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Greg Norman not at the Masters, but presence still strong in the South

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

ATLANTA - This year's Masters tournament already has plenty of story lines - protestors, protestors protesting protestors, Tiger Woods vying for an unprecedented third straight green jacket - but obscured by all that is another that in any other year might be the principal topic of conversation. For the first time since 1981 Greg Norman will not be playing in The Masters.

Although he's never won the event, few players in Masters history have been as integral to its folklore as Norman. For 22 consecutive tournaments Norman has existed as the catalyst of some of the most memorable moments in golf. The Masters will certainly survive the maelstrom of politics and media it will encounter, but can it also survive the absence of the one player it has most counted on to provide the human drama that's made it the game's most entertaining event?

Norman will not be teeing it up at Augusta National this year, but that doesn't mean his presence won't be felt in the South. Since he founded his architectural firm in 1995 Greg Norman Golf Course Design has produced dozens of original courses worldwide, 11 of them located in the South, the largest concentration of any region in the United States.

Though the firm claims to have to have no set style of architecture certain features of its design that are unmistakable in these Southern venues, notably the lack of heavy earth moving, the use of stacked sod wall bunkers, waste areas filled with low utility sands, and subtle greens flanked by shaved chipping areas.

Vice President of Greg Norman Golf Course Design Jason McCoy says that these attribute stem from Norman's desire to build courses in the naturalistic style of links courses of the United Kingdom and the Sand Belt courses near Melbourne. "His mandate [was that] he wanted to bring a little of the style and flair of Australian golf and the bump and run around the greens."

This usually results in a reluctance to move large quantities of earth, something that also would set him apart from many of his contemporaries. "We 're a very low-profile company as far as our dirt works are concerned," McCoy says. "We don't believe in going up and blowing up 300 acres and building it back and landscaping it. We like to (move) the least amount of earth as we can."

Norman's first effort in the southeastern United States dates to 1995. The Medalist Clubin Hobe Sound, Florida was originally built with Pete Dye but the course has become something of a pet project for Norman who remains strongly affiliated with the club. Numerous revisions by Norman have taken away the edge The Medalist formerly possessed but at one time this course was considered one of the best in southeast Florida.

In 1997 Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD) opened arguably the firm's most popular product to date, the Tournament Players Club at Sugarloaf in Duluth, Georgia and site of the BellSouth Classic. Signature features such as the intricate stacked sod wall bunkers first appeared here in the U.S. These Sugarloaf characteristics have been repeated at his other regional projects but they continue to set the design apart from other greater Atlanta courses that can't match its deep penal bunkering or confounding green complexes despite owning similarly expressive topography.

The second Norman firm-designed southern course to open was Tiburon Golf Club (late 1998) located next to the new Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida. Following the predominant themes of Sugarloaf, Tiburon, originally 27 holes but recently expanded to 36, is an exercise in greenside variability. Tiburon is a sleek second-shot course that manages to stay interesting even though it's not blessed with any notable elevation.

The 1999 design at The Reserve at Lichtfield, a private club in Pawley's Island, South Carolina is a precursor to Shark's Tooth Golf Club, another private club located on Lake Powell in northwest Florida opened in 2002. The sites share a naturally preserved feel as they interact with pine forests, wetlands, and lakes with minimal intrusion from homes. The designs are refreshing for their lack of noticeable engineering and showcase traditional, sod-wall, and off-color/off-sand waste bunkering. The Reserve, like Tiburon, is devoid of rough and can play fast and furious in windy conditions.

The private The Point Golf Club opened in Morresville, North Carolina in late 1999 and was followed by The Great White Course at Doral in 2000. The Great White Course is a departure from both what GNGCD had been doing in the South up to that point as well as from Doral's existing collection of solidly South Florida-styled designs. More akin to desert golf the course it marked with target landing areas bordered by crushed coquina shell waste areas rather than formal rough The Great White Course, like many Norman designs, packs quite a visual punch with the constant contrast between green and sand.

Next came The Norman Course at Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach, also opened in 2000. The Norman Course at Barefoot Resort is one of four golf courses (the others by Davis Love III, Tom Fazio, and Pete Dye) and further typifies the firm's style: low profile golf holes defined by a mix of traditional white sand and sharp sod wall bunkers with emphasis placed on the ground game around convex greens.

Then, just when you thought you had GNGCD figured out, the firm opens ChampionsGate, a 36-hole venue in southwest Orlando . The resort will welcome the luxurious new Omni Hotel in 2004 and offers two courses built in distinct styles. The National Course reflects traditional American parkland architecture and the International Course simulates, you guessed it, international design, in this case elements of links and wind strewn seaside architecture.

Ironically the National has more in common with Norman's other southeastern courses than the International with its subtly crowned greens, closely mown chipping areas, and waste areas playing independent from the formalized bunkering. The International is the more intense of the two, however, with large sand washes and wild grasses separating holes that are littered with pot bunkers and circle out around man-made lakes and dunes.

In addition to Shark's Tooth and Doonbeg Golf Club in Ireland, in 2002 GNGCD opened The Oldfield Course between Beaufort and Hilton Head in South Carolina. Oldfield is back to familiar form for the firm with its patented low push-up greens, flat-bottomed sod-wall bunkers and barren green complexes. It doesn' t lack for scenery either, playing around ancient oaks and across marshes and open savannahs near the scenic Okatie River.

The future for GNGCD looks busier than ever, particularly in the Southeast. After knocking out highly acclaimed courses one after the other Norman and his team are beginning to earn commissions on par with the industry's most successful firms such as Nicklaus Design, Tom Fazio, Palmer Course Design, and Rees Jones.

Upcoming projects include a Norman course at the Grand Lakes development in Orlando alongside the new Ritz-Carlton set to open in July of 2003, Parkland Golf and Country Club in Parkland, Florida, another course designed in conjunction with Pete Dye outside Naples called Tuscany Reserve, a course near Sugarloaf in Atlanta called the River Club, and a new course near Savannah, Georgia.

The Medalist Club
9908 SE Cottage Lane
Hobe Sound, Florida 33455
(561) 545-9600

TPC at Sugarloaf
2845 Sugarloaf Club Drive
Duluth, Georgia 30097
(770) 418-1994

Tiburon Golf Club
2620 Tiburon Drive
Naples, Florida 34109
(941) 594-2040

The Reserve at Lichtfield
Litchfield Beach, S.C., 29803
888-268-1285 or 843-235-0755

Shark's Tooth Golf Club
2003 Wild Heron Way
Panama City Beach, Florida 32413
(850) 249-3041

The Great White Course at Doral
4400 NW 87th Ave.
Miami, Florida 33178
(305) 592-2000

The Norman Course at Barefoot Resort
4980 Barefoot Resort Bridge Road
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
(843) 390-7999

1400 Masters Blvd.
ChampionsGate, Florida 33837
(407) 787-4653

The Oldfield Course
1 Oldfield Circle
Okatie, S.C. 29910
(866) 653-3435

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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