It’s been 25 years since Medalist Golf Club last appeared on national television, when Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf pitted then-world No. 1 Nick Price against Greg Norman, the world No. 2 and founder of the newly opened club.
On May 24, the exclusive Florida enclave hosts another made-for-TV affair with Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning taking on Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady to raise funds for COVID-19 relief.
Just don’t expect to see Greg Norman anywhere.
A spokesperson for Norman confirmed to Golfweek that the World Golf Hall of Famer was approached by Turner Sports about joining the broadcast team for The Match.
“He was very interested. Next thing he heard was that Justin Thomas had been chosen for the role,” said his representative Jane McNeillie. “That’s all we really know.”
It’s been seven years since Norman had an acrimonious and very public split from Medalist after the board hired architect Bobby Weed to make changes to the course, which the two-time major winner furiously described as “a slap in the face.” He famously removed a stuffed shark mounted above the bar in the grill room, which was replaced by a board listing winners of the member-guest including, in 2002, Norman and Andy Mill, his former best friend whose wife, tennis great Chris Evert, left him for Norman in 2006.
I asked Kevin Quigley, the president of the board at Medalist, if the club had requested Norman not be part of the production.
“No,” he replied.
Is it a preference of Medalist that he not be involved?
There was a lengthy pause.
“I wouldn’t say a preference,” Quigley finally offered. “We asked who would be involved and we received the answer. His name wasn’t one of them. So there’s nothing in the contract between all the parties that says Greg Norman cannot be involved.”
Of course, not everything has to be contractual to be understood by all parties. An inquiry to Turner Sports on whether Norman was approached was not answered by press time.
When told that Norman says he was approached and doesn’t know why there was no follow-up, Quigley said, “I have no idea what happened between him and Turner Sports. I can only say what happened between us and Turner Sports. They threw out a bunch of names and Greg Norman’s name was not among them. So we assumed he was not involved.”
Had Turner suggested Norman, would the club have been comfortable with that?
“I don’t know why he would want to be involved. You can go back and I’m sure you’ve seen the stories,” Quigley said before trailing off into another long pause. “His opinion of the golf course was so low that I don’t know why he would want to go on television and be a commentator to a product that he doesn’t approve of.”
In Medalist’s early years, Norman ran the club as he saw fit, and that included making changes to the Pete Dye design on which he was either a consultant or co-architect, depending on who you believe. When members took over the club, Dye was invited back to discuss restoring what had been changed. The legendary designer was driven around the property and was surprised by what he saw. “What happened here?” he asked.
“Greg Norman tweaked pretty much every hole,” Quigley said. “As the founding member, Greg ran the club at his sole discretion. There’s seven members on the board, he had four seats. His golf course design company did the work, his company was paid for the work, and the members were the ones paying for it. And the members didn’t want the fifth green changed, they didn’t want the bunkers moved from one side of the fairway to the other.”
Quigley says the Medalist board sent Norman registered mail inviting him to submit a proposal at the time of the restoration but received no response. “He didn’t like the idea that anyone else was touching the golf course,” said Quigley. “He had a hissy fit when it was changed. He had an opportunity. He chose not to participate.”
Medalist has earned an enviable reputation as base camp for PGA Tour stars in the last decade since Woods moved to Jupiter and joined the club. More than 20 other professionals are members, including Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Matt Wolff and Justin Thomas, who Norman believes replaced him on the broadcast team for the Tiger-Phil event. “Justin and Tiger are very close so that might have had something to do with it,” Quigley said dryly.
Norman, who lives 15 minutes away, remains on the member roll at Medalist. “As the founding member of the club, he is a member. The way the document is written, he will always be a member,” the gregarious Quigley said. “He cannot be thrown out nor can he quit. He comes around sometimes and you see him. There’s no controversy.”
Norman did make one poorly-timed visit with his grandson only to find it was member-member weekend. “We had 120 people on the range. So it wasn’t the ideal time for him to hit balls with his grandson,” Quigley said. “He was here earlier in the year. He was in the grill room, sat down and had lunch. Tiger was at a table at the same time. It was all good.”
The course viewers will see on Sunday is much closer to what was broadcast a quarter-century ago, the board president believes. “It’s not an identical restoration but we restored a lot of it,” he said. “We’ll never get it back to the original golf course but it’s a lot closer than it was five years ago.”
I asked if Norman appreciates now the work that was done. “I’ve never heard him make a complimentary comment about the golf course, but I don’t communicate with him regularly,” Quigley said.
The Medalist board will have no say in how its golf course is presented to the world. The Match is being managed by the PGA Tour and last week Tour official Slugger White spent more than four hours touring the layout and discussing pin locations in the company of the club’s professional, it’s superintendent and Olin Browne, a board member and Tour veteran. At the halfway house, the group ran into the man who has replaced the Shark as the alpha male at Medalist, Woods, who was playing with Thomas and Fowler. “They chatted for 10 or 15 minutes and Tiger was funny,” Quigley recounted with a laugh.
“He suggested to Slugger he put all the pins on the front right that way Phil couldn’t use that cut shot of his to get it in there close.”