Golf legend Gary Player talks about the changing nature of business travel after another successful fundraising invitational in Abu Dhabi
Gary Player talks about the changing nature of business travel after another successful fundraising invitational in Abu Dhabi
It’s said that you’ve racked up an astonishing 26 million kilometres in air travel, which is more than any other athlete. How have you found the changing nature of travel – is it more enjoyable, and easier, now? What do you most like and dislike about the travel experience? It’s like night and day. When I first started travelling in the 1950s from South Africa to play tournaments in America, it took more than 40 hours. Can you imagine that? It was the only way to get there – and I wasn’t flying first-class, but in coach. If I wanted to lay down flat, I would tell the person next to me they could have the row if they put they feet up and not kick me on the floor. Air travel today is completely different. You aren’t stopping and changing planes four times. Today, I can get from South Africa to America or Japan on a non-stop direct flight. Does that mean you’re a loyal frequent flyer member or variety is the spice of life? I have a relationship with many airlines but that doesn’t always dictate my flight. For the Gary Player Invitational in Abu Dhabi, one of our sponsors was Etihad Airways. My goodness, it was some of the best service I ever received. My wife and I have certain airports we like to fly into because the service is so good and flights are seldom delayed. We are very loyal travellers, so naturally we expect loyal service. How much of your travel is related to course designs, and is it different being a ‘business traveller’ today compared with when you were travelling as a playing professional? I think of it the same way. Travelling as a professional, golf was my business. It’s the same today, where a big part of our Black Knight International business is golf course design. I travel
all over the world throughout the year for site visits and golf course openings. It’s my second career. I’m proud I’m still working hard.
Do you think current pros have it easy or are the challenges that come with the job – being away from home and living out of a suitcase – timeless? Is the welfare of players taken more seriously these days?
No matter what era we are in, being away from one’s family is not easy. The only difference is they can travel with their family much easier than decades ago. Imagine traveling more than 40 hours, making several stops with six small children and having no disposable diapers. Either way, being away from your family does take a toll on your psyche. You think about your family all the time. Even the simple things – such as if you’re baby has learned a new word. It’s hard, but it’s impossible to travel with them to every tournament.
Are golfers paid too much or it’s just rewards – and have sponsorship revenues been a positive force in raising grass-roots golf?
Golfers owe all their wealth to our sponsors. But I believe we are coming to a tipping point where golfers are asking for too much. We need to do more to give back. I am so thankful for my sponsors like Berenberg, SAP, Rolex and many others that have supported me during my 64-year career. I must attribute a lot of my success to their backing. Gratitude is essential.
How many invitationals do you host each year? Do you find them fun or is it hard work travelling and organising?
We host six charity events around the world each year starting in Abu Dhabi (this year was the second in a five-year agreement) and then moving to Tokyo, London, New York, Hong Kong and finishing in Sun City. Our team does an outstanding job bringing sports stars and business leaders from all over the world to supports the cause. The Gary Player Invitational global series is all about giving back to the countries where we hold the tournaments.
At Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Beach Golf Club last month, we raised AED183,000 for the Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care & Special Needs, which provides a range of integrated services designed to rehabilitate disabled people into the community. Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Etihad Airways, TDIC, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, SAP and Rolex were our key supporters and special guests included Darren Clarke and Trevor Immelmann, cricket greats Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara, as well as Boyzlife singers Brian McFadden and Keith Duffy. Exercise is essential for every human on the planet to live a healthy life so the funds raised in Abu Dhabi are being used to build a gymnasium, which is fantastic. People can read more about the invitationals at garyplayerinvitational.com.
Not many people may know that The Player Foundation had raised more than $63 million for charities worldwide. Did you always think it would be a success? What lessons can others learn in raising money for charities?
My son, Marc, first established The Player Foundation in 1983 to help educate poor children outside of Johannesburg. He certainly had the vision of what we could accomplish, and we continue to grow and help more people every year. The main lesson to take away from our Foundation and GPI events is if you have an opportunity to give back to the world, act. It may not present itself to you in such an obvious way, but it’s out there and not hard to find.
Which player would you tip in 2017?
Can Rory McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam at this year’s Masters? Can Henrik Stenson win another Major? I am hopeful our talented South African golfers like Charl Schwartzel can bring another Major home. There are so many talented players right now from all over the world that 2017 is going to be a fun year.
When I first started travelling in the 1950s from South Africa to play tournaments in America, it took more than 40 hours. Can you imagine that?
Above: Teeing off at the UAE’s second Gary Player Invitational at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club