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Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golf powerhouse through my redesign of the Asian Tour

LONDON: When ‘the great white shark’ – aka Greg Norman – sinks his teeth into something, success is guaranteed on and off the golf course.

The 66-year-old Australian has won 91 professional tournaments, including two Open championships, during a distinguished career that has seen him lead the world rankings for 331 consecutive weeks.

Trailblazer Norman has also become one of the world’s most successful athlete-turned-entrepreneurs, with his global company Great White Shark Enterprises which has more than a dozen companies.

As such, Norman’s bold proclamation to Arab News that Saudi Arabia can become a golf powerhouse under his tenacious tutelage should not be lightly dismissed.

Last month, Norman was appointed CEO of LIV Golf Investments, a new Saudi-backed company that will bring a series of 10 new events to the Asian Tour in 2022.

He relishes the opportunity to channel “44 years of observation, knowledge and experience” into golf’s “sleeping giant” Asia in a groundbreaking 10-year deal that will involve staged tournaments. across Asia, the Middle East and European.

“I went (to Asia) for the first time in 1977 and go back there every year, except during the pandemic years, as a player, golf course designer or by my business acumen,” Norman said. via a Zoom call.

“I saw what golf did there. I was the first to build an 18 hole grass course in Jordan. I was the first guy to do an exhibition game in mainland China. I was one of the first guys to play in the UAE as a professional, so I saw the economic growth, as well as the growth of the game of golf, as it expands into new markets.

The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with a diversified international investment portfolio, is the majority shareholder in Norman’s new company.

Saudi PIF has committed over $ 200 million, one of the largest investments in professional golf history, to support playing opportunities and prize funds.

The series will add to the established event backbone of the Asian Tour to include a season of 25 events, which is expected to represent a record combined prize fund in 2022.

The announcement follows the conclusion of a new 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi, the organizers of Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will see the event become the flagship tournament of the Asian Tour. . , with an increased prize fund of $ 5 million.

Norman is extremely impressed with Golf Saudi’s aggressive drive to promote golf as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 master plan, which includes several golf courses under construction across the country.

“Golf Saudi is passionate about golf. If you have as much passion and vision and desire as Vision 2030 then you are going to speed it up. I like to see it, ”he said.

“I don’t think I have seen an investment in the future of a country like what I have seen in Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “I’ve seen it in pockets around the world – Vietnam has done a great job investing in its coastline and building upscale resorts and golf courses there – but nothing to live up to. what Saudi Arabia did. It’s a ripple effect, a domino effect, and golf sets the stage for (prosperity). It is a revelation to see how the country invests in its population and its opportunities from the point of view of health and well-being, from the point of view of sport, from the point of view of education, ”he said. he declares.

“I would say that the citizens of Saudi Arabia should be extremely excited about their future.”

Norman said: “Do I think Saudi Arabia could become a golf powerhouse? Yes.”

“If you invest the money in building new facilities, it will give people access to golf,” he said. “Then you focus on a lot of other things like academies and education and the hospitality side of things, so it’s actually a beautiful process to watch.”

He added: “It’s not just an individual who benefits, it’s everyone.”

Norman said the schedule for the new series will be announced shortly, with all full events contributing to the Order of Merit rankings.

He is also confident of bringing together a stellar team of world-renowned golfers, which is crucial to his overarching goal of inspiring the next generation.

World number 2 Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International in 2019 and 2020, is among those who would be interested, although Norman was unwilling to discuss potential entrants.

“All I can tell you is that every day I get a message, whether it’s through my WhatsApp, or through Signal or my IG account, from a player asking me, ‘How do I get it? to imply ? We like it. Thanks thanks thanks’.”

He said: “Obviously creating the opportunity to bring in professional golfers is stimulating the interest of the younger generation, who would say, ‘Oh, wow, I want to win this golf tournament that John Smith just won. The level of interest is accelerating, the level of fans is accelerating and the fan base is getting bigger, wider and stronger. The game of golf improves because of this.

“When the fan base grows, then (the people with) more corporate money want to come in because the fans are there. There is this domino effect that occurs from an economic standpoint and also from a business perspective. a growth perspective.

He added: “Could Saudi Arabia produce the next Tiger Woods? The answer is yes.’ But it’s a long-term ‘yes’ and a generational ‘yes’, ”he said.

“In the mid-1980s there was a gentleman by the name of Sven Tumba from Sweden who was an ice hockey player who loved golf. He went on this mission to create an opportunity to develop grassroots golf in Sweden. Look at where Sweden is today. They have a big championship winner (Open 2016 champion Henrik Stenson).

Norman looks forward to seizing every opportunity to expand the game of golf as part of his historic initiative.

This potentially includes inviting women to participate, as they did at this month’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International for the second year. Building new golf courses across Asia would also be “a logical next step,” he said.

Meanwhile, Asian Tour CEO and Commissioner Cho Minn Thant recently suggested that innovations in TV broadcasting be explored, including “putting a 3D camera on some of the players if they allow it, or new graphics ”.

Norman agreed, adding, “I get the best of the best from the tech side of life, from tech companies, 5G companies. Golf is under a linear diffuser, so there are so many ways to show the sport in so many different ways with the technology that is out there today that is not being used.

While Norman is fiercely determined to make the Asian Tour’s first world golf series, he insists he doesn’t want to upset the long-established PGA and European Tours.

“I firmly believe that we can play in the same sandbox. Why aren’t there others that create a distinct but similar opportunity for players as independent entrepreneurs to go and increase their market value? ” he said.

“Competing is the best thing for everyone and everything on this planet,” Norman added. “You can go through anything we do for a living and we need a competitor to push us to the next level.”

With a hungry Great White Shark on the prowl, Asian sports enthusiasts can expect to feast on spectacular golf for years to come.

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