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November 18, 2009
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
GORDON SIMPSON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much for joining us. As you can see, I'm with Greg Norman, the designer of the Earth Course here this week for the Dubai World Championship.
Greg, I would imagine you're a very proud man knowing that your creation is the focal point for the golfing world this week.
GREG NORMAN: Absolutely. I think any time you have the opportunity to host a major championship of this stature, not a major/major, but of this stature on the world golf circuit, it is important. It's obviously important for the players, it's important for the event and it's important for my design company.
So I just drove around the golf course, and I like what I see. For us to make this transition; when this tournament was announced, we had already started construction on the golf course. We had already built some of the greens, especially on the front nine. So for us to come in here and make very little changes to the golf course, tells us that we did a good job from a playability aspect.
So we made some adjustments, more on the back nine, the last four holes, to make sure it was a bit more of a high-quality tournament-play finish. But at the end of the day from the feedback I'm getting and from what I've seen from a player's eyes, a player, very happy with it. So we'll just see how it plays out this week.
GORDON SIMPSON: As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, we are now joined by George O'Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour.
But Greg, thanks for these opening comments and I think the best thing to do is just open up straight to the floor for some questions.
Q. What would be the kind of feedback that you have got from the players that you have been talking to about the golf course?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I've only spoken to one, really, and that was Padraig Harrington. He was on the putting green as I drove on by. He liked the golf course. He liked the way it's set up.
I questioned the thickness of the rough, which seems like it's fairly benign. One of the things that really struck my eye when I got here was it's very difficult to get the definition between the fairway and the rough, because it's all on all 4/19; it's very difficult to get that transitional look and that's why we wanted the rough to be up around two inches just to have that change. And obviously for these players, when there's not that much rough, the fairways are that much wider, so it makes them a little bit easier for them.
Padraig says the golf course is playing the perfect length, the greens are a perfect speed, he likes the layout, so that was only one out of 60, so I've got 59 to go.
Q. Have you been surprised by some of the scores that we saw yesterday in the Pro-Am?
GREG NORMAN: I haven't seen the scores.
Q. Lee Westwood I think shot 9-under.
GREG NORMAN: Yeah, I think this golf course, remember, this golf course was built as a residential community golf course. It wasn't designed specifically for tournament play. I think everybody has got to keep that in perspective.
The fairway corridors are very, very wide here, the bunkers are because of the scale and the magnitude of this property, the project, and the long views when we came here, the bunkers are a massive scale. They are located in the right location, but remember, these guys don't hit the ball 280, they hit the ball 320. So you have to try and change that up a little bit the best you can.
And that's over to The European Tour. If they decide to get the greens a little bit quicker and a little bit firmer, the scores will obviously come down dramatically. But I see an 18-under, 19-under, 17-under number winning this tournament.
Q. I was just trying to work out how many golf courses you've designed that have hosted tournaments now. I know we have players --
GREG NORMAN: 14.
Q. I know we haven't played this before in a tournament, but how would it compare to some of those venues do you think? What's so unique about this one?
GREG NORMAN: Well, first of all, the location, No. 1. You know, with the rise of Dubai in place, this golf course, coming in for a residential community was very much in the forefront from the development standpoint. We were trying to build a golf course for that.
From a playability standpoint, a golf course like Sugarloaf in Atlanta really jumps to my mind as one of the ones, from a player's perspective, a good player's perspective, really challenges you a lot. Tiburon in Naples, even though it's a combination of three -- two of three par nine-hole courses, it's a very good golf course, as well.
Everyone is different in their own right. I've never designed a golf course specifically, purely, for a golf tournament. If I do have that opportunity one day, things would be a lot different obviously. And hopefully I will have that opportunity, from a player's perspective and in my business, that would be a wonderful thing to do.
Q. We have the possibility this week of a 20-year-old winning The Race to Dubai. Would you like to address how big of an achievement that would be, and young players in the game, you've had a close-up look now of Ishikawa in The Presidents Cup, just the way it's going.
GREG NORMAN: Well, I think that's just indicative of the way golf's been over the generations gone by. We always need a new, young wave of players. What Rory has been doing over the last 12 months has been phenomenal to say the least. He looks like he's way experienced beyond his years, and his future, you can almost say, cast in stone in a lot of ways.
As for issue a can a, breath of fresh air, especially for the Asian part of the world. You see the K.J. Chois of the world and the Y.E. Yangs coming out and winning major championships; that ignited Asian golf. And what Ishikawa is doing in Japan, because Japan has been fairly quiet since the Osakis of the world and Aokis of the world. They need that had fresh shot in the arm. Ishikawa has that mind-set of focusing in on playing where he wants to play, which is the United States, which is a great thing at that young age, 17, 18 years old.
So the health of the game is great. As I've grown up over the last 30, 35 years in the game, there's always been like a 12- or 15-year gap between the wave of really good players and the next wave of really good young players, and right now I think we are seeing just the tip of that new wave coming through. And these kids 20 and 18 will excite kids now 14, 15, 16, because kids at that age can relate to someone 18, 20 instead of somebody 34 or 40 or whatever, or even a Tom Watson at 59.
So I think you'll see a tremendous stimulation of good, young players coming out, not just out of America, but I think more on a global basis.
Q. In the last few months, we have been hearing a lot about how sporting events, and specifically this golf tournament has been affected by the global recession. As a businessman, as a golf course designer, how has that affected your business and what have you learnt?
GREG NORMAN: What I've learned is you have to be flexible. You have to read what's going to happen in the future, whether it's -- everybody gets swept up in the Halcyon days; and if it's too good to be true, then it's too good to be true.
So from a businessman's perspective, you have to have that flexibility and awareness that when the pendulum swings back the other way, is your business model in a place that can survive those times. I think we are seeing a lot of that globally. It's not just here in Dubai, but it's a global situation where the bad times really flush out the weak and the good really survive.
And you're going to find that here, no question. Dubai will survive. It's just had to go through a bit of a transition time, readjustment, but like anybody does, turning debt into equity or whichever way you want to readjust your financial model. But they will survive.
From a design standpoint, we have seen some changes. We have had to make some adjustments. We have seen golf courses get put in moth balls to say the least. Very few have actually been cancelled where we say, we are not going to build a golf course.
Now we are starting to see with a little bit more of a flow of the credit coming through; a lot of the projects we had had parked all around the world are starting to come back on-line now. So we are seeing it happening.
It's not going to happen overnight. I don't think the era of the 80s and the 90s will ever return, because I think when you start talking about running a business at 30, 40 time leverage, it's just not going to happen. I think that there's been a lot of people hurt big time, and regulations are going to be implemented that's going to change that. There is going to be a lot more oversight taking place.
So it's all good, really. We'll get back to good days. We are not going to get back to that making a lot, a lot of money.
Q. You made a lot of changes after the tournament was announced that it would be at the Earth Course, you made a lot of changes on the golf course, adding bunkers and things like that, planting trees; is there something that you left out there that you thought you should have done more to this golf course? Is there something that you maybe want to do for the next year, any further changes to the golf courses?
GREG NORMAN: No, not from moving dirt or changing green locations or anything like that. I think the golf course has got enough length on it, No. 1. Remember, this is very few -- the golf course only opened Tuesday, or Monday. Well, you guys played it Monday, didn't you? So that's why there's so many bad divots out there. (Laughter)
But the end of the day, the golf course will evolve. It will change over a period of time. The trees will get fuller. As I drive around, I might shift a few trees more into the play area. But if I do that, then 51 weeks of the year, the residents who will play here are going to be penalised more.
So you walk that real fine line: Do you want to set up a golf course for one week a year when you really built it for all of the residents of the Jumeirah Estates. I won't make any changes.
It's totally up to The European Tour, they will do an assessment on the playability of the golf course at the end of this week. They will know how the speed of the greens and pin positions; there might be some adjustments to the firmness of greens, the way the mowing pattern of the fairways might change.
So there are a lot of things you can do without having to go in there and spend millions of dollars just to change a golf course. I think that would be our failure if we did that. I don't like to see that on a global basis, I really don't. We see that where millions and millions of dollars are spent just for one week a year when everybody else has got to put the money up for the bill, whether it's a member of a golf club or a member of an association or whatever.
We have to be very, very aware of how we spend money nowadays and this golf course, great players are going to shoot low anyway, no matter where you play. So you've just got to accept it and there's going to be a winner and that's it.
Q. How is Fireside looking?
GREG NORMAN: Fireside is looking great.
Q. Exactly what --
GREG NORMAN: You mean my villa? Yeah, my villa is looking very good.
Q. Are you going to tell us what your favourite hole is and what do you think is the most challenging hole on Earth?
GREG NORMAN: I think actually four, the last four holes. When we heard the tournament was going to come here I really wanted to make an effort to make the last four holes, actually if you look at the scorecard, they are exactly one mile long. And I made that conscious effort to make the last four holes one mile, because I like to have seen the hardest four holes or the hardest mile in golf. Not just for the pros but you need something -- I like to for people to play my golf course to walk away with a memory, whether it's a good one, whether it's a challenging one.
And I think if you look at all of the golf holes, and the interesting aspect about this event as we knew the tournament was going to come here at this time of the year, with a small field, the wind changes direction from the morning, because it's cool, and it comes off the east off cool land and switches around to the west roundabout one or two o'clock. So The European Tour has to be very careful of that because the wind can get up pretty heavily around here.
So that golf course switches because of weather conditions, players can be left out there in a very vulnerable position. So being a small field, it gives the time period between tee times, what tee times are running I don't think, ten, 12 minutes?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Ten minutes.
GREG NORMAN: Ten-minute tee times. So you have a shorter time period where the whether conditions will really affect the day.
If you had from 8.00 in the morning until 3.00 in the afternoon, it could make a dramatic difference on the golf course. It would be easy in the morning or harder in the afternoon.
So we took that into consideration and we talked to The European Tour about it, so they are aware of it, and ball is in their court on how they set the golf course up.
Q. You came here very early on, after the Desert Classic started; can you remember what your overriding impression of the place was then?
GREG NORMAN: Of Dubai? 18 years ago? There was nothing here. The Hard Rock Cafe was the tallest building in this part of the world. I stayed down at Jebel Ali, and what was that, a three-story, four-story hotel. So I remember driving across the desert to get to the Jebel Ali. The road system wasn't anywhere like this.
So it's just a dramatic change. Yes, it's all been great for 18 years, and yes there's been a hiccup. And the same can be said with a lot of developments and resorts in the United States. Look at the United States in general: 500 hotels are going to go into foreclosure next year. Nobody really writes about that, but that's a reality. The shared demise of the global economy is not just here in Dubai; it's everywhere.
And the PGA Tour are suffering. The European Tour have got to work hard to do it. We have all got to step up to the plate. I think the most alert thing that could happen would be for the players to be very alert to that. It's not going to be like it used to be. It's going to be a while. George can probably stand here and tell you whichever way, how tough it is out there. It's tough in business.
Q. Meaning the players have to take prize money reductions?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I made that comment; I made that comment a year ago to Mr. Finchem. I think the players, when everybody was taking cuts in their employment, cuts in salary, I actually made the comment, to make golf look good and responsible to what's happening with the rest of the world, maybe they should be. You could put in a slush fund away for a rainy day, put it aside, but everybody has got to be aware of it.
Again, I'm consistent. You can check my records; I hate the players to look recession-proof. And the players have to be aware that The European Tour does work very, very hard to get these events on, for you guys to be here, for the players to be here. And I've gone through the cycle of being really good and now I'm in a cycle, a different aspect in my world of golf, but in business, going through that cycle, you have to be aware of it. And I think the younger generation don't see it because they have never been through it before. I've been through three recessions.
So you have to be very aware of it, and once you pop out the other side, then you can respect what a George O'Grady has to go through or what you guys have to go through to some degree. I'm sure your newspaper corporations are trimming budgets and cutting your expenses. We have all had to tighten our belts a little bit, and I think it's responsible for the players to be very cognizant of that, as well.
Q. May I ask a question of George. George, how confident are you that we will be sitting here at this time next year, and the player will be playing for a purse that's the same as it is now?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Extremely confident.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, you're either confident or you're not confident, and I'm confident. (Laughter).
I would say Greg has been consistent on what he's said being realistic, and before we made the offer to reduce our prize funds here in The Race to Dubai and the Dubai World Championship, we did, in fact, amongst various players I talked to, we took a counsel at The Senior Open at Sunningdale, and so it's consistent there.
I think if this tournament is as successful as we think it's going to be, I think the course is in immaculate condition. I hope The Race comes down virtually to the last putt on Sunday afternoon, which mathematically it could do. If this tournament, as a golf tournament is successful, and I'm convinced it will look good on television. I certainly don't mind if it's low-scoring; in weather like it was yesterday in the Pro-Am, would you expect it to be low scoring.
As long as everything goes well, the contract is there, they intend to honour it. I do read some of the gloom and doom in the newspapers, which could make people think twice, but there's my answer: Extremely confident.
Q. If it's not impertinent to ask, would you tell us how long the contract is?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think it's been well-publicised and publicised in our weekly newspaper, which would be the 51st week we published it; it's a five-year contract. But all contracts can be examined.
We have examined this one on prize money levels, taking into account the global economic situation, which has gone down very well in this part of the world; that we made the offer, rather than them demanding they would honour their contracts, and I think everybody understands the word face. So we made that offer, and having spoken to a lot of our leading players at The Open Championship, specifically Greg on a one-to-one at Sunningdale, and I think it's been well received here and shows no one is immune.
Q. Many years ago, you had a vision of many world championships, probably played around the world; is where golf is now, anywhere close to that vision?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I can answer this question for me. I think it's probably in a better position now than it's ever been.
I think America is going to come through a bit of a correction here, might take a while to do that. The European Tour is probably on the threshold. Not saying that because George is sitting here; I truly believe that from my business aspect.
We see what's happening in the game of golf globally. With golf going into the Olympics, a huge shot in the arm for countries like China, like South America, like India, the Asian countries are really going to come through. That was the best thing that could ever happen to international golf was for golf to go in the Olympics.
Now the opportunity really is there and I think you'll probably see that the US PGA Tour is kind of scrambling right now to get on to the global train that these guys, The European Tour, has been doing very successfully for how long now, seven, eight years? Maybe longer.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Longer.
GREG NORMAN: They recognise that opportunity. Whether it's the European global tour or what, I don't know. But there is definitely an opportunity for that to take place, and the game of golf, the shift of power is taking place right now.
Just talk about China, 3 million golfers there, by 2020 there's going to be more golfers in China than the United States if it keeps growing the way it's going to grow. If you think of one country like that; and South America is just like the same, Brazil is the same, Argentina the same, a lot of activity that we are seeing in India right now.
So you'll see that's huge, three places in the world that account for 50 percent of the population of the world, so you only have to get a small leg hole into that mass of population in the game of golf, you can tell where it will be in 10, 15, 20 years time. It's not going to happen overnight, but we definitely see it from a business front, and we definitely see that from a golf playability standpoint, too.
So the world is the oyster right now and everybody is really, because of the golf in the Olympics, everybody is really going to start seeing long-term views now instead of very microscopic views or very national views of where the game is.
Q. I hope you don't mind, on an unrelated subject, are you willing to talk yet about where things are with Chris Evert?
GREG NORMAN: No.
Q. Obviously the circumstances are beyond your control, but is there any sense of disappointment that the first time your course will be seen by the world, it's surrounded by houses and villas that are not complete?
GREG NORMAN: No, not at all. I can think of other developments we have been at where some houses have been completed.
But the philosophy here was different than a lot of other places. The philosophy here was to build and get your deposit down and get your deposits on top of that. Some developers have a different attitude to it. Some guys do it in stages, whatever traunche you want to release at the time, that's what you build on. Some developers sell to probably three or four or five or two different builders, and they go out there and build their traunches.
This approach here was just different. You know what, we can sit here now and say, the economy was great, then we would all look like heroes. And right now everybody is looking for the negative side instead of the positive side, and to me, the positive side is what George is saying. Everybody is really committed to the effort here and the contractual obligations are going to be honoured and are going to continue on which is great for the game of golf and great for everybody in this room. You do have to make adjustments on the fly when something of this magnitude happens on a global basis.
A lot of wealth is lost, as we all know. So there has to be some correction, but don't focus in on the fact that there's a lot of empty buildings here. Focus in on the fact that there's a lot of wisdom and foresight and vision to really go ahead and believe that this could be where it should be and where it will be; it will take time. It will come back.
Q. What are your overall impressions of the venue here considering the importance of the tournament and the fact that it will conclude your inaugural Race to Dubai, are you happy with it; does it surpass expectations or fall below your expectations?
GEORGE O'GRADY: It's just about dead on. I think no one is denying it's been a challenge this last year to get to where we are. The golf course is in immaculate condition. That's the general view of all of the players at the excellent party they threw last night; all of the ones I spoke to, anyway. Design issues you can take up with Greg and can be looked at as the year goes on. The condition of the golf course is first rate. It's such a big project in terms of access, and parking areas and tented villages and finishing homes; that was the challenge throughout the year.
I think the way the spectators come in, the way they park the car, the way they get into the practise range, tented village, refreshments, will be good. The welcome to the players and the caddies and everyone else who has travelled and the rest has been so far absolutely outstanding. I think by Sunday night, we will see a really, really good championship, and everybody will be on hopefully a big high.
Q. This might be a bit of a daft question, since we are in a desert, but where do you get the white sand from?
GREG NORMAN: Where do we get the white sand from? I have to ask my guys where we actually got it in.
GORDON SIMPSON: North Carolina, I believe.
GREG NORMAN: North Carolina. (Laughter).
GORDON SIMPSON: It's the same sand as Augusta, I'm told, as well.
GREG NORMAN: I think it is, yeah.
Q. See any irony in that?
GREG NORMAN: Well, it's not the right granular shape; the desert is not the right granular shape for bunkers. (Laughter).
Q. Many of the golf course architects, some hundred years ago, most of them said that the old courses have been the basis for their philosophy, if that's the correct word for it; do you have any special golf course that you use or that you favour?
GREG NORMAN: I wouldn't favour a golf course, but I'd favour an architect. I've been a huge MacKenzie, Tillinghast fan for years and years. The reason why I've been a big fan of them, because they take the least-disturbance approach. And back in those days they didn't have D10s and D8s, 650D motor graders and all of the heavy duty equipment we have now. They build golf courses by horse and plow. They built golf courses by hand.
So they integrated the flow of every hole into how the terrain suited them, and they didn't move much there, and that was very respectful to the environment. They didn't know that at the time because they don't know any different. As we went through the 80s, we went through the slash-and-burn era of just pushing up giants bounds of dirt and making it look artificial and taking the environment and putting it down on a lower level.
Now it's changed. And I have always kept my philosophy the same: I have been a huge admirer for MacKenzie and Tillinghast. So as you look at all of my golf courses, I take the least-disturbance approach, because I think the golf course, when it's done, should look like it's been there for 20 years.
And then you've got to think about ongoing maintenance, the costs get handed down to the members or associations or developers who own the project; you've got to think about those ongoing costs, because they go on for the life of the golf course.
So not one particular golf course. And I think why even myself, I love St. Andrews; I love the way the thought process went into designing the golf course by challenging a player. Even though the fairway could be 80 yards wide, you get challenged by your second shot, not by your tee shot. And from a good player's perspective, that's the way golf should be played. You should get on the tee and figure out where the pin position is to figure out where you want to hit it on the fairway. And, you know, St. Andrews is very much that way.
Q. What's the most difficult hole you've ever played?
GREG NORMAN: Well, that totally depends on the weather conditions. Every one of them could be tough if you're playing bad at the time. 17 at St. Andrews a great example. You put that pin four yards over the edge of the Road Hole Bunker, it's almost an impossible second shot. And therefore, I'd put that one up there in probably my top five or six actually.
GORDON SIMPSON: Do you see it's been lengthened for next year?
GREG NORMAN: It's been lengthened? 40 yards?
Q. Tee over the other side of the railway.
GREG NORMAN: Did they really? Okay. Now you're going to tell me they put that barn up about 30 metres higher, right? Really? 40 yards on the tee?
Well, they have done that with Pebble Beach, too. You've got to see what they have done to Pebble Beach, they have lengthened the 9th hole, the 10th hole, 11th hole, 13th hole, 40, 50 yards. So completely different-looking golf course now.
Q. I was going to ask about the Olympics and the courses down there, presumably you will be very interested in designing a course down there. Do you know what the process is involved in doing that, and where are you? Presumably there's a lot of competition. Where are you, as it were, in the race to design a course for the Olympics?
GREG NORMAN: Fortunately for me, I have a couple of projects going down there and fortunate for me that one of the developers that we are doing the golf course with is very much involved with the Olympic movement. It just happened to be that way. It wasn't anything else; just fate fell in our lap. Whether we get the nod to be the golf course for it, I don't know.
But we are already in that process way before the IOC nominated Rio for it. So we will see how it plays out. But there will be a scramble. There is a scramble: Whether it's the U.S. pa you are or whether it's Nicklaus or Ernie else or Faldo. Everybody would like to be that golf course, that is for sure.
Everybody has just got to sit back and wait and see what happens.
Q. But yours started?
GREG NORMAN: No. We are in the design phase right now.
Q. When would you expect to know? What advance would you want on that?
GREG NORMAN: I would say we will probably know in the next couple of years. We'll start construction here in the next year.
Q. You mentioned Tom Watson a while ago, and of course you and him played such a part in the last two Open Championships; what do you think much the R&A's decision to give an extended run to past champions who finish in the Top-10?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I think the R&A is just keeping up with what the modern golfer, in the old modern golf, is really doing right now. I think technology has helped the older guy, obviously myself and Tom Watson. The golf course is absolutely helping that. And I think that the R&A is about the only one that could do that, because when we get on links golf courses, that ball can go and be a little fiery.
St. Andrews is a prime example. Anybody, anybody in that tournament can win the British Open next year, and I think the reflection of what's happened in '08 and '09, there's going to be a lot of players with that mind-set going -- Seve is coming back. Is he still coming back? Maybe? Maybe not? Okay. But anyway, I'd love to see him come back.
But players like that, who could come up to a St. Andrews and have a good chance of winning.
So I think the R&A have made a very positive move for the game of golf, and obviously it's targeting certain players, but at the end of the day, those players should be rewarded by what their performance have been for the game of golf over whatever the time period has been.
Q. Something about your golf, do you have a schedule maybe for next year? Will you play ten times or less or more?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I'm not allowed to play golf or swing a golf club until the middle of February. I can't even start rehab yet, lifting weights. My shoulder surgery has still got me curtailed in that department. I can't start lifting weights for another five weeks, six weeks. That will take another six to eight weeks before I can actually chip or putt; I can putt, but not chip or any motion.
So quite honestly, middle of February is when I start, and then you've got to start all over again. So I don't know when that time will be. I don't know how many golf tournaments I will play, but I'll be back playing.
Q. Is it a difficult time for you to be recovering, or do you have so many things to do that you don't care?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I have a lot of things to do, but really the next month, I'm going to miss two tournaments I was really looking forward to playing in.
I had the shoulder surgery early enough to think I was going to be back. I didn't realise I had that big of a problem in my shoulder, but it was the Australian Open and my tournament, both in December. I'm a member of the golf club in New South Wales in Sydney. It's the Australian Open; I wanted to get lack there and play. Obviously my tournament, first time I'll miss in 21 years.
So those are the two I'm probably going to regret the most. And then there's the Skins Game in Hawaii in January. I was going to play in with Freddie Couples. Freddie Couples was going to be my partner at the Shootout. So, a lot of fun events I really enjoy playing are going to be put on the side, unfortunately.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much, George, Greg. I think we can all look forward to a great finish to The Race to Dubai. Thanks for joining us today.
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