Pro Golfer Greg Norman And His Plans For The Future
If you listen to Greg Norman talk about his childhood, it’s all stories of surfing and diving and the fish he pulled from the shoreline. His home in Townsville, Australia, was surrounded by national parks. It’s a short boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef through water he remembers as the color of gemstones.
And when he first arrived in Martin County in 1991, Norman felt like he was back there.
He came on the recommendation of fellow pro golfer Jack Nicklaus. Norman had been living in Orlando at the time, but he wanted a place with more of what he had growing up.
He flew here straight from a tournament. He took one look and bought it that afternoon. Four-point-nine. At the time, it was more than anybody had paid for a home on Jupiter Island. He renamed it Tranquility.
“It’s so peaceful. To me that’s what it’s all about,” says Norman, who will turn 64 in February. He spoke to us after a morning spent on the par-three course at his Hobe Sound housing development, Medalist Village. “There’s no hectic rat race around here,” he says.
Norman picked Martin County for the same reason any of us choose to move here—the slower pace, the limited number of high-rises crowding the beach, the seagrass dunes rolling down to water the color of an untouched Australian coastline. He taught his son how to ride the waves right there. He stayed sharp on a putting green in his backyard.
Soon, though, everything is going to change for Norman, the golfing legend and now elder statesman of the pro golfers that call southern Martin County home. In a year from now, he’s going to absolutely reinvent everything about living here.
Norman isn’t like most golfers. In fact, he’s not even much of a golfer at all these days, playing at most a half-dozen times a year. But then, he didn’t start off like most pro golfers.
With all his time spent in the water or playing rugby and cricket, Norman didn’t set foot on a golf course until he was 15. Then his mom asked him to caddy for her one afternoon. She had a serious game. “My mom was 5-foot-4-inches and all of a 100 pounds when soaking wet,” Norman recalls. “But she was a three handicap.”
That’s almost pro golfer good, and Norman soon found himself trying to compete with mom. Norman took a job as an assistant to pro golfer Billy McWilliam and worked in the local clubhouse. He was using those early jobs to absorb every single thing he could about the game.
When he went pro, he also absorbed an important lesson about what would follow. He was, right from the start, a terrific golfer. He had a tournament win the first year he turned pro in 1976, the first of 91 tournament wins in his career, including 20 of them on the PGA Tour. He spent 331 weeks as the world’s No. 1 player.
“I was lucky that I could hit a white golf ball from point A to point B better than most,” he says. “But where I was really lucky is that I was a sponge and an observer of what was happening around my life.”
He knew pro golf had a short window, 15 years at best for most. So he set out to build a brand for himself. He knew he had developed a name that “could put bums on the seats.” To make it after his golf days were over, he knew he had to capitalize on that name, turning it into a business venture.
He created the Greg Norman Company in 1993 and entered industries that are too often the way celebrities lose a fortune. He sold wine and steaks and put his name behind a golf course design firm. Norman says what turned his company successful was that he didn’t license his name—he didn’t let other people decide how the end product would look.
The best example of that has to be the wine business, he says. Norman knew back in the mid-1990s that there was a market for Australian wines in the States. But he says he understood that Americans wanted a certain type of wine, with fruit-forward flavors and a crispness not found from Australian vintners at the time. So his company blended Australian wines to appeal to people here. In its first year, Greg Norman Estates expected to do 15,000 cases. Instead, it sold 108,000.
His company has two big projects cooking at the moment. There’s the new waterpark, Shark Wake Park 561 in Palm Beach County, run by his son, Greg Norman Jr. And there’s Medalist Village, the 870-acre golf community in Hobe Sound with homes starting at $1 million. Of the 119 residences, there are just 26 lots remaining.
Norman says he often gets visits from celebrities wanting to duplicate the success. Mostly he tells them it’s not going to happen. That’s because most celebrities slap their name on a product and step back.
“I get into the minutia, which I love,” Norman says. “But I would also love to back out of it.”
Which is exactly what he plans to do. Speaking recently from the Aussie Pub lounge at the Medalist Village clubhouse, Norman wore a moisture-wicking blue-gray T-shirt and a pair of jogging shorts. Just like you might remember him from his playing days, he had intensity in his eyes, the penetrating stare that earned him the nickname “The Shark,” although it feels more like the glare of a wolf moving in slowly on a sheep. It’s a look that never seems to leave him, no matter the topic. He had spent the morning chipping and putting, the first time he had been on a golf course in five months. But he revealed a bombshell that morning, a surprise to even his director of corporate communications, who was sitting across from him.
Soon, in a matter of months, Norman plans to officially retire.
And yet, it’s perhaps the second-biggest thing that’ll happen to him in the coming year.
When he builds a golf course, there isn’t a detail or decision about it that Norman leaves to somebody else. He is, with everything he does, his own middle manager and CFO and HR department. “I know where all the main lines are run. I know where the electricity is run. All that stuff, the pump stations, everything that you need to have,” Norman says.
So when Norman decided he wanted to replace the Jupiter Island home he bought in 1993, it was the same way. He looked around a bit for a place that might serve as a replacement for the 1902 home. He even put his 26,000-square-foot place on the market for a while back in 2016; the asking price was $55 million. But none of the properties he looked at matched the beach-to-Intracoastal spread he has now. Instead, he just decided to start over. Earlier this year, he leveled his home.
Underneath it, back in the bowels near the wine cellar, they found what had somehow held it in place for more than a century. “We went down and found the old sandstone walls from 1902,” he says. It was the same sandstone used as mortar between the stones that served as the home’s exterior walls. During hurricanes—Norman says he always stayed home to make sure looters didn’t come—he could hear wind whistling through the holes in the walls. “I could take my sand wedge and just chip away at the sandstone between the rock walls.”
When he set out to build the new place, he considered hiring a general contractor. But with his experience building golf courses, he figured he could do it himself. “I’m the owner-builder. No general contractor,” he says. He has a former GC who works for him full time, but it’s Norman who’s in charge. As for the design, he’s getting help on that from home. In 2010, Norman married interior designer Kirsten Eulenhoefer, and the two of them have seen the project as finally building what they had imagined as their dream home. They hope to have it built by the end of 2019.
Through his years living here, the one thing he hasn’t done is socialized much with the other pro golfers. Norman says he used to brag about the peacefulness he found here and the fact that you can play every day of the year, and so maybe that’s why so many other pros have moved in nearby. There’s Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and perhaps a dozen more. Norman never sees them, though. He suspects they all come here for the same reason he does, to escape the celebrity and to soak up the breeze that rolls in from the Gulfstream.
He thinks back to his days of playing, to what he liked so much about Martin County, and it’s the same today. “This is in my DNA,” he says. He thinks back to when he was playing and traveling the world for weeks at a time, to when he was “in front of people,” sometimes tens of thousands of them at tournaments, millions more watching on TV. “Because I traveled so much, when I come home, I wanted to disappear from everybody.”
Sometime soon, Norman will move into the new house he designed and built himself. He will, if he has his way, step back from his company. Maybe he’ll play a little golf, maybe not. He will be retired, living in that spot of land that reminded him of home.