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The Golf Life – Opinion by Greg Norman

The former World No. 1 and course design centurion opens up about golf’s most pertinent issues in a new quarterly column.

I would like to congratulate Jason Day and his wife Ellie on the birth of their second child. I think after he became a dad the first time, Jason showed us fatherhood was not going to be an issue he couldn’t handle. His family is his priority and golf comes second to that – and that’s how it should be. He’s made adjustments to get to where he is, and he’ll make a couple more to the home life in order to make it easier for him and his family.

At the height of my playing career, I just made sure I came home every Sunday night and left for a tournament Tuesday morning. Towards the end of my playing career, when my business interests were taking off, I’d even arrive on a Tuesday afternoon and request an afternoon pro-am tee time. That was a major factor in helping me to achieve the golf and family balance. My rule was to never be away more than two weeks at a time, regardless of where I was. Sometimes, there are a couple of periods in the year when you can’t avoid that but getting home every Sunday night was crucial. Private travel was the only way I could make it work, but it’s still not easy – I can tell you that. A pro golfer who wants to travel and represent the game on a global basis will be away 50 per cent of the time. The more successful you become, the more that takes you away from your family. If you can get it right, fantastic – that can take you to joyous levels, but it is really tough to strike that perfect balance.

Adam Scott is another top Australian golfer who is handling fatherhood perfectly. The only thing he’s battled with recently is putting and it’s difficult for me to comment on, but he had to make the decision to go to the short putter. It will be interesting to see but from everything I have heard he has putted well since switching to the short stick. I have complete confidence in him, and from some of the scores I saw from his better rounds over the Australian summer, I’m sure he’s going to be fine.

Adam has made no secret of his stance against golf at the Olympics, but I feel the most important part of the whole process was the timing around the decision to re-introduce golf. If our sport had returned to the Olympics in London, or in the US, or even Sydney – where golf courses are of a higher quality – the delivery would be a lot cleaner. Brazil is a country where golf is not exactly in the mainstream; you’ve got 25 million golfers in the US, 10 per cent of Aussies play golf and England has similar numbers. I think it would have been received more openly from one of those countries than Brazil.

When I look around the world and think about where the next golf destination boom will be, there are a few contenders. Mexico is the leader – a course I’m designing starts construction next year and I’ve got some magnificent land there that, when you put a golf course on it, will blow your mind. I see Mexico as being a great destination for golf and two per cent of the Mexican coastline is being developed for golf, so you can imagine the opportunities there. From a destination standpoint, they have the potential to make a massive statement and I’ve been working with the Mexican government to get these ideas off the ground. Mexico has the potential to reach out to the US market – which has 25 million golfers – as well as markets in Canada and Europe.

Greg Norman Golf Course Design has 45 jobs contracted for 2016, so it isn’t just Mexico that has enormous potential. There are new countries popping up on the golfing map like Jordan, where my design company has created the nation’s first 18-hole grass golf course. I’m very proud of that because the course is extremely eco-sensitive and environmentally sustainable.

Asia is another golf destination about to boom, no question about it. Vietnam will probably lead the charge and I’ve got a project there on the back of the success The Bluffs Ho Tram has had. Although The Bluffs was voted the World’s Best New Golf Course at the World Golf Awards Ceremony, I think this new property we have is better than Ho Tram. From a golf perspective, it will be interesting to see what happens with interest rates and how that will affect the industry. Despite China having a moratorium on golf course construction, I’m not counting it out just yet. It’s about getting the government to learn how to build sustainable golf courses.

I also hold a lot of hope for the Middle East. We just saw the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates (Dubai) on display during Rory McIlroy’s win at the DP World Tour Championship in November. After designing both layouts, I actually think the Fire course is better than the Earth course. But due to the infrastructure, they (European Tour) prefer the Earth course.

The US market is probably going to pick up pace in the next few months, after being in a precarious position for a while. The current President (Barack Obama) I don’t think understands the impact his regulations are having on small businesses – particularly golf. They just want to tax, tax, tax, and hold things up. In addition, small businesses I come across can’t get financing to capitalise on the growth. Government regulation has been tightened to not lend to small businesses, and all this combines to restrict the game of golf. It’s not just happening here in the US – it’s the same in Australia and the UK. If we can get around those obstacles, we can turn the tide on golf.

Greg Norman writes a quarterly column for Australian Golf Digest. This one appears in the the January 2016 issue.

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