If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Recent media speculation suggesting that global golf icon Greg Norman has been tapped up to lead a new worldwide professional golf platform is gaining serious traction. 

Reports of record sums of money being offered to the world’s best players in an F1-like model that would feature a combined team and individual competition might not be exactly how he envisioned his own ‘world tour’ concept a quarter of a century ago but, then again, maybe it is. One thing that is certain is the global outreach for such a platform will be equally as significant, if not more.

If the latest Norman rumours are indeed true, it’s the best news golf has received in a long time.

Has there been a more influential innovator in the world of golf over the past 40 years? It’s why ‘The Shark’ is the perfect person to help modernise the game at a time when the PGA Tour hasn’t exactly ticked all the boxes in its efforts to deliver a compelling product and give global golf and sport fans what they really want – the world’s best players competing against each other on a regular basis outside of the Majors and, crucially, outside of the United States.

While there is no concrete information at hand about the proposed global golf series or what it could mean for countries like Australia, reports continue to surface around the popularity of what Norman is presenting. Huge prize purses and a condensed season with a faster-paced outlook are the hooks. All this is framed around a partnership with the Asian Tour, which will afford new opportunities to the game’s top players. We understand this opportunity was also presented to the European Tour, which we have been told by an insider was posited by Norman and company to benefit all professionals with a nine-figure investment. 

If it’s all to be believed, 66-year-old Norman is an obvious – and fitting – choice to take on the establishment and transform a sport that many believe has been watered down by overly controlling executives putting their own interests ahead of the players and, importantly, the fans who are the very fabric the game. 

A case in point is the PGA Tour’s wraparound schedule. While it may have strengthened the foundations of the sport in the United States, it’s done little to harness the growth of the game in golf heartlands like Australia, which now struggles to attract players that move the needle at its marquee events.

Norman would be a true player-turned-commissioner of a, dare we say it, ‘world tour’. He’s a man whose global golf business interests would provide the worldly view required to provide some much-needed tail wind to the sport. It’s certainly not hard to picture him in such a statesman-like role. Golf has always been blessed with the stoicism of Jack Nicklaus or the musings of Gary Player, the most trusted stewards of the game. Each into their eighties, the time now seems right to pass the torch, and on initial look there are candidly no other figureheads who could hold a candle to The Shark. His mark on the game over the past half-century is indelible. As a player, his attacking, powerful and precision style of golf now dominates the modern game and is what made him the No.1 player in the world for 331 weeks, a feat that dwarfs everyone in the history of golf not named Tiger Woods. 

But what is it that this new global golf initiative would need to address? According to industry experts – and golf social media(!) – the viewpoint of an ‘overly bloated schedule’, comprised of too many ‘C-class events’, seems to get to the heart of the problem. The issue is quite obviously linked to the superstars and when they turn up. On one hand, golf’s Majors have grown massively in stature and interest. The Masters is one of the most lucrative events in world sport, with the other Major championships also commanding huge media rights deals and fan appeal. Long may that continue, because without it, the game might be lost at sea. 

Conversely, many believe that the PGA Tour holds too many events with sub-par fields that simply don’t pit the world’s best players against each other nearly often enough. If the Norman product is an F1-style series that blends team and individual competition, it does address a couple of major points. 

Firstly, if you guarantee the best players, you can guarantee commercial consistency and fan pull. Professional golf has three concerning issues with regards to long-term financial health: decreasing audiences outside of the four Majors; pre-COVID participation that had been waning; and the fastest-aging fan demographic in world sport. These are real-world issues that without innovation won’t self-correct. 

Secondly, from a fan, broadcaster, and sponsor standpoint, the simple truth is that there is escalating interest in the game’s superstars, and it is critical that golf does everything in its power to promote and showcase the best and most marketable players in order to give all stakeholders what they deserve – a great product to indulge in and support.

Look no further than the fact that while ratings for regular PGA Tour events have sagged, fans continue to embrace alternate format team events like the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, which took a quantum leap in popularity in 2019 on the back of Tiger Woods’ return to Royal Melbourne. Meanwhile, innovative one-off events like GOLFTV’s “The Match” that pit golf’s most popular players against each other head-to-head have drawn bigger TV audiences (“The Match II” involving Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady was the most-watched golf event in cable television history!) than standard Tour events and even some Major championships. 

Greg Norman
Rumours are flying around that Greg Norman has been tapped up to lead a new worldwide professional golf tour.

Here in Australia, golf and, more directly, the PGA Tour has become the wallpaper for the likes of Kayo and FOX Sports – it simply fills a void and airtime while the other bigger properties like AFL, NRL and cricket capture the larger audiences. With more streaming services coming to the market, all targeting sports for more eyeballs, alternative options of said sports will continue to be all the rage.

The message from fans is patently clear: people love watching golf’s best players and biggest names face-off against each other in non-traditional style events more than the PGA Tour’s 72-hole stroke-play formats where most players – and often the players people care about most – aren’t even in contention.

So, what’s round the corner? Well, sources say the PGA Tour may soon redistribute their bylaws that requires a player to play in at least 15 events, sign away their media rights each season and even be subject to the Commissioner’s discretion on whether or not they are allowed to play on other tours. This stance, beyond causing a potential player revolt, is sure to face legal scrutiny regarding the Tour’s ability to tell players where they can and can’t earn a living. As was evidenced with the NCAA’s recent rulings regarding college athletes in the US, there is a movement towards player rights and fair play. 

Just today, Golfweek reported eight PGA Tour players have asked for permission to play the Saudi International.

There is no doubt that golf needs a shake-up, and competition and different ways of showcasing the game’s top talents will only improve the sport for all parties. 

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy many encounters with Norman over the years – and the odd disagreement. But, just like when he ruled roost as a player, you can’t help but take in his every word and stride. Of all the pearls of wisdom he has dropped over the journey, one thing stands tall. I once asked him what truly made him a winner. He didn’t hesitate with his reply: “Competition makes the world a better place for everything and all. I could never have been number one without it.”

And so perhaps, as the Shark comes full circle, a little bit of competition is just what today’s professional game needs.