Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a powerhouse in golf thanks to my Asian Tour revamp
LONDON: When “the great white shark” – aka Greg Norman – sinks into something, success is guaranteed on and off the golf course.
The 66-year-old Australian has won 91 professional tournaments, including two Open championships, in a stellar career that has seen him top the world rankings for 331 consecutive weeks.
Trailblazer Norman has also become one of the world’s most successful athlete-turned-entrepreneurs, with his global company Great White Shark Enterprises boasting more than a dozen businesses.
As such, Norman’s bold proclamation to Arab News that Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse under his tenacious tutelage should not be dismissed lightly.
Last month, Norman was named CEO of LIV Golf Investments, a new Saudi-backed company that will bring a series of 10 new events to the Asian Tour in 2022.
He relishes the opportunity to channel ’44 years of observation, knowledge and experience’ into golf’s ‘sleeping giant’, Asia, in a groundbreaking 10-year deal that will involve organized tournaments across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
“I first went (to Asia) in 1977 and I go back every year, except during the pandemic years, as a player, golf course designer or because of my business acumen,” said Norman via a Zoom call.
“I saw what golf did there. I was the first to build an 18-hole grass course in Jordan. I was the first to do an exhibition match in mainland China. I was one of the first guys to play in the UAE as a professional, so I’ve seen the economic growth, as well as the growth of the game of golf, as it enters new markets.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with a diverse international investment portfolio, is the majority shareholder in Norman’s new company.
Saudi PIF has committed more than $200 million, one of the largest investments in professional golf history, to support playing opportunities and prize money.
The series will add to the backbone of established Asian Tour events to comprise a 25-event season, which is expected to represent a record combined prize fund in 2022.
This announcement follows the conclusion of a new 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi, organizers of Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will see the event become the flagship tournament of the Asian Tour. , with an increased prize fund of $5 million.
Norman is extremely impressed with Golf Saudi’s aggressive drive to promote golf as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 master plan, which includes the construction of several golf courses in the country.
“Golf Saudi is passionate about the game of golf. If you have as much passion, vision and desire as Vision 2030, then you will accelerate it. I love seeing that,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ve seen an investment in a country’s future like what I saw in Saudi Arabia.”
He added: “I’ve seen it in pockets around the world – Vietnam has done a great job investing in its coastline and building high-end resorts and golf course developments there – but nothing on par with what Saudi Arabia has done. It’s a ripple effect, a domino effect, and golf paves the way for (prosperity). It is an eye opener to see how the country invests in its people and their opportunities from a health and wellness perspective, from a sports perspective, from an education perspective,” he said. he declares.
“I would say Saudi citizens should be extremely excited about their future.”
Norman said: “Do I think Saudi Arabia could become a powerhouse in golf? Yes.”
“If you’re going to put money into building new facilities, that will allow people to have access to golf,” he said. “Then you tie into a lot of other things like academies, education and hospitality, so it’s actually a beautiful process to watch.”
He added: “It’s not just one individual who benefits, it’s everyone.”
Norman said the schedule for the new series will be announced shortly, with all sold-out events contributing to the Order of Merit ranking.
He’s also confident he can build a stellar team of world-class golfers, which is crucial to his overarching goal of inspiring the next generation.
World number 2 Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International in 2019 and 2020, is among those believed to be interested, although Norman would not discuss potential entrants.
“All I can tell you is that every day I get a message, whether it’s via WhatsApp, or via Signal or my IG account, from a player asking me, ‘How can I get involved? We love it. Thank you thank you thank you’.”
He said: “Obviously creating the opportunity to bring in professional golfers is sparking the interest of the younger generation, who would be like, ‘Oh, wow, I want to win that golf tournament that John Smith just won.’ The interest level is accelerating, the fan level is accelerating, and the fan base is getting bigger, wider and stronger. The game of golf improves because of it.
“When the fanbase grows, then (people with) more corporate dollars want to come in because the fans are there. There is this domino effect that occurs from an economic point of view and also from a growth point of view.
He added: “Could Saudi Arabia produce the next Tiger Woods? The answer is yes.’ But it’s a long-term ‘yes’ and a generational ‘yes’,” he said.
“In the mid-1980s, there was a gentleman called Sven Tumba from Sweden, who was an ice hockey player who loved golf. He has made it his mission to create an opportunity to develop grassroots golf in Sweden. Look where Sweden is today. They have a big championship winner.
Norman is eager to seize every opportunity to expand the game of golf as part of his historic initiative.
This includes potentially inviting women to participate, as they did this month at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International for the second year. Building new golf courses across Asia would also be “a logical next step”, he said.
Meanwhile, Asian Tour CEO and Commissioner Cho Minn Thant recently suggested TV broadcasting innovations would be explored, including “putting a 3D camera on some of the players if they allow it, or new graphics”.
Norman agreed, adding, “I’m inundated with the best of the tech side of life, tech companies, 5G companies. Golf is under a linear broadcaster so there are so many ways to show the sport in so many different guises with the technology that exists today that is not being used.
While Norman is fiercely determined to make the Asian Tour the premier world series of golf, he insists he doesn’t want to upset the long-established PGA and European Tours.
“I am convinced that we can play in the same sandbox. Why aren’t there others that create a separate but similar opportunity for players as independent contractors to go and increase their market value? ” he said.
“Competition is the best thing for everyone and for everything on this planet,” added Norman. “You can go through anything we do in life and we need a competitor to push us to the next level.”
With a hungry great white shark on the prowl, Asian sports fans can expect to feast on spectacular golf for years to come.