Golfing Magazine Publisher Tom Landers had a chance to sit down with two-time Major winner, former world number one player, golf course architect, and soon-to-be analyst for Fox broadcasts of PGA Tour events, Greg Norman, and chat about the state of golf in the U.S. and his golf course design influences.
GM: When you develop a course how close is your initial vision to the completed project?
NORMAN: I would say 85 to 90 percent of the time the routing we decide on with a developer is the final routing. We might go in and tweak a few things, but we pride ourselves on the fact that once we agree on the routing and it is accepted we go with it.
GM: You said coming up as a golfer that you read Jack Nicklaus’ book. As an architect, did you have certain people that mentored you or were there certain architects who you admired?
NORMAN: I fell in love with McKenzie golf courses like Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and other courses in the Sandbelt region of Southern Australia. I fell in love with his least disturbance approach, where he integrated golf holes into Mother Nature instead of trying to force them into a location. I also like Tillinghast. I am not a big fan of modern day courses from the 1980’s and 1990’s, with the big push up mounding.
GM: You said you think golf will come back in the U.S. What makes you think this?
NORMAN: Disposable income will dictate about being a member of a golf club or tennis club or buying a boat. So, as you see America getting itself back on an economic comfort level, people will get back into golf. The inventory is being washed through. We had a glut of inventory in the 1980’s to the mid-1990’s, there were 440 golf courses a year being built for six to eight years. Everybody was so greedy and was leveraged to the hilt. That has all washed through. Also, there is a new trend to build sustainable golf courses, and I put our courses in this category, where the golf course has to be handed on to the next generation without extra overhead.
GM: Where do you fall on making courses more “playable.”
NORMAN: We get handed a template of thoughts about what the owner or developer wants to do. Sometimes we have to fight to bring it back to reality and playability, and most important, sustainability. The architects get the blame but the Tour wants to build and set up courses for 20 Tour players, never thinking about how it will affect the other 130 Tour players, never mind the members or masses that will play a course. Look at Augusta National, why Augusta National had to buy land to extend the golf course for six players is ridiculous. Augusta National had every right to control the specifications of the golf ball coming to that golf course. When the golf ball specifications changed in 1996, Augusta National had to keep lengthening and lengthening. Had we stayed at that golf ball specification, we would have avoided so many problems and cost over-runs we have today. Augusta National could have gone to Nike, Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, to everyone and said this is the specification of the golf ball you need to make for your player if he is going to play at Augusta. The manufacturers would have done it in an instant.
GM: What kind of a designer do you consider yourself?
NORMAN: I’m a purist. I like golf courses that stand on their own for 18 holes or however many holes they have; it’s tees, greens and layout. I don’t think you need to have an outside statement like waterfalls to make a golf course. All levels of players should find a course enjoyable. All of the par four’s should be reachable in two if you play the appropriate tee box. I got this from Alice Dye, Pete Dye’s wife. She came up to me, toe to toe and she let me know about making sure that a woman could play every golf hole that we designed. No forced carries, not this, no that and so indeed I got that from her.
GM: Do you design signature holes into your courses?
NORMAN: I have never been one to have a favorite hole on a golf course because I think every hole you design should be memorable. I played many, many golf courses as a professional during tournaments. After my first practice round I would go back to the hotel, close my eyes and try to picture the golf course and forget two or three holes because the golf course wasn’t memorable. We make sure all 18 holes become memorable.
GM: What courses that you designed, do you feel came together the best?
NORMAN: We have one in southwestern Ireland that we absolutely love called Doonebeg. We built it by hand. There were a lot of the extreme environmental issues. People tried to build a golf course there for 60 years and could never get it approved and we worked with the environmentalists hand in glove. We did not put the golf course where we wanted to put it because the environmentalists restricted us. By the end of the day, we put a magnificent golf course down and it was a testament to working with the environmentalists to get what they wanted and the developers to get what they wanted. In Melbourne we built one on what was once a salt mine. We created Sanctuary Lakes and it now one of Australia’s most successful residential communities.
GM: Are you in the process of designing any new courses at this time?
NORMAN: We currently have 27 or 30 courses under contract. In Australia, we have seven courses that we are currently doing, three more in Vietnam, four in China and some in the Middle East.