president can’t be enacted once you get into the oval office. You can’t just throw pixie dust in the air and it will solve everything.
“I get so disappointed for America when I travel the world and hear the comments people make. ‘Why all this hatred in America when people aren’t trying to solve the problem?’ It’s a sad indictment. I can feel the angst. It becomes emotional instead of who’s the best to do the job.”
Norman had a falling out with Trump over the acclaimed Doonbeg course in Ireland: Greg built it in 2002 for the original owners, but after Trump bought the property at a bargain price in 2014, he hired architect Martin Hawtree—not Norman—to do a re-design.
“That really disappointed me,” Norman says. “Doonbeg was one of my favorite courses of all time. I built it by hand. I worked extremely closely with the environmentalists. I understand when you go in and buy something you can use whomever you want, but that really bothered me.”
“I miss playing, but I don’t miss the aches and pains the next morning from hitting golf balls,” he says. “I was a realist. I knew my body would get to a certain age where I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Norman was reminded of his mortality when he almost lost his left hand in a chainsaw accident two years ago. But that doesn’t mean he’s about to slow down. He travels extensively with his third wife, Kirsten Kutner, whom he wed in 2010, a year after ending his high-profile, 18-month marriage to Chris Evert.
“I can still do a lot of things I used to do, just not with the same intensity,” he says. “In my 20s and 30s, I was bulletproof. I still love hiking at 18,000 feet, but more in a controlled situation. I travel just as much. But because I don’t play golf, I have 20 weeks a year up my sleeve.”
In the ocean, a great white shark has to keep moving to stay alive. On land, too.
By Craig Dolch