Greg Norman’s involvement in a new Asian Tour series backed by the Saudi government, as CEO no less, has received plenty of attention this past week.
And while many have delved into the various elements of his new role at the helm of LIV Golf Investments, the announcement and subsequent discourse struck a distinctly personal chord.
Fellow Golf Australia writer John Huggan regularly states that the worst thing about the job covering a game we love is that you no longer have any heroes. And in the case of Norman, Huggan is exactly right.
In the course of reporting on golf, the golfers who you once idolised are eventually shown to be human. For some this can be a redeeming feature, but often it is knowledge garnered that can tear down the metaphoric poster from your childhood wall.
Growing up in Australia in the later stages of his career, I was obsessed with all things Greg Norman.
"For this reporter however, there will be no ‘Good on you, mate’ for helping a government do its best to take attention away from its historical and current abhorrent practices." - Jimmy Emanuel.
Wide brim hat, check. Cobra driver, check. Heel shaft blade putter, check. Anything bearing his logo, check and check.
There was a less than ideal autograph interaction for my dad chasing the Shark’s ‘John Hancock’ at The Lakes that made feelings slightly shift, but on reflection it is an understandable one.
Far less conscionable for this once Greg Norman idoliser is his involvement in what appears ‘Sportswashing’ by the Saudis. A government responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a truly terrifying thought even for someone merely writing on golf, let alone its history of the treatment of women.
Norman says his own involvement isn’t about getting back at the PGA Tour for effectively halting his World Tour concept in the mid ‘90s only to seemingly borrow the ideals a few years later for its own World Golf Championships.
He also has stated publicly (to Australian Golf Digest) that he hopes Australia might get a piece of the Saudi golfing pie.
However, with no specifics at all available, one can’t help but consider it similar to his repeated statements that he plans to move back to Australia with no notable movement on that front. Conveniently those words often coming around the time a new development or golf course somehow linked to his course design business is being announced or campaigned for.
The Great White Shark also made the following comment to Golf Digest in America about women in Saudi Arabia: “Women’s right issues—the women there now, I’ve been so impressed. You walk into a restaurant and there are women. They’re not wearing burkas. They’re out playing golf.”
In contrast to Norman’s claim as to his experiences with women in Saudi Arabia while building a golf course there, is the fact that Saudi women must still seek permission from a male guardian to do things we consider basic human rights, and face significant discrimination. (All of which was noted in an editor’s note accompanying the Golf Digest interview).
And just this week, Australia’s top ranked professional player, Minjee Lee, told AAP that players were struggling to play at the Ladies Saudi International due to required covering despite the excessive heat.
Of course, Lee had the option not to play there, and is surely being compensated for her decision to do so.
But the established acceptable dress standards of women’s professional golf being completely amended does not sound like reason to be “impressed” when commenting on women’s rights issues.
Norman can of course do as he chooses, align with whomever he wants and do his bit for golf in whatever way he sees fit.
For this reporter however, there will be no ‘Good on you, mate’ for helping a government do its best to take attention away from its historical and current abhorrent practices.
And for those still unsure as to whether this situation is a murky and uncomfortable as it seems, perhaps a counterpoint to the former World No.1’s words from Amnesty International UK's chief executive Sacha Deshmukh help clarify.
“It's no coincidence that Saudi Arabia's aggressive move into sport – with major boxing bouts, glitzy golf tours and new football club ownership – has come at a time when Saudi human rights defenders have been jailed, when Saudi missiles have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, and when Jamal Khashoggi was hacked into pieces in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” Deshmukh said.
In any case, thanks for the memories, Greg. It was fun while it lasted.