In business, the `Shark' wins

Australian Greg Norman's ventures off the golf course hit the green

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April 06, 2007|By Michael Buteau | Michael Buteau,Bloomberg News

JUPITER, Fla. -- Atop Greg Norman's dark wooden desk inside his Florida headquarters, where the walls display photos of the golfer with Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, sits a tall, red coffee mug with yellow lettering.

"It's good to be king," the mug reads.

Norman's ego has fully recovered from being shattered three times on the way to seemingly certain victory at Augusta National Golf Club, site of this week's Masters Tournament. Today, Norman the businessman is too busy to think much about Norman the golfer.

The 52-year-old Australian, who rarely plays in competition anymore, introduced a luxury brand of Australian beef to the United States last year, and hot dogs and beef patties are next. He has an award-winning wine label, a clothing line and a real estate and golf course development firm. The Greg Norman Turf Co. was hired to prepare for two Super Bowls and the Olympics at Sydney.

Norman was the highest-paid Australian athlete in 2006, earning A$20 million ($15.6 million), according to Sydney-based Business Review Weekly Magazine.

"I understand what branding and marketing is all about," said Norman, whose multicolored shark logo has become as synonymous with golf as azaleas in Augusta, Ga. "I understand it because I am the logo."

His trademark is his business: Norman, who lives in Hobe Sound, Fla., and runs his Great White Shark Enterprises Inc. from nearby Jupiter, typically hires other companies to manufacture the products that carry his name. He has about 200 employees. Bart Collins, the company's president, is a former executive at the sports marketing firm IMG who had handled many of Norman's business dealings.

While this week's golf tournament marks the 10-year anniversary of Tiger Woods' record-setting 12-shot victory in 1997, Norman's six-shot collapse in the final round a year earlier was just as memorable for the wrong reasons, said Adam Scott, a 26-year-old five-time U.S. Tour winner who was growing up in Australia at the time.

"Everybody was gutted," said Scott, who arose early to watch the final round along with most of his countrymen. "At the time, I couldn't believe it was happening."

Norman shot 78 to Nick Faldo's 67 and finished second, one shot ahead of Phil Mickelson.

He also held the final-round lead in 1986 before losing to Jack Nicklaus with a bogey on the final hole. In 1987, Larry Mize's 140-foot chip-in on the second playoff hole at Augusta sent Norman to yet another loss.

"I felt that somebody had just ripped that green jacket off my back," Norman wrote in his 2006 book, The Way of the Shark: Lessons of Golf, Business and Life.

While he won the 1986 British Open, his final-day losses at the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship that year would be called a "Choker's Slam" by waggish fans, a reference to the Grand Slam of winning all four of those major tournaments.

Norman, son of an Australian electrical engineer, took up golf at 15 on the advice of his mother, Toini. He would become the world's top-ranked player for 331 weeks - longer than anyone to date except Woods - and win the British Open twice.

Like his golfing career, not all of Norman's businesses have been an easy success.

His plan to open six Australian-themed restaurants - Greg Norman's Australian Grille - is stuck at one. The Myrtle Beach, S.C., restaurant battled through mismanagement and overpricing, said Pete Dombrowski, its current manager. It's now turning a profit.

Norman's patience is uncommon for a professional athlete-turned-businessman, said Paul Fireman, founder of Reebok International Ltd., who helped the former Reebok endorser build his own brand about 20 years ago.

"I wasn't interested in sponsorships, I was interested in building a company," Fireman said. "Greg loved the idea."

Since then, Norman has used his trademark to build a closely held business that generates $300 million in annual sales, according to Forbes magazine. Norman declined to disclose his company's value.

One of Norman's most successful off-course ventures has been his Greg Norman Estates wine label, sold in cooperation with Southbank, Australia-based Foster's Group Ltd. Norman's 1999 Reserve Shiraz was the only Australian entry to finish in the top 10 of Wine Spectator magazine's top 100 wines of 2004.

Norman beams as he tells how, after meeting a woman recently, she said, "Greg Norman? Oh, you're the wine guy, right?"

With 56 Norman-designed courses on five continents, his legacy likely will continue after memories of his failures at Augusta National have faded. His two-year-old "Norman Course," built as part of China's 18-hole Mission Hills Golf Club in the southern city of Shenzhen, ranks as the country's most difficult layout.

He's now importing Australian-grown Wagyu beef through a partnership with Australian Agricultural Co., the country's largest beef producer.

Many of Norman's Australian golf successors have been eager to hear about his new beef business.

"People have a lot of interest in what Greg Norman touches," said Stuart Appleby, an eight-time winner on the U.S. PGA Tour. "Because a lot of it turns to gold."

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