- Top 100
- Gary Player
Gary Player, the youngest of three children born to Harry and Muriel Player, had a tough start in life. Tragically his mother died when he was only eight years old. Player later wrote that his sad loss “has been a means for me, as it were, to settle some unfathomable debt.”
When Player was fourteen, his father bought him a set of golf clubs, which he immediately put to good use at Virginia Park golf course (now called South Downs Country Club), located on the edge of the Klipriviersberg Municipal Nature Reserve, south of downtown Johannesburg.
According to folklore, during his first game at Virginia Park, Player parred the first three holes, and two years later aged sixteen, he declared that he would become the best golfer in the world.
“Gary Player turned professional in 1953 and won scores of tournaments throughout the world,” wrote Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten in The Architects of Golf. “One of only four men [now five including Tiger Woods] to complete golf’s Grand Slam, he won three British Opens, three Masters, two PGA Championships and one U.S. Open. With Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Player was considered one of golf’s Big Three in the 1960s.
Although he was always first and foremost a competitive golfer, Player served as a golf design consultant for over half a dozen different golf architects. At the height of his playing career, Player planned several courses in South Africa and Zimbabwe in collaboration with professional golfer Sid Brews and Dr. Van Vincent. In the early 1970s he was associated with American designers Ron Kirby and Arthur Davis. When Davis left the partnership, Player then teamed up with Ron Kirby and Denis Griffiths.
In 1987 Player teamed for a time with Karl Litten, a former associate of Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin. That relationship lasted two years. Player then formed his own design firm, Gary Player Design Co., headquartered in southern Florida. But Player competed full-time on the Senior PGA Tour and assigned the day-to-day architectural duties to Jeff Myers, a former Litten associate, and Joseph Duco III.”
Since the mid-1990s a good number of golf course architects have passed through the doors of Gary Player Design. Today the company has two senior designers on its books, Jeff Lawrence and Steven McFarlane. McFarlane is responsible for “Signature Design” with Player in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Central America.
“The design of a golf course is a far more sophisticated process than many people would ever imagine, as it requires not only an understanding of the game, but a great deal of vision and clever planning,” says Player. “To a large extent the topography of the land one works with will determine how the golf course is to be laid out, and in this regard it is always my objective to work as much as possible with the natural topography, environment and features of the site.
As a course designer, one of my prime concerns is always to create beauty and harmony and a playable golf course, whilst respecting a developer’s objectives… There is no doubt that designing golf courses is an area of business that gives me significant pleasure and reward. There are various reasons for this; however, perhaps the most important is the fact that I feel we are putting something back into nature by designing and building golf courses. There is a natural reward in being able to play a course once it is built, but that is far outweighed by the satisfaction experienced when I see other people deriving enjoyment from something we’ve helped create. I get a great kick out of knowing that hundreds of years after people have long forgotten me, the courses with which we have been involved will continue to give people tremendous pleasure!”
Undeniably the Black Knight and his design team have left a lasting legacy from Thracian Cliffs on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast to Elephant Hills in Zimbabwe. Player’s finest design is almost always considered to be The Links at Fancourt. The Links is perhaps unlucky not to be listed in our World Top 100, but it was prominently featured in the book, Top Golf Courses of the World, where Player listed 55 of his personal favourite courses. Listed under the “Links-Like Courses” chapter, which also included Shinnecock Hills and Seminole, Gary Player’s view of his creation at George in South Africa is as follows:
“I feel this is one of the very best golf courses in the world, even though it may have been built on the worst piece of ground – clay as flat as an airport. I’m proud to have worked as the course designer and could not be happier with how it turned out. It has been designed to make golfers feel as though they were at Ballybunion, Dornoch, or St Andrews with rolling fairways, pot bunkers, big greens, high rough, and a seascape appearance.”
World Golf Hall of Fame (Class of 1974) – Fact: “Gary Player has been dubbed the Black Knight, Mr. Fitness and the World’s Most Traveled Athlete™.”
World Golf Hall of Fame: “Player is indisputably the greatest international golfer of all time. He estimates he has spent more than three years of his life in airplanes and traveled some 28 million air kilometers. In every year from 1955 to 1982, Player won at least one sanctioned international tournament, a 27-year streak. He won the World Match Play title five times, the Australian Open seven times and the South African Open 13 times. In winning the 1974 Brazilian Open, he shot the only 59 ever in a national open. In 2016 in golf’s return to the Olympic Games, he captained the South African team, and is the country’s Sportsman of the Century. Player is a father to six children, grandfather of 22 and great grandfather of one.”
From The Story of American Golf by Herbert Warren Wind:
“Golf, because it is the one game played over natural train in all kinds of conditions, is perhaps the most difficult of all sports for the traveling competitor to play well. Granting that a South African has to spend a greater portion of his time overseas than golfers who come from countries with a bigger and richer tournament schedule, and which offer lusher subsidiary benefits, the fact that Gary Player has been able to win (and win the significant tournaments) in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, and Australia stamps him as one of the genuinely great athletes of our age.
Player’s accomplishments loom all the more impressive when one reflects that he is a relatively small man- he stands a little over five-seven and weighs about 160 pounds – competing against much bigger men in an era of out-and-out power golf. Nevertheless, it is only the super-long hitters who crack the ball a good distance past Player. He is exceedingly strong, having realized many years ago that he would have to compensate for his size by building up his body. He has since devoted large periods of each day to lifting weights, or doing hundreds of pushups, or running in place for hundreds of strides, or executing whatever exercise he was dedicated to that particular season.
Whether he is at his country farm outside Johannesburg or at his ranch at Magoembas Kloof in the beautiful rolling country 250 miles north of Johannesburg, he loves to take on hand physical chores, such as mending gates and fences, repairing roads, rebuilding barns and other shelters. His unrelenting search for sinew and stamina has also made him a health food devotee. His passions and discoveries run their courses. At one period he was sure that the master key to fitness was a regular intake of honey, but at other times he has been equally sold on the merits of wheat germ, fruits, raisins, nuts, black bread, and bananas.”
“The harder you practice, the luckier you get.” Gary Player