When Jim Kaat’s eyes saw the front page story about Greg Norman and his despute with a country club he co-founded, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Was Norman still trying to convince everyone he was treated unfairly, even shabbily, by the people now running the prestigious Medalist Golf Club he co-founded in northern Hobe Sound in 1995, only to angrily sever all ties with the place in December?
The more Kaat read the story that the Hall of Fame golfer told to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, the more he shook his head.
And when Kaat finished, he was so disturbed by the attacks on Medalist’s current leadership, particularly club President De Mudd, that he was moved to respond, offering a different and far less sympathetic version of Norman’s departure.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” the former Major League Baseball pitcher and award-winning broadcaster said. “I don’t want to fan the flames, but that story was a pitiful attempt by Greg to make himself look like a victim.
“That wasn’t the case.”
Kaat should know: A longtime Stuart resident and avid golfer, he was a Medalist member from 1995 until 2003, and occasionally still plays there as an invited guest.
He knows Norman, who lives on Jupiter Island.
In fact, Norman was the Medalist president when Kaat, frustrated by changes made to the course and the manner in which the club was operated, submitted his letter of resignation.
“I had voiced my opinions at a members’ meeting about the way the club was being run, and I was told by a couple of Greg’s appointed cronies on the board that, if I wasn’t happy there, maybe I should resign,” Kaat said. “So I did. And I wasn’t alone.
“I remember telling Greg when I submitted my letter, ‘If I don’t resign now, there will be 50 guys on the list.’ I underestimated. Soon, there were closer to 100.”
Like many other members who resigned — as well as some who didn’t — Kaat was critical of Norman’s constant tinkering with the layout he co- designed with legendary golf course architect Pete Dye.
Norman didn’t merely make changes to the course, Kaat said, he also tampered with the integrity of its design.
“He de-Dyed it,” Kaat said, adding, “I absolutely loved the original design. It was extremely difficult, to the point where it wouldn’t just frustrate you. It could humiliate you. But that was part of its appeal.
“The course was so tough that you couldn’t wait to get back out there and try to figure it out. A local pro once told me: ‘This course will either cause you to quit golf or make you a better player.’
“The members loved it.”
He loved everything about being a Medalist member — the course, the club, the people.
“I was probably the happiest and most-active member of that club,” Kaat said. “Then things changed.”
Starting with the course.
“Greg would go out and make changes without consulting with the members,” Kaat said. “It was as if he was using the course as his personal laboratory. You’d show up one year and a couple of holes would be different. After a while, it wasn’t the same course anymore.”
The changes also inconvenienced members, who were forced to find other places to play until the projects were completed.
Not long after the story of Norman’s parting with the Medalist became public in late December, when he sent an email to Golf Digest’s Tim Rosaforte, some online commenters joked the club should’ve been renamed “The Meddle-ist” in Norman’s honor.
“It was sad,” Kaat said. “The first few years I was there, we’d boast about the course and how great it was to be a member of the Medalist. But when I left, the members were talking about how good it used to be.”
Why alter the design?
Kaat believes the changes were made to accommodate Norman’s decision to sell homes on the property.
“Originally, the Medalist was a golf club, not a real estate venture,” said Kaat, who joined shortly it opened. “But when Greg decided to build houses there, the golf course needed to change — to become more playable.
“It’s easier to sell golf course homes when people enjoy playing the golf course. You don’t want the course to be too difficult.”
And when members complained?
Kaat said Norman’s board embraced a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, which eventually compelled many of his fellow members to quit and find other places to play.
Kaat, for one, now has memberships at the Fox Club in Palm City and Hobe Sound Golf Club. However, he has many friends who still are members at Medalist, where Norman stepped down as president in 2008.
Mudd was elected president in 2010, and Kaat said the club again is a desirable place to be a member — so much so that there’s now a waiting list for membership. There’s even a plan to restore the course’s original design, which is what sparked the Norman controversy.
Last summer, Medalist’s board hired Dye disciple Bobby Weed to head the renovation, a move that upset Norman, who said he offered to have his company do the work for free.
Norman then responded in December with a letter demanding Medalist stop using his name, as well as Dye’s, in reference to the course’s design. He later removed his memorabilia from the premises, saying Mudd had lied to him and that he was no longer wanted at the club, which counts PGA Tour stars Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson among its members.
If Norman is missed, Kaat said he hasn’t noticed it.
“I’m no longer a member, but I get out there once in a while and I have some very good friends who are members,” Kaat said. “It’s good to see the club being run so professionally.
“Not only is the course in the best condition I’ve ever seen it, but the place feels the way it used to. If the club were run then the way it is now, I never would’ve resigned.
“It’s a terrific club.”
Kaat and Norman shared that sentiment. They found agreement, too, on Norman’s assessment that the acrimonious split between the club and its co-founder was a shame.
They differ, however, as to who caused the rift.
Norman says he was pushed out by the club’s unappreciative leadership. Kaat says Norman left because he didn’t get his way.
“I don’t want to air any dirty laundry,” Kaat said, “but it wasn’t right for somebody to get by with telling the story he told.”