Norman Launches Champions Golf Academy

The Sun News

Courtesy of Alan Blondin
The Sun News

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH -- Though Greg Norman seldom plays competitive golf these days, he's not short on things to do.

An apparel line, golf course design firm, turf company, winery, beef export company and restaurant are among the businesses that carry his name, and a development company operates out of his Great White Shark Enterprises headquarters in Florida.

He's apparently not too busy for another venture on the Grand Strand, where he already has Greg Norman's Australian Grille at Barefoot Landing and two courses he designed: the private Reserve Club in Pawleys Island and the Norman Course at Barefoot Resort.

Greg Norman Launches Champions Golf Academy
Norman answers questions about his planned Greg Norman's Champions Golf Academy.
(Randall Hill / The Sun News)

He's adding a series of golf academies to his growing list of business interests and has selected Barefoot Resort's spacious driving range for the location of the academies' East Coast U.S. headquarters.

An existing golf school at Long Bay Club became the first Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy this spring, and an estimated 10,000-square-foot facility will be built and open as early as July 2011 at Barefoot to serve as the East Coast hub. The fate of the Long Bay school hasn't been determined.

The 55-year-old Australian golf legend was at Barefoot Resort on Thursday to announce the creation of the academies and film an hourlong interview for Golf Channel with reporter Tim Rosaforte. He's attracted to the Strand because of its number of courses and visiting golfers, as well as his existing businesses here and his familiarity with the area.

"Myrtle Beach is a great place," Norman said. "I was involved in golf course design and construction here at Barefoot Resort, I have a restaurant right across the [Intracoastal Waterway], so it's a perfect location for me. I've got some good friends up here and good people up here."

The Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy will offer golf instruction, academic schooling in on-site classrooms and housing for high-school-age students; gap-year programs for golfers before they enter college; and advanced training for college players and touring professionals. Traditional teaching offerings for adults and juniors will also be offered.

Norman plans to take an active role in establishing the general teaching curriculum, though he'll leave the actual instruction to others. Scott Shobe is the head of instruction at the Norman academy at Long Bay and is expected to lead instruction at the Barefoot facility. Norman plans regular visits to the Barefoot academy but wouldn't estimate the frequency of his trips.

"When your name goes on the door, the only thing you can do is put your blood, sweat and tears into it," Norman said. "There's a template that's got to be built. ... I will set the standards and create the values of each academy, but I'll also have respect for the instructors."

Norman plans a West Coast headquarters and has academy sites selected in the Bahamas and Mexico. Jose Manuel Fernandez, the managing partner of the Norman academy at Long Bay, is working with Norman on expansion, and future academy sites could include Canada, Europe, South America and China.

"I think it's a great opportunity because I've seen what the game of golf can do for an individual. I've experienced and felt it over the years," Norman said. "We're in the right position now, and we're kicking this off in the right place. Our growth mode and our growth forecast seem very, very good."

Norman isn't new to instruction or helping youth achieve their golf-related goals. The Greg Norman Golf Foundation provides guidance and instruction to juniors in Australia, and stars such as Karrie Webb and Adam Scott were influenced by the program.

"You get a huge swelling up and sense of pride," Norman said. "You don't tell anybody or grandstand, you just get a personal sense that this really works."

Norman learned under the tutelage of several teachers including Charlie Earp in his formative years in Australia, and later heralded instructors Jim McLean, Butch Harmon and David Leadbetter.

Greg Norman Launches Champions Golf Academy
Norman and the Golf Channel's Tim Rosaforte talk at the Barefoot Resort clubhouse.
(Randall Hill / The Sun News)

"With all those wonderful instructors I've worked with in the past ... I'm in a position now where I can give a lot of those experiences and advice back to other people," Norman said.

Why create a series of golf academies now, during a tough economic time across most of the world? "Golf is not going great in America," Norman said. "It's really stagnant here. When you look at the rest of the world it's doing really well."

Norman cited Asia as an example - China in particular. A Chinese government official told him there are approximately 3 million golfers in the country now, and that number is expected to grow in about 15 years to 30 million, which would be a few million more golfers than are currently in the U.S. "I think the wave [of Asian golf] is a tsunami," Norman said.

Norman won a pair of British Open championships and 91 pro titles worldwide, but he's just as famous for his eight runner-up finishes in majors that included several heartbreaking moments. Both Larry Mize and Bob Tway holed shots from off the green to nip him in majors, and he lost a six-shot lead entering the final round of the 1996 Masters and finished five shots behind winner Nick Faldo.

Because of those, he perhaps more than anyone can relate to Myrtle Beach resident Dustin Johnson's recent run of disappointment at majors in the past three months. Johnson took a three-shot lead into the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June but shot 82 to tie for eighth. On Sunday, he was penalized two shots for grounding his club in a bunker that he didn't recognize as a bunker because it had been trampled on by spectators for several days, and the penalty dropped him out of a playoff for the title and into a tie for fifth.

"The PGA [of America] made the right decision," Norman said. "The rules of golf are the rules of golf. The bottom line is it's the responsibility of the player and it's the responsibility of the caddie, too.

"At the end of the day it's sad. It's sad for Dustin, sad for golf and sad for the PGA of America."

Norman said he called Johnson to offer encouragement. "I feel for Dustin," Norman said. "The quicker he lets it go the better - just move on and go win the next tournament."

Norman hasn't closed the door on his own playing career. He was in contention at the 2008 British Open late in the final round and has had several opportunities to win senior majors in the past three years. He was sidelined by shoulder surgery in September 2009 but has resumed hitting balls. He plans to play in only a handful of tournaments next year.

His many business ventures have kept him from missing the game. "I didn't miss the game at all," Norman said. "I enjoy life in a much different way now than I used to. ... But I still enjoy it. I enjoy competing."

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