News & Opinion

For Greg Norman, it’s all about living the brand

Australian champion takes his power game to a higher level, building a business empire founded on self-belief

QBE Shootout host Greg Norman is slated to present the trophy on Sunday, just as he has done every year since 1989. Back then, the PGA Tour team exhibition was known as the Shark Shootout. It was an early foray by Norman into the business of branding.

It’s a concept that has treated him well. Norman is believed to be the second-richest pro golfer on the planet.

“Being a living brand, and I mean this in all sincerity, is not easy,” Norman said in a recent email exchange with Morning Read.

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Greg Norman has reason to smile, with a net worth estimated at $400 million and a worldwide business empire.

It’s a self-description he uses often, prompting eyerolls among some golf pundits. But Norman, 64, a two-time major champion from Australia whose 77 worldwide victories on major professional tours include 20 PGA Tour titles, rejects the suggestion that he has a “healthy ego.”

“What I do have is belief in myself, my brand and its reach, and the people who work for me,” Norman said.

Call Norman what you will, but you’ve got to respect his second-act success. His growing business portfolio includes course architecture, food, wine, apparel, real estate, interior design, water sports, eyewear, event management, venture capital, interactive technology and, most recently, CBD-infused health products.

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“I think I’m just very much aware of my positioning,” he said. “I have a great logo, and we’ve built an incredible foundation around that logo and my brand. That foundation has allowed me to broaden my mindset, where I’m into the technology and media side of things today, like my partnership with Verizon [with the on-course technology Shark Experience]. It’s incredible. It gives me a purview into opportunities that other people never get a chance to see.”

Among pro golfers who were born in the 1950s, none has come close to matching Norman’s net worth: $400 million, as calculated by the website celebritynetworth.com. The Greg Norman Co. communications department said net worth isn’t a topic Norman discusses, yet he couldn’t resist telling Men’s Health magazine that the actual figure is “somewhere north of that.”

Arnold Palmer had a net worth of $700 million when he died in September 2016. His estate reportedly makes $30 million a year, ranking him fourth on the Forbes list of “Top-Earning Dead Celebs,” trailing only musicians Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Jack Nicklaus, who is 15 years older than Norman (and has 16 more major championships to his credit), reportedly has a net worth of $320 million. He had to jump a couple of stymies along the way. Bad investments in the early 1980s left Nicklaus on the brink of bankruptcy, according to published reports, and a four-year run as a public company in the late ’90s ended when stockholders filed a class-action suit alleging accounting fraud at his course-construction subsidiary. The suit reportedly was settled out of court for $3.5 million in 2000. He rebounded each time and since has sold large stakes in Nicklaus Companies, ensuring that his heirs are secure.

Phil Mickelson’s net worth is $400 million. While Lefty has suffered as second fiddle to Tiger Woods on the golf course – spending 775 weeks in the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 10, yet never reaching No. 1 – he happily has ridden Woods’ coattails to the bank. Given his charisma, business acumen, and no eight-figure divorce settlements, Mickelson, 49, figures to give the Shark a run for his money in the next decade.

Atop the heap, of course, is the epically resilient Woods, 43, whose net worth has been calculated at $800 million. Woods, a 15-time major champion, spent a record 683 weeks atop the OWGR, the only player with more time at No. 1 than Norman, who was top-ranked for 331 weeks in 1986-98.

Following Nicklaus’ lead, Norman has been forging management and branding partnerships with third parties. In 2015, he sold his event-management business to Wasserman Media Group. In 2017, Norman entered into a marketing partnership with Authentic Brands Group, which owns the rights to the Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley estates and has similar ownership stakes with Shaquille O’Neal and Julius Erving, as well as a variety of apparel and lifestyle brands. In May, Authentic Brands acquired Sports Illustrated.

ABG has helped Norman enter the interactive digital arena and the health and wellness “space” (one of Norman’s favorite words in the branding lexicon).

The Shark Experience is a partnership with Verizon and Club Car, which equips golf carts with high-definition touch-screen displays that feature options such as PGA Tour live coverage, streaming music, sports and news, and yardage information. Norman said Shark Experience is available at more than 150 golf facilities in the U.S. and Canada, and golfers have played more than 1 million rounds with it.

Norman insists Shark Experience does not slow pace of play, but rather streamlines on-course behavior of the coveted millennial market.

“We have all the data in now, and it’s showing that Shark Experience does not slow down the pace of play, at all,” Norman said. He said accessing information via onboard screens is faster and more reliable than fumbling with a smart phone.

Nevertheless, the specter of one foursome, in the middle of a fairway, glued to their monitors as Alabama faces a critical third down against Auburn, does not bode well for a four-hour round. It’s an inevitability that real-time golf gambling will be available on those touchscreens in the not-too-distant future. Imagine standing over a 4-foot putt while someone in a nearby cart implores, “Miss it, Rory! Miss it!”

While Norman strives to stay relevant with millennials, he hasn’t forgotten his own baby-boomer demographic. Enter the Greg Norman line available from Green Growth Brands, a maker of CBD-infused “wellness and recovery” products.

“When CBD came out, it was a logical extension for me to take a look at,” Norman said. “For me, it wasn’t just for the athlete. It was all about quality of life and the quality of your health.”

The effectiveness of cannabidiol, a compound found in hemp plants, is still being studied. Nevertheless, CBD is promoted as a wonder supplement, and sales have exploded nationwide.

Authentic Brands Group helped Norman vet potential CBD partners. Norman said they spent several months scrutinizing “the legal implications, plus brand positioning – would it hurt the brand, (or) would it damage the brand.

“When all the boxes had been checked,” Norman said, “that’s when we decided to venture into the partnership with Green Growth.”

Norman said he uses the CBD products on an as-needed basis, usually after long hikes on his Colorado ranch or other strenuous activity. He called the shortened recovery time “an eye-opener. . . When I do use it, I definitely see a big difference.”

As New Age as the Shark might have become, the cornerstone of Greg Norman Co. remains its golf course-design business, launched in 1987. Among the 100-plus Norman layouts worldwide are three in Vietnam. In late November, he spent several days there, but he wasn’t merely kicking dirt.

“When we get invited to build golf courses around the world, I don’t go there just to build a golf course,” Norman said. “I also go in there to see what else can we do. How can we build on something else? What are they looking for, or what do they not have? How can I assist them?”

For example, Norman pitched his ideas for creating “a sustainable platform for their golf hospitality industry” to the Vietnamese government. As a result, he said, “they asked me to be their ambassador for golf tourism and culture in Vietnam.

“Pretty compelling stuff, when you think about it.”

Yet it's just another day at the office for Greg Norman, living brand.