In 1988, Greg Norman enjoyed one of his finest years on the world’s golf stage, with seven victories covering four countries. This was the same year Norman discovered the 700 islands and cays that make up the Bahamas.
Norman found the Bahamas to be a blissful scuba, fishing, and boating escape from the professional golf tour. In 2003, The Shark designed Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course on the 37-mile-long island of Great Exuma. This 7,000-yard championship layout featuring six ocean holes became an integral part of his design portfolio that includes 100 courses worldwide.
On January 12, 2020, Norman returned to Great Exuma as an ambassador for the Korn Ferry Tour’s first event of the year, the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. The Golf Hall of Famer was kind enough to sit down and discuss golf, his love for the Bahamas, and his partnership with the Australian Bushfire Relief Fund.
You’ve had a long history with Great Exuma and the Bahamas. What is it about these islands that appeal to you?
I first came to Great Exuma in the late 80s to scuba and fish. When I discovered the marina possibilities here for yachting, I thought this was a perfect destination. The island now has direct flights to the Exuma International Airport. When you add up the fishing, the marina, the airport, and golf, I’m in heaven.
Sandals Emerald Bay Resort has hosted the tournament here in Great Exuma for four years. How did your relationship evolve with Butch Stewart of Sandals?
Sandals Emerald Bay Resort is where I first met Butch. I found that I liked his spirit. We are both fiercely protective of our brands. Now I work with his son, Adam, and we have an excellent business synergy between us.
For the Korn Ferry Tour fans and players who have never experienced Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course, what can they expect?
First of all, the resort ambiance that accompanies golf is terrific. You’ve got the mile-long white sand beach, the neighboring marina, and Great Exuma is such a great place to chill out. This is a unique destination. As for golf, with the trade winds here, the players on the Korn Ferry event will need to adjust the flight of their ball. The challenge is that you need to know your game. The best part about playing at Emerald Bay is enjoying what you see between shots.
As a designer, what goes through your mind when creating a course that is both kinds to the recreational golfer and still challenging for the professional?
A hard golf course is the easiest course to design. The toughest design is a balanced course. I always ask the developer, “What do you want?” The original owner said to make Emerald Bay a tournament course.
Transitioning from the Emerald Bayfront nine to the back nine is like playing two different courses. The front side is inland and more insulated from the wind. On the back nine, you have the wind, the beautiful ocean holes, and the residential development. My advice for the recreational golfer is to choose the right tees.
What kind of surprises did you discover when you first surveyed or walked through the property?
During the design and construction process of all my courses, I always visit several times. I’m gauging the wind and clearing virgin land. At Emerald Bay, I wore heavy boots and a cleared brush with a machete. Here in the Bahamas, we have two eco-systems to take into consideration, the mangroves and the Exuma Sound. Ultimately, I look to see what Mother Nature gives us.
There are so many beautiful ocean holes on the back nine of Sandals Emerald Bay. Is there one where you pin your shoulders back and say, “This is a great golf hole?”
There are many amazing holes at Emerald Bay, so that’s a hard question to answer. I think the par 5, 572-yard, 15th hole is a great golf hole. From the time you drive the golf ball to your arrival on the green, you can see Sandals resort in the distance. You view the resort, the beautiful beach, the setting sun, and maybe you’re thinking about a cocktail. It’s all about enjoying your journey as you head home.
Your native Australia is experiencing devasting wildfires. What can people do to help?
Australia is in desperate need of our support. What’s needed most during this unprecedented crisis are cash donations. I have coordinated with former Ambassador John Berry and the AAA to establish the Australian Bushfire Relief Fund. We can send a strong signal to our friends in Australia that the international community is there during their time of need. By donating through this fund, donations will support the Australian Red Crossfire response.