When Gary Player left South Africa to conquer the golfing world, he had $250 in his pocket. When he goes back this year after being a professional for 50 years, he is a millionaire many times over.
The tentacles to the Player business empire are far-reaching. In addition to a playing career that is still flourishing, he is a course architect with more than 200 layouts up and running. His company designs golf equipment. There is a golf academy division, responsible for teaching young golfers. And his travel company introduces his native South Africa to tourists.
The Gary Player Golf Experience combines both the mind and body into one unit for his holistic approach. His Gary Player Development promotes worldwide development of golf-centered real estate. He has a management services arm that concentrates on the operations of a golf course. There is a Gary Player Collection of Sportswear, a Gary Player Mens Tissues, even a Gary Player Golf Gym exercise device.
He is most proud, though, of his stud farm, home to some of South Africas finest thoroughbreds. At his ranch home near Johannesburg, Player sponsors a school for more than 400 native children ' the Blair Atholl School.
Players personal motto is, Everything in business is negotiable ' except quality. With his son, Marc Player, in charge of Players empire from its headquarters in Palm Beach, Fla., the Player name looms large in the golf industry worldwide..
My dad aspires to be the best in everything, says Marc. Its what challenges him about life he sees life anew all the time. Most people are bored. He never is.
Despite all the branches, the Player businesses which most involve Gary himself are the course design, the stud farm, and Blair Atholl school.
COURSE DESIGN: My motto on course design is flexibility.' I like to add beauty to a piece of ground that I work on. If people work all week, when they go out to play golf they want to be surrounded by birds and nature and beauty, says Player.
Player also likes gentle greens. Greens should always, in my opinion, be laid out in such a way that they have some undulation, he says. However, this undulation should evolve from the creation of plateaus that enable golfers who place approach shots within a few feet of the pin to have a relatively predictable putt to the hole.
Player doesnt have much use for modern course architecture. He much prefers a Donald Ross or Tillinghast layout.
I like to build my tees strategically and with different shapes. I like to create different holes ' all 18 holes must be completely different. The holes should be built around nature. Bring nature right back into the holes.
Player has built over 140 golf courses that bear his name, with another 60 on which he has consulted. He has approximately 26 courses presently under construction, in locations are far-flung as India, China, Poland, Egypt and Africa.
STUD FARM: Players stud farm spans more than 12,000 acres near the town of Colesburg, South Africa. His thoroughbreds have some of the worlds largest paddocks ' most are at least 250 acres apiece.
Included at the farm are approximately 80 well-related mares of the highest pedigree and racing caliber. One Player thoroughbred is a champion race filly and two mares have been awarded Broodmare of the Year. Champion stallions include Aristis, Ashtontown, Mistrial Dancer and Wolfhound.
I phone it (the stud farm) every day, whether Im in China or Europe. Ive studied genetics (of horses) for more than 30 years, and Ive come to the conclusion that I know a heck of a lot about nothing. But I struggle genuinely to know which I love more ' horses or golf.
The horses and the ranch are one of my great loves. Working next to the earth and with these wonderful animals instantly recharges your energy. It is such a great thrill to see them win, and its a wonderful family adventure.
BLAIR ATHOLL SCHOOL: Not a business, but a real love of Players, nonetheless. An arm of the Player Foundation, the school teaches more than 400 children on the grounds of Garys farm, Blair Atholl.
The school was begun in 1983 with about 30 children of farm workers who toiled at the ranch. It contains both a nursery school and a primary school, as well as basic adult education and training.
The outstanding educational facilities which you are providing at Blair Atholl School are not only benefiting the disadvantaged children in your area, Nelson Mandela wrote to Gary Player, but can serve as a model for educational development and renewal in other parts of South Africa and around the world.
Education is the light, Player said. South Africa is at the crossroads and the children are the key.
People are so kind. Some send pencils. Some send computers. South Africa has so many wonderful resources, so many dynamic people. The children ' theyll lead, as usual.
Player is a golfer, a Hall of Famer, but so much more. I want to be remembered as more than a golfer, he said. I want to be remembered as a contributor to society.