The Great White Shark was seduced by the landscape at Thornton, about 130km north-east of Melbourne, in 2015 when he was first shown a plot of land bought by former Essendon Football Club chairman David Evans 14 years ago.
Evans had long held a vision to turn the property into a golf oasis, modelled on great private clubs like Augusta National.
His ideas and investment nous and Norman’s designing genius have delivered Cathedral Lodge, a stunning addition to the Victorian golf landscape, in one of the areas savaged by the 2009 Black Saturday fires.
Norman was on hand with Evans and Premier Daniel Andrews, a keen golfer, to cut the ceremonial ribbon on a passion project that they all hope could bring major golf back to Victoria one day.
It’s a members-only enclave, with buy-in for first timers believed to be about $50,000, and on-going fees of $10,000. Significant corporate sponsorship is also invested in Cathedral Lodge.
Norman bemoaned the demise of big-time golf in Victoria, namely the Masters, which he won six times. But he also said he wasn’t surprised.
Norman wasn’t convinced golf authorities were forward thinking enough when he ruled the roost and brought in fans by the thousands.
But he predicted Cathedral Lodge would become a drawcard for players from around the world.
“It’s sad. I tried so hard for so long over here to create something special and I always ran in to roadblocks for whatever reason,” he said. “You could almost predict what was going to happen.
“But this here is such a unique site and I am going to say with all sincerity that Australians don’t realise how lucky they have got it.
“People travel all over the world thinking they are going to see better sights, but you only have to travel an hour and a half out of Melbourne and you have this.”
Norman said Cathedral Lodge set a “benchmark” for other courses, re-affirming Victoria as home to the best courses in the country and some of the best in the world.
“If David wanted to have a PGA Tour event here, it wouldn’t be hard at all,” Norman said.
Victoria is, however, staring at two years without a major golf tournament before the Presidents Cup returns in 2019, followed by the Australian Open in 2020.
Evans said staging a big-time tournament at Cathedral Lodge was “the second part of the dream”.
“But hopefully this area of Victoria will be able to accommodate it and the infrastructure will get built, and commerce in this area takes off,” he said.
Andrews said Cathedral Lodge was positive news for an area that needed it.
“This area was hard hit by those Black Saturday bushfires and many of us spent a long time visiting here to help the community rebuild, and it’s terrific to be back on such a positive note,” he said.
“Greg has given so much to Australian golf and this is a fantastic development and a great facility. Many people will travel form the other side of the world to experience this, and that’s great for jobs and tourism and economic development in the area.”