Norman, Tiger sail away from golf

"I don't care how rich he is -- as long as he has a yacht, his own private railroad car, and his own toothpaste." -- Marilyn Monroe, as Sugar Kane, in "Some Like It Hot," 1959

Greg Norman has sold his yacht for Some Ungodly Amount of Money, and Tiger Woods has bought a new yacht. Reminds me of a starry evening in New York. I stepped aboard Emilio Azcarraga's yacht and heard the Mexican media mogul say, "Please, your shoes, take them off."

As any undomesticated schlump would do when confronted by the demands of civilized society, I looked at my penny loafers and asked myself two questions.

First, "Does he mean that?"

I noticed Azcarraga nod toward a straw basket containing shoes already found guilty of having touched city streets. They called him "El Tigre" because a white stripe ran through his thick mane of black hair; also, he ate lesser men alive.

Probably, any mental defective whose shoes scuffed the yacht deck would be hogtied by one-eyed, hook-handed, bush-faced sailors and keelhauled from Hoboken to Guadalajara.

Off with the shoes.

Then the second question, "Do my socks match?"

Happily, both were black, or navy blue and black, or really, really dark brown and navy blue, close enough by my standards to be a match.

Latin America's version of Rupert Murdoch, Azcarraga wanted to start a national sports newspaper in the United States. So he brought journalists onto his yacht and even into his private suite to admire a large painting.

To gaze upon the painting's pattern of random splatters was to imagine its title, "Look What Happens When a Can of Paint Explodes Nearby." But El Tigre explained.

"A Jackson Pollock," he said. "One in each stateroom."

When Fitzgerald said the rich are different from us, Hemingway responded, "Yes, they have more money," meaning we're all just guys here. One man's $70 rowboat on a pond is another's $70 million yacht on the Mediterranean. One man's Elvis-on-velvet is another's Pollock. One man's Tugboat Annie is another's Babelicious Swedish Nanny. (Whoa. One sentence too many.)

Anyway, it's true Tiger Woods, richer than most of us, is capable of expressing envy and mocking the pretensions of the Ostentatiously Wealthy. Evidence came in San Diego last February.

As Woods idled between shots, he saw a large ship floating in the Pacific Ocean. It might have been an ocean liner. Someone else said it was an aircraft carrier. Tiger sized up the leviathan and said, "Is that Norman's boat?"

At the time, Tiger owned a yacht and had a new one under construction. Woods and agent Mark Steinberg declined to comment on the dealings, but Christensen Shipyards of Vancouver, Wash., confirmed in February that Woods was a customer. He bought a 155-foot, three-deck yacht with 6,500 square feet of living space, six staterooms for 12 guests, and quarters for a crew of nine, and diving gear galore. (On his website, Woods once explained his passion for diving: "The fish don't know who I am.") The boat is a version of the Mystic, a Christensen boat priced near $18 million.

Inside my rowboat, splinters and rust.

Inside Tiger's yacht, cherry wood and marble.

Inside Norman's yacht . . .

Wait, mate. Take off those shoes soiled by planetary dust. Aussie Rules is a mansion on water. At 228 feet, it was 43rd on Power & Motoryacht magazine's 2004 listing of the world's longest yachts. Its initials, AR, are etched into the Italian marble floor of the cherry-paneled main entrance.

The April 2004 Robb Report magazine did an AR inventory so heavy on brand-name plugs that the piece read like a sales brochure: "Bernardaud china, Christofle silver, Waterford crystal, Frette linens and personal-care products by Jurlique."

And: overstuffed couches, ottomans, draperies, and pillows done in chenilles, silks and velvets. An Art Deco movie theater with a Linn entertainment system, one master suite, five staterooms for 10 guests, quarters for a crew of 14, private office, conference room, workout room, 1,000-gallon Jacuzzi with four swim-up bar stools and 12 televisions, among them a 61-inch NEC PlasmaSync.

So, where's the putting green?

"Nothing golf-related," says Brian Stevens, a Norman public-relations representative. "You could walk on the boat and not know it had anything to do with Greg Norman, golfer."

But a man who helped coordinate the yacht's design and specifications suggests that Norman's very identity is embedded in Aussie Rules.

Geoff Cribb is an overseas representative of the Australian shipbuilding company Austal. He says, "Greg is extremely competitive, not your typical yacht owner sun-tanning in Monaco."

Norman was hands-on in the boat's creation, "deeply, intimately involved . . . every day for two years," says Jim Gilbert, editorial director of ShowBoats International magazine.

So Aussie Rules is luxury with muscle. It carries six boats and has dive gear for 30 (and a decompression chamber). There are 200 fishing rods, two kayaks and an armada of powered water toys. The yacht's range at 12 knots is 9,000 nautical miles.

A pleasure palace, yes.

So is Tiger's, but with an elemental difference. At a cost of about $22 million, Tiger's yacht is a luxury upgrade from his 105-footer. Still, it has an air of shorts and flip-flops, T-shirts and sunscreen. Open a beer, sit around, sail into the sunset. It's an escape boat.

Tiger's is Yacht Casual.

Norman's is Yacht Formal.

The difference is that Tiger wanted the boat for the fun of it, and Norman wanted the boat for the money of it.

Norman and his wife, Laura, always saw the yacht "as an investment," the spokesman Stevens says. It was also an entrepreneurial project with Norman as a de facto partner to the builder. Austal hoped that (1) Norman's celebrity, and (2) the expertise gained in building the boat would make the company a prominent player in the world of megayachts.

In the end, Austal reported that Norman's contract price, estimated by industry insiders at $49 million in U.S. dollars, didn't cover construction costs and contributed to the company's $13 million loss in 2002-2003.

On the yacht's delivery in early 2003, Austal executive chairman John Rothwell "dismissed speculation Norman had agreed to sell [the yacht] to an overseas buyer after he had operated it under his own name for 18 months," to quote a Perth newspaper, The West Australian.

Norman moved more quickly than that. In May 2004, an Austal spokeswoman confirmed the sale of Aussie Rules. The new owner is Wayne Huizenga, the Florida billionaire. One industry analyst guesses that Norman sold at 10 percent over his cost. Neither Huizenga nor Norman responded to Golf Digest's queries about the yacht. "Greg made no bones about his plans," says an industry analyst.

Quick turnovers are common. Most megayacht loans require a balloon payment in five years. "After two, three years, most guys are slipping into a new boat," says Lisa Verbit, a Bank of America executive.

I don't know about you, but if I'm Greg Norman and I have a $49 million IOU coming due on my yacht, here's what I do:

I scrounge under the cushions of my overstuffed couches for loose change dropped by folks who paid $301,000 a week plus all expenses to charter the boat.

Then I go stand on the bow and shout toward Miami, "Hey, Wayne, want to buy a boat?"

Huizenga owns most everything south of Georgia. That includes his personal golf course, the Floridian Golf & Yacht Club, where he invites guests such as his Florida neighbor and friend, the aforementioned Norman.

Huizenga told BusinessWeek magazine's Dean Foust about a round with Norman, former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch and NBC's Matt Lauer.

"It was memorable," Foust said, "because Welch beat Norman." Single-digit handicapper Welch used forward tees, Norman the tips.

For some of us, $54 million is a huge sum. For Huizenga, it's loose change in his golf bag. First thing he did after buying Aussie Rules was change the name to Floridian and send her in to be refitted for a helipad.

Every yacht, I suppose, should have a helipad. But I'd prefer a golf tee, like the one on Duane Hagadone's Lady Lola.

Hagadone is the Idaho publisher famous in golf for building a green that floats in a lake at his Coeur d'Alene Resort golf course. For his 205-foot Oceanco yacht, Hagadone dreamed up what he calls "the world's only floating golf course."

It begins with the tee, a patch of artificial turf that rises from under the teak deck. Crewmen anchor 18 buoys at assorted distances from the yacht, each buoy topped by a golf flag. Using clubs engraved with the "Lady Lola" logo, seafaring hackers have match-play events. Closest to the buoy wins the hole.

But, you may say, don't the balls sink?

Please. You think this is some rowboater deal? "We have 500 floating golf balls," the yachtsman Hagadone says. "The crewmen bring them back."

Anything less would be uncivilized.

Dave Kindred is a senior writer for Golf Digest magazine

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