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Features - July 2008

 

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Golf superstar designs elite courses

Golf superstar designs elite courses

Greg 'The Shark' Norman can't resist islands' charms

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 3, 2008
July 3, 2008
David Johnston

With no winter chill to stifle play, endless blue skies and sun-filled days, The Bahamas is nirvana for golfers. The sport is the leisure lifestyle choice of many private investors, foreigners and expatriates who invest in seasonal vacation properties or take up residence in the sunny islands. Even ex-pros like Greg ‘The Shark’ Norman can’t resist the islands’ charms.

“I have been a huge fan of The Bahamas and have been coming over here for 25 years,” says Norman. “To see the growth of what is happening in The Bahamas is just phenomenal. Not only have we seen the influx of dollars from the United States, but we have also seen money coming in from Europe. We have seen growth in tourism because this is such a beautiful country and destination to visit. And part of that attraction is golf.”

Not much more than a decade ago, golf in The Bahamas was little more than an afterthought. The climate and land may have been there but investment was limited to a few nascent projects. How times change. Today, the tropical island paradise boasts a wide variety of world-class courses, many with adjacent home, condo or rental accommodations as part of their complete lifestyle packages. Norman’s love for the islands, and the game, led to his involvement in the creation of one of the premier golfing facilities in The Bahamas­—the Blue Shark Golf Club on south west New Providence.

A complete redesign of the former South Ocean Golf Course, the course is a Greg Norman masterpiece, offering golfers great play and breathtaking scenery. “I’ve worked on projects all over the world,” commented Norman. “Before we even decided to get involved with the Blue Shark project, I came over and took a look at the golf course and fell in love with the piece of property.”

The design of the course is completed and it should be available to play before the end of the year.

Billion-dollar development
The course is the centrepiece of a billion- dollar resort development led by New York-based entrepreneur and master developer Roger Stein. “Norman was brilliant in preserving the best elements of the pre-existing course and dramatically enhancing and modernizing them,” said Stein. “Greg is a one-of-a-kind visionary. He saw things others didn’t.” When completed, the Blue Shark will feature a 140-room five-star resort, a 400-room four-star hotel with beach club and spa, as well as a 40,000 square foot casino rimmed by 180 timeshare units, upscale private residences, a convention centre and marina.

The course was designed by Norman to meet the standards of world-class championship courses. The layout is, as always on a Greg Norman course, tough with rolling bunkers guarding both fairways and green. It blends Bahamian history with modern designs—focusing on the challenging Sharks’ Teeth series of holes with features such as strategically placed bunkers, distinctive terrains, wetlands and fresh water lakes.

The redesign of the former grounds lengthened the course to nearly 7,200 yards and is regarded as Norman’s most elegant and intricate work to date. “Blue Shark offered a rare opportunity as a course designer,” Norman explains. “It was a challenge and an inspiration to transform a popular and well-designed existing layout into a new and entirely distinctive golfing experience.”

Norman’s involvement with course design stretches back to 1987, when he established Greg Norman Golf Course Design. The Australian has since built the company into a global leader in golf course and facility design. His hands-on approach is a key element of the design process, utilizing 30 years of experience as one of the world’s top players to create unique and challenging courses.

A shark is born
Born of English and Finnish parents, Norman was nicknamed The Great White Shark, or simply The Shark, because of his aggressive style of play. As a youth, his athletic interests focused on high-energy sports such as rugby and cricket. His mother, Toini Norman, was a good golfer but Norman’s interest, and natural talent in golf didn’t start to emerge until his teens. He took up the game for the first time at 16, and has never looked back.

He launched his professional career in golf as a trainee in the Royal Queensland golf shop for the famed Charlie Earp—one of Australia’s most revered golf pros. Earp was a notable golf coach for many of Australia’s top names in the sport and steered Norman to become the number one golfer in the world.

The first professional tournament he won was the 1976 Westlakes Classic in his home country; he soon moved on to success on the European Tour and later the PGA Tour. Norman won the PGA Tour of Australia’s Order of Merit six times between 1978 and 1988. He has won 20 US?PGA tour titles and the European Tour’s Order of Merit in 1982, and has topped the PGA Tour’s Money List three times. In the 1980s and 1990s, he finished the season on top of the ranking list seven times. He won The Open Championship twice, in 1986 and 1993, and also The Players Championship in 1994, setting a record by averaging 68.81 per round for the year. He was finally inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.

In his heyday, driving long and incredibly straight off the tee, The Shark intimidated most of his fellow professionals. Now in his 50s, Norman has focused more on business ventures and golf course design than on competitive play, putting off joining the senior circuit due to injury and business commitments.

Norman’s amiable nature and natural showmanship has made him a perfect spokesman for a wide range of products, not only an array of golf equipment, but also incorporating his other passions such as cattle rearing, fine dining and wine production. “I was first introduced to wine and the appreciation of a good bottle back in the 70s when I started playing professional golf in Europe,” reflects Norman. “On my first trip to the United States, when I was chosen to represent Australia in the 1976 World Cup of Golf in Palm Springs, I made it a point to soak up as much of the culture as I possibly could, and that included trying California’s celebrated wines.” Norman liked them so much that it led to the establishment of one of his more recent ventures, the Greg Norman California Estates.

High-flying lifestyle
With a personal wealth estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Norman has plenty of disposable income to indulge his many passions, some of which bring him to Bahamian waters. Big game fishing and water sports are among his hobbies and he has owned a string of luxurious yachts, all of which complement the high-flying lifestyle available to the elite in The Bahamas.

Other legendary golfers such as Jack Nicklaus have also found a spiritual sporting home in The Bahamas. Nicklaus Design is set to start the first ever Jack Nicklaus Golf Club of The Bahamas at Royal Island.  The entire eastern portion of Royal Island will be solely devoted to the golf experience and will include the clubhouse, golf course and the Nicklaus Home.

The 18-hole Signature Course and Golf Club is now under construction and Nicklaus pays regular visits to Royal Island to develop the design. In addition to the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club, Royal Island will include a deep-water marina with more than 200 slips surrounded by a village with shops, cafés, customs and immigration office, emergency services and a captain’s club. A boutique hotel will feature 80 rooms and suites; 44 villa residences will complement the property’s 98 beachfront estate home sites, 102 villa lots and 15 town homes.

With heavy hitters like Norman and Nicklaus leading the way, The Bahamas is gaining the reputation as being a destination not only for a great weekend’s golfing but also as a place to live and enjoy the game year-round. In years to come, even more developments will offer a choice of world-class accommodation alongside a great golfing experience as enjoyed by some of the sport’s greatest legends.

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Tournament brings out the stars
The Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational (MJCI), which has been held each January since 2001 at the Ocean Club Golf Course on Paradise Island, is one of a slew of high-profile tournaments gaining popularity in the islands. This charity event draws celebrities from all over the world to this idyllic setting, raising more than $3.7 million for charity.

The 2008 MJCI featured over thirty stars from sports and entertainment battling it out over 36 holes. It was preceded by a two-day celebrity amateur competition where event sponsors and representatives of the Bahamian corporate and local community could mingle with the stars. Participants included household names such as Spike Lee, Boris Becker and of course Michael Jordan. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Butch Kerzner Memorial Fund, the James Jordan Foundation, the Ronald McDonald Houses of North Carolina, and 40 additional charities designated by celebrity participants.

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