Greg Norman was coming at you live, there on your laptop, 5 a.m. for you, on the snowy East Coast of these United States, 1 p.m. from Norman’s locale, at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, in King Abdullah Economic City, in Saudi Arabia. It was 10 a.m. in London. It was 5 p.m. in Bangkok. The subject, really, when you get right down to it, was Norman’s ambitions for a golf tour without borders, though he wasn’t saying that.
From his opening remarks, Norman sounded that theme. “My responsibility as the best player in the world was to grow the game of golf as much as I could possibly grow it,” he said early in the press conference, being held in advance of the Saudi International, a golf tournament featuring Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and other familiar names.
“And to do that, you had to be eyes wide open and ears wide open to see what was going on around the world,” said Norman, the CEO of a new company formed last year called LIV Golf Investments.
The company name is pronounced with a short i as in I live large. But it may also be read as the Roman numeral for 54, a score one could shoot on a standard par-72 course, like Augusta National, by making a birdie on every hole.
The news of the news conference was that the Saudi-backed investment fund that funds LIV Golf is increasing its annual investment in a series of 10 Asian Tour events from $200 million to $300 million. Those events, called the International Series, will be played in Thailand, England, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, China, Singapore and Hong Kong, LIV Golf said in a press conference.
And that, Norman said, was just the start. “The International Series is not going to be geofenced,” Norman said.
He was not, unusually, wearing a watch or anything with an obvious logo. When he became the CEO of LIV Golf he turned the management of his many other businesses over to others.
“Just because the International Series is associated with the Asian Tour, we want to get the message out there that it’s just not specifically for the Asian region, and that’s critically important for everybody to understand,” Norman said. “That’s why it’s so encouraging that we can go to London. It’ll be so encouraging when we go to the United States. Remember what I said: This is just the beginning.”
For a half-year or longer now, there have been numerous reports about Norman seeking to start an international golf tour with small fields, guaranteed money and golfers competing as individuals and on teams. What this week’s Saudi event shows, and what this International Series can show, is that, as a starting point, a golf event with familiar names in it will generate some interest.
All the PGA Tour players competing this week had to get releases from the PGA Tour to play in an event being held opposite the Tour’s long-standing AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But it is also true that a player could simply play where he wants, pay whatever fine the Tour hits him with, deal with any public and private condemnation he may encounter and cash his appearance fee. That’s not a sustainable business model, but it breaks the ice, just as this week’s event does.
Norman said the series would ultimately be more than 10 events, and stage events in his home country, Australia, as well.
He said the age of the average golf fan today is 65. “We have a problem,” he said.
Norman, for years, has said that American golf fans do not have a real understanding of the vast appeal of the game’s most international stars, including Seve Ballesteros of Spain, Laura Davies of England and himself.
“Why do international players have to go to one location to increase their opportunity for success?” Norman said. “Why aren’t there multiple different places for the international player to be able to go to?
“And why isn’t the opportunity for maybe an American player to spread his wings and come and play on the International Series that is not geofenced and learn different cultures and different places and different corporations. … That’s part of growing up.”
Tomorrow, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson are expected to have press conferences from the Saudi event.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@golf.com.