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Greg NORMAN - A Taste For Profit

July 03, 2006
July 03, 2006

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July 3, 2006

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Greg NORMAN - A Taste For Profit

THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER WINNING HIS LAST MAJOR--AND 10 YEARS AFTER HIS HISTORIC FOLD AT THE MASTERS--THE SHARK HAS BUILT A $300 MILLION BUSINESS EMPIRE

Among GregNorman's toys is a 61-foot sportfishing boat that hauls, to use a nauticalterm, some serious ass. One morning a few years ago, Norman and some pals wererunning west-southwest out of the Turks and Caicos Islands, heading for anatoll a hundred or so miles north of Cuba. Shortly after sunrise, CaptainNorman noticed something on his radar.

"There's a blip behind us," he recalled recently, reclining in anupholstered chair in the clubhouse at Medalist, an exclusive golf club hedeveloped in Hobe Sound, Fla., about five miles from his Jupiter Island home."Now, I'm doing 30 knots, and this thing's catching up to us."

Norman's boat (Medallist, with two l's) had drawn the attention of the U.S.Coast Guard. "Since we were going at a high rate of speed down towardCuba," says Norman, "they thought maybe there was something funny goingon."

Norman was instructed to bring his boat to a stop. Once the cutter arrived, aninterrogation ensued over the radio. "They wanted to know, 'Who are you?Who's the owner of the vessel? What's the I.D. number?'" says Norman, whopatiently answered all questions.

At one point, he recalls, a woman came on and said, "Greg Norman, huh?You're the wine guy."

"And I went, 'Yesssss!'"

For most ex-jocks, guys signing memorabilia at card shows or shaking hands atcasinos, the idea of losing their identity as a "former great" would bea catastrophe. For Norman, it is reason to celebrate. While the Shark may bebest remembered for the misfortunes that befell him on Sundays at majortournaments (he's the only player to lose each of golf's four majors in aplayoff), he has more than his share of victories. His 20 PGA Tour wins and 68wins worldwide include the British Open in 1986 and '93. Arguably the greatestplayer after Jack and before Tiger, Norman now lords over a business empire sovast--reports put his personal net worth at $200 million--that its annualrevenue dwarfs the prize money he made in three decades as a golfer.

This is an article from the July 3, 2006 issue Original Layout

To make the leapfrom athlete to mogul, says Norman, "you need to cross over a kind ofthreshold--from being one person to being another person." That is, theruggedly handsome golfer has given way to the ruggedly handsome entrepreneur.The Greg Norman Collection, which markets sportswear, golf apparel andaccessories bearing Norman's distinctive, multicolored shark logo, enjoyed 14straight quarters of double-digit growth from 2002 through 2005 and is still"trucking along very nicely," he says. His Greg Norman Golf CourseDesign has 102 layouts, completed and in development, on five continents. Whileallowing that his company wanted to cash in on Norman's name, Ed Weinlein ofCrescent Resources, for whom the Shark has designed four courses, says, "Wefound out quickly he had a great, great eye for the land."

In the mid-'90s,with his course-design business thriving, Norman began casting sidelong glancesat the developers who could afford his seven-figure fee. He thought, I'mworking for developers. Maybe I should be a developer. He partnered withMacquarie Bank of Australia, and created Medallist Development, described onshark.com as "an international developer of award-winning, master-plannedcommunities." So far, Medallist has constructed $3 billion worth ofhigh-end homes whose occupants, Norman hopes, are partial to wines with a sharkon the bottle. Greg Norman Estates, established in 1998, produces wine inAustralia and, more recently, California, and sells some 240,000 cases ayear.

"He's got agreat palate," says Ron Schrieve, a former opera singer who is Norman'swinemaker in California. "It's been kind of neat to sit and break breadwith him, kick around ideas about wine. He's a hell of a good guy, but, youknow, when he looks at you with those shark eyes--his focus is like a laser.This is a guy with a vision."

He's always hadan eye for the future too. In the '80s, "when I was playing probably mybest golf," says Norman, "I observed which way Arnold went and whichway Jack went." Though Palmer pioneered modern sports marketing, parlayinghis fame into numerous endorsements, Norman felt Arnie diluted his"brand" by pitching everything from snow tires to motor oil. Nicklauswas more selective and more entrepreneurial, and that approach appealed to theShark.

While Norman isnot above plugging products--his deals with Land Rover and Qantas Airlinesspring to mind--he is slow to say yes and unwilling to endorse products thataren't a comfortable fit with his brand. "I enjoy golf course design, Ienjoy developments, I enjoy the clothing and the wines," declares Norman,who turned 51 in February. "All the relationships I've been involved withconcern things that I'm passionate about. I won't do a fakerelationship."

Apparently not. Afortnight before SI's interview with him, Norman announced that he and his wifeof 25 years, Laura, would divorce. (They have a daughter, Morgan-Leigh, 23, anda son, Gregory, 20.) "We both want to do it amicably," he told theSydney Morning Herald. "We've had 27 years together and, absolutely, wewill remain friends."

According to astory in the Herald Sun, another Australian daily, Laura "is a president,vice president or director of 20 separate companies that control the bulk ofNorman's wealth." If she contests the divorce, she likely would be entitledto half of her husband's assets under Florida law. Little wonder, then, thatNorman wants to keep things amicable.

The seed ofNorman's Croesus-like net worth was planted in 1993, when he arrived at acrossroads in his career. His contract to be managed by IMG was about toexpire. He still had some competitive years left at 38, but his gaze, as usual,was directed toward the horizon. "I didn't want to be dependent on golf tomake my living for the rest of my life," he recalls. It was around thistime he decided, according to Bart Collins, president of his holding companyGreat White Shark Enterprises, that "instead of building deals aroundhimself, he would rather build businesses around himself."

Striking out onhis own, Norman sat down to renegotiate his deal with Reebok, which puts outthe Greg Norman Collection. "Why are we locking ourselves into a three- tofive-year contract?" he recalls asking Paul Fireman, then the company'sCEO. "You've spent millions of dollars on advertising, promotion,establishing the brand. Why don't you and I do a lifetime deal?"

Fireman agreedand signed Norman for life in a deal that gives Norman royalties and apercentage of profit. "A lot of athletes want to develop a brand,"Fireman says. "It's not so much what you do, it's what you're willing notto do. It's refusing the easy money when someone wants to put a logo on yourshirt or your hat--something that takes you out of character and makes you abillboard. Greg was disciplined, he was willing to follow the strategy and notsell himself short."

One of Norman'sstrengths is knowing when to operate a business as a wholly owned enterpriseand when to find partners. He saw no reason to risk his own capital when he gotinto the wine biz. Foster's may be Australian for beer, but its parent,Foster's Group, is one of the world's largest winemakers. The company agreed topay Norman a 30% equity stake just to use his name. Two years ago WineSpectator named Greg Norman Estates' 1999 Shiraz Reserve the world'seighth-best wine. Norman went to New York City to be honored with other topvintners.

"I'm sittingon this podium with the Rothschilds of the world, great Italian winemakers, aWho's Who in the business," he says, "and then there's little oldme." Asked to give a speech, he lightened things up by referring to thequestionnaire one gets in a doctor's office--"the one that asks how muchalcohol you drink on a weekly basis."

In filling outthat form, the Shark suggested, "I bet you everyone in this room haslied." The crowd broke up.

"To beinvolved with iconic names of the business like that," he says, "thatmade me feel as good as I've felt about where I am in the world ofbusiness."

That, right now,is a very comfortable place. Norman seems at peace with the fact that morepeople remember his Sunday meltdown at the '96 Masters (he blew a six-strokelead and lost to Nick Faldo) than recall his British Open wins. Of course, thegrace with which he handled that crushing disappointment made a greaterimpression on the golfing public than a victory might have. One by-product ofthe defeat is that many people feel sorry for Norman. To be given just anhourlong entrée into his life is to realize how little sympathy herequires.

Thirty minutesafter the SI interview and photo shoot, Norman had changed out of his suit andwas on the Medalist driving range, dusting the cobwebs off his game--he stillplays occasional PGA and Champions tour tournaments--hitting wedges close to agaggle of sandy cranes who could not be bothered to look up. Neither, for thatmatter, could the Shark, so intense was his concentration. After all, he may bethe wine guy these days, but he's still Greg Norman.

PHOTOJOHN IACONOVINTAGEPERFORMANCE - The charisma Norman displayed at the '81 Masters (above) serveshim well as a mogul and winemaker.PHOTOPhotograph by Walter Iooss Jr.[Seecaption above] PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINAFTERTHE FALL - Norman's anguish was apparent on the 15th green, during afinal-round collapse at the '96 Masters that would land him on SI'scover.PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (SI COVER)[Seecaption above]PHOTOPhotograph by Jacqueline DuvoisinROUGH TIMES - When the dust--and thehay--had settled at the '95 U.S. Open, Norman was in second place, one of hiseight runner-up finishes in the majors.Despite his BritishOpen wins, the Shark may be best remembered for the SERIAL MISFORTUNES thatbefell him on Sundays--he is the only player to lose each of golf's four majorsin a playoff.