Winner of 167 professional golf tournaments world-wide over seven decades, including nine majors on both the PGA Tour as well as the Senior PGA Tour, Gary Player is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf. With victories in 27 consecutive seasons (10 more than the closest competitor), the spry legend’s various accolades cover ample ground. A 13-time winner of The South African Open and 5-time winner of the World Match Play Championship, the 80-year-old South African still lives for the thrill of competition.
Gary Player’s impact on the game of golf, however, extends beyond his championships. His fitness regimen is legendary. The fact that he’s won 40 tournaments on the senior circuit amplifies this. He was an early advocate of mandatory drug testing and stood his ground against initial backlash. The longtime rivalry he shared with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus is the height of world-class competition between three guys who actually liked each other.
And then there are the golf courses he has designed – upwards of 350 around the world.
With more than 50 years of playing professional golf, Player has traveled the globe and played the finest golf courses in the world. In the early ’80s he decided to apply all that he has experienced and learned about golf courses to start Gary Player Design. Since the inception of Gary Player Design, they have been a global leader in course design, marketing, and real estate planning services. As of summer 2016, there are projects completed in 38 countries on five continents, as well as current and future projects in the works. It is no wonder that Gary Player Design is regarded as one of the elites in golf course design.
Player has a great outlook on his design philosophy. “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. 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.”
Destination Rancho Mirage
With the majority of the Gary Player Design courses being overseas and only two in California, we as Southern California residents are fortunate to have one of the Signature courses just a couple hours’ drive away. Mission Hills Gary Player Course in Rancho Mirage is among the greatest golf courses in the Coachella Valley. The course opened for play in 1992 and was soon after named one of the Top 10 New Resort Courses in the United States by Golf Magazine. While challenging in its length at just under 7,100 yards and with its small greens and strategically placed bunkers, the Gary Player course was designed with playability in mind.
The design of the Mission Hills Gary Player course is phenomenal. Player masterfully used the natural desert surroundings and mixed in multiple water hazards and waterfalls, positioning holes in such a way that the views of the San Jacinto Mountains are dramatic and breathtaking. There is a nice variety of tightly tree-lined fairways (mostly on the shorter par 4 holes) along with wide landing areas on some of the longer holes, however, hitting the fairways is just the first challenge on many of these holes. With a mixture of water on more than half of the holes, endless amounts of bunkers and fast sloping greens, even some of the best players can face quite the challenge out here. With five sets of tees making the course playable for any level of golfer, make sure you choose the right set so that some of the forced carries over water are not too overwhelming. playmissionhills.com
South Carolina Greens
Another Gary Player Design signature course in the United States just opened for play in 2013 and is rapidly being recognized as a world-class golf course. The Cliffs at Mountain Park course is the seventh and most recent course to be added to the Cliffs collection of courses in South Carolina.
The Cliffs at Mountain Park features an 18-hole championship layout that blends perfectly into the topography of the surrounding beauty. Set on a breathtaking wooded valley along the North Saluda River in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 7,218-yard course offers wide fairways outlined with native landscaping that is playable and large gently rolling greens – all surrounded by towering trees that create a second to none scenic background. Along with the North Saluda River which comes into play on eight of the holes, the course also features a 12-acre lake that runs along holes 11 and 12. There is no shortage of water hazards at the Mountain Park course.
“Our purpose with Mountain Park was to create a golf experience that offers a wide range of playing scenarios unique to The Cliffs’ compendium of world-class courses,” says Scott Ferrell, President of Gary Player Design. “Members and guests will experience an environmentally friendly landscape, with native grasses incorporated to create a links feel.” Ferrell came on board with Gary Player Design in 2001 and has played a huge role in the success of the company. cliffsliving.com
South African Links
Finally, The Links at Fancourt is near and dear to Player’s heart. Located in his home country of South Africa, The Links is currently No. 1 in South Africa (Golf Digest Rankings 2014/15) and was ranked 34th in the world in 2014 by Golf Digest USA. The Links course opened for play in 2000, and it offers a unique and challenging South African golf experience. Gary Player’s team wanted to create a classic Scottish links course and they nailed it on this project.
The Links has hosted some of the most prestigious tournaments in the world, including the 2003 Presidents Cup, the 2005 South African Open, and the 2012 Volvo Golf Champions European Tour.
Apart from its distinctive design, The Links has been recognized for its vital role in environmental sustainability and awarded a designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperation Sanctuary. This certification necessitated a degree of ecological value that includes wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, and other environmental factors. fancourt.com
Player recently made a trip out to Vietnam, where the design company is currently working on a course in Hanoi on Phu Quoc Island. Player predicts Vietnam will become a major player in Asia’s emerging golf market. With golf set to be on sports’ biggest stage at this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Player feels the world will soon realize the impact golf can have on a local and national economy.
With 40 projects currently in the works all over the world, there’s no telling when the Johannesburg resident will stop adding to his millions of air miles. As one of the best golfers ever to play, and one of the top course designers as well, Gary Player is well qualified to hold the title of golf’s global ambassador.