Just about two months ago, I spent an afternoon in Uxbridge, watching Greg Norman gladhand his way through a crowd of ClubLink members in a sod turning for his new course. I was asked to write a story about it for ClubLink, and to hold back any comment on the event until the story appeared.
Anyway, the story is below. That said, what the story doesn’t say is that the event happened just a week after Norman’s pending divorce was made public. That apparently left the Shark in bad spirits. I’ve spoken with Greg before and found he came off like a great salesman. Not this time. Sitting in the back of his SUV as he prepared to head to the airport, he hardly looked at me, provided quick, short answers and didn’t warm until the end of the conversation. Maybe he was happier because he knew I was about to leave. Anyway, I didn’t actually learn much about the golf course, so I can’t really comment too much on that. Word has it that Norman will be back by the end of the summer, but nothing much has been said about that recently.
Here’s the story:
By Robert Thompson
It doesn’t take long to figure out why Greg Norman has long been regarded as one of golf’s most focused players. Stomping through drying mud in an Uxbridge field that is being transformed into his first Canadian golf course, Norman’s notorious glare – where his “Shark” nickname comes from – falls on a piece of property where a par four is to be located. Almost immediately it is clear that, as far as Norman is concerned, something is out of place.
Standing on a tee for the hole, with heavy construction equipment sculpting fairways in the background, Norman surveys the situation, ignoring the constant noise in the background. He discerns that the green location for the hole, though only a pile of dirt and a series of orange flags, should be relocated. With a couple of gestures to senior design associate Scott Henshaw, the concept of the hole is transformed, much to Norman’s satisfaction.
“Those tweaks were necessary and very important for the playability of the golf course,” Norman says after his tour. “Everyone is in agreement and they will enhance the project.”
“Tweaks” are common when Norman visits any of his courses during construction, says Chris Campbell, Norman’s senior vice-president of design. While his boss can’t spend weeks at each project given the demands his vast business interests place on his time, Campbell says Norman studies maps of each course, often while on his jet, and is intimately knowledgeable of all the facets of every design.
“When Greg comes on site, not only does he give us his vision for the project, but he’s very involved in all of the detail work,” says Campbell.
Though Wyndance is a year away from opening, Norman’s attention to detail and clarity of purpose with the golf design is clear. Built in and around an old quarry, Norman and his team have kept many of the existing features, while sculpting other areas to mix a rustic, wild vision of sand walls with elements of parkland golf.
Norman explains, “It is a very diverse property, with the quarry sections and the tree sections. It is fascinating because the property changes character all the way around. No two holes will look the same or play the same.”
For the untrained eye, it is hard to imagine the lush beauty that will emerge from the mud, rock and dirt that is currently being sculpted to create a world class golf experience. But when Norman walks the property, given his experience of more than three decades of playing professional golf on some of the world’s best courses, he visualizes exactly how the project will look when completed. And for Wyndance, as with each of his projects, he has lofty goals.
“The golf course will end up very challenging. Not tough, but challenging,” he says. “The secret of designing these sorts of courses is to make them playable for everyone – the professional and the amateur. (Wyndance) is part of a residential community, so you have to keep that in mind. But at the same point, if ClubLink wants to hold a professional event here, the course has to be prepared for that as well.”
With his playing days largely behind him (though he will tee it up around the British Open in July), Norman is actively involved in numerous businesses, including real estate development, wine and, of course, golf architecture. First established in 1987 as the result of demand in his native Australia, Greg Norman Golf Course Design is now heralded as among the best design firms in golf. With completed projects on five continents, Norman’s designs are regularly tested by the best golfers in the world, including the TPC at Sugarloaf in Duluth, Georgia, home of the PGA Tour’s BellSouth Classic; TiburÃ³n Golf Club in Naples, Florida, host of the PGA Tour-sanctioned Franklin Templeton Shootout; and The Grand Golf Club in Queensland, Australia, site of the 2001 Australian Open.
Norman currently has 18 courses in varying stages of development, and is contracted for a total of five courses, including Wyndance, in the Canadian market.
Why has Canada finally catching on to Norman’s vision for golf courses?
“Maybe because we are pretty good,” Norman jokes, sitting in an SUV after his tour of Wyndance is complete. “The game of golf is expanding in Canada and people have come to recognize what (Norman Design) has done over the past 10 years. We do very good, productive work.
Within his vast array of business interests, Norman says golf course architecture is still most important to him, because allows him to be creative, while focusing on an international market. The Shark, it seems, is everywhere.
“Between design and development, they are the two that interest me most,” he continues. “They are global businesses and I’m a global individual. I get into markets early on and expand as they grow. That’s what we are doing in Canada.”
With that, Norman heads to his jet. Greg Norman, international businessman and one of golf’s all-time greats, senses opportunity in the golf design business, and with his global aspirations, there’s no time like the present to take full advantage.