As a professional golfer, Greg “The Shark” Norman collected 91 victories and earned a spot as one of the sport’s most recognizable stars. Now, the 63-year-old Australian hopes to make golf more sustainable and inclusive with his course-design firm and new Shark Experience enterprise, an interactive in-cart content platform.
What’s needed to grow the sport?
We have to get some of the institutions and golf clubs to get off their high horses a bit and allow more accessibility to the millennials to get on the golf course and do their own thing. We should make it a welcoming environment. Look at the PGA Tour and how it’s evolved: Everybody’s taking photos and videos, and what are they doing with it? Social media. They’re streaming it and showing their friends. “I’m at this PGA Tour event, and I’m standing near Jordan Spieth!” That’s fantastic.
How does Shark Experience tap into the power of connectivity?
You have to give [people] connectivity to allow them to take what’s on their phone and bring it to the golf course. That’s what we’re doing with Shark Experience—bringing video content, music, and more to a screen in a golf cart. If the [golfers] want to listen to their music, let them play it. If they want to order a tequila or a beer and have it delivered, let them have it.
Would you have wanted that type of fan engagement when you were playing on tour?
I was the first one on the PGA Tour to say mic me up. Put a mic on me and let the people watching on TV hear what I have to say. You might have to put a three- or four-second delay on it every now and then, but I wanted to do that. I wanted to engage with the fans. But the PGA said no, don’t do that. The crazy stuff that I mentioned 20 or 30 years ago is now happening, and it all goes through social media.
Let’s talk about your recent course-design work. What excites you most about Rancho San Lucas Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico?
The diversity of the ecosystem that we had to play with. Most of the other great golf courses on the Cabo peninsula are built on the same terrain. Where Rancho San Lucas is so different, it has six holes along the ocean. There, golfers can experience the sand dunes and winds along the beach and then drive over the dune line and back into the normal Los Cabos desert terrain with arroyos and beautiful countryside.
Which recent course-design project brings you the most pride?
Ayla Oasis, right on the Israeli border. It’s the first 18-hole grass course in Jordan, and it’s a carbon-neutral golf course. We reclaimed water from the town, and all of the electricity that powers the clubhouse and the golf course comes from solar panels. I loved building that one.
What areas of the world offer the most potential to grow the sport?
China’s president Xi Jinping cracked down on golf because he saw a lot of corruption in how courses were being built. Once China understands how economically viable and prosperous the sport of golf could be—and once Jinping’s ban is lifted—if golf is allowed to develop like other countries develop golf courses, the number of golfers in China will outnumber the number of golfers everywhere else in the world.
Aside from China, is there another country with a lot of potential?
The next country that I see that has a huge opportunity to develop a golf program is Cuba. Once Cuba opens up, with its coastline, it will just be a dynamic place for golf and golf resorts. I’d be excited to see golf develop in Cuba and not just for building courses but for giving the opportunity for Cuba’s youth to experience the benefits of what the culture of golf can provide. You can always tell someone who’s played golf his whole life, whether he’s a great player or a poor player. The game instills values, self-motivation, and discipline.
To me, they were always a little bit ahead of everybody else. When I invested in Cobra back in the late 1980s, out of all the big manufacturers Cobra was the first to be on the cutting edge of R&D. They were the first to come out with oversized irons, and—through a little bit of my prompting—they wanted to figure out how to make golf easier for amateurs, especially women and older players. They lightened up their golf clubs, using lightweight shafts, which gave recreational players the ability to really hit the golf ball.
One of the brand’s latest initiatives is one-length irons. What are your thoughts on those?
For kids who are first learning to play the game, if you started them off in these I’d say go for it. Their swing will be more consistent because it’s more repetitive. And if you start someone off in them from the beginning, their bodies will be in better shape.
How are one-length clubs better for the body?
When you start lengthening a golf club and moving the center of the ball position further away from your body, you’re changing your golf swing. Unbeknownst to us, we make these minor changes in our golf swing all the time to counteract that different length. With these one-length irons, you’re making the same golf swing every single time. You don’t have that wear and tear with the different spine angles and different hip positions and different stances.