Greg Norman // © 2015 Mark Edward Harris
Feature image (above): Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China // © 2015 Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen
Once known to dominate golf courses around the world and dubbed the “great white shark” of the green, World Golf Hall of Fame member and course designer Greg Norman is now devoted to promoting his beloved sport around the world. He now has his sights set on China, a country where he sees huge potential for growth — both for the game and for those who play it.
Norman has already designed courses in the Middle Kingdom, including KaiKou Golf Club in Xiamen, and Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, a course that currently holds the Guinness record for the largest golf facility in the world.
Twenty years ago, the golf scene in China was just beginning to form. In 1994, when Mission Hills and KaiKou golf clubs opened, there were less than one dozen courses in China. Now, there are more than 600, and China has emerged as a hot spot for golf enthusiasts all over the world.
I caught up with Norman at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip in Vietnam, a course he designed. His next stop was China, where he serves as the advisory coach to the Chinese National Golf Team and is helping identify and develop golfers for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
How did it come to be that you’re now part of China’s 2016 Olympic effort?
Golf started to gain traction in the mainland about 20 years ago. I was the first person to do an exhibition match there, back in the early 1990s. That kind of started the wave. Then I was at a function and was asked if I could help develop players for the 2016 Olympics. They do have their coaches, but they haven’t had the experience that I’ve got.
Teaching a player to physically swing a golf club is the easy part. Teaching somebody to transition from physically swinging a golf club well to putting it into practice, then putting it into practice under pressure, then taking that pressure and learning how to win is a totally different ballgame. So it’s really understanding the big picture of how to become successful.
How does the future look for golfers in China?
I’m extremely excited for the future of golf in China — and not just for the professionals. Imagine doubling the number of golfers in the world just by introducing one country to it. That will have a tremendous effect along the line. Imagine what it does for the manufacturing of golf equipment. Imagine what it does for the tourism industry.
What’s the right direction to take when it comes to developing players and courses in China?
I stress the importance of developing the sport in the right way. I say, “Please do not repeat what the Americans did in the ’80s and ’90s,” which was spend ridiculous amounts of money to build these courses that cost a fortune to maintain every year. The cost gets handed down to the members who want to come and play. Eventually people won’t play the game because disposable income in an economic recession is the first thing that gets tightened.
Right now, there’s a moratorium on new courses as the government conducts a sustainability study. They want to understand how building hundreds or thousands of new courses would impact the economy, the environment and the agricultural land. They have to build these courses in a sustainable fashion that allows grass-roots access.
We’ll have 100 million golfers out in the world if the China Golf Association and the central government follow the plan and reach down to their massive population base. I just love the opportunity to see all this taking place and to be a part of it.