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The 'Black Knight' who turned golfing talent to business

Last updated on: March 28, 2012 16:00 IST

The 'Black Knight' who turned golfing talent to business

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He is among the biggest golf brands with two grand slam victories under his belt. He has designed 300 golf courses globally, runs a successful horse breeding business in South Africa and a has signature real estate business for luxury home.

Meet the Black Knight Gary Player, who has turned his passion into business. The South African charmed his way to the golf scene in America back in the 1950s and since then has never looked back. With his nine major championship victories, he is the only non-American to have won all four majors, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf. ET NOW's Shaili Chopra interviews him on her signature show Tee Time With Shaili Chopra.

You have a brilliant connect with India, how is that?

In South Africa we have 3 million Indians - great politicians, great businessmen and great sportsmen. When I was a young man playing golf, I used to have a caddy called Shiv who was a most wonderful gentleman who took me out fishing and taught me to how to get a good catch. I have immense respect for Indians.

An Indian caddy back then taught you both, how to fish and how to fish out golf balls too?

(Laughs) Oh we couldn't hit golf balls into the water, you only had one and 6 children to feed so couldn't afford to lose the golf balls.

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Image: Gary Player.
Photographs: Courtesy, ET NOW

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'I would love to help build a young Tiger Woods-like person for India'

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At 76, you do a 1000 sit-ups every morning but people would even think twice before they take their next flight at this age?

The secret is to not eat a lot. I stay away from animal fats and eat nutritious food. Keep the body moving and play plenty of good golf. You have got to keep the body in shape. Traditional Indians had the most wonderful way of eating like in Africa but now they are trying to get to the western style of diet, which is according to me is poison.

But there were no gyms back then, in the 1940s...

No gyms. I used to go down to the YMCA and wait for half hour to get to exercise but now I have been exercising for 63 years!

Working out until today, you do know, it is very hard for me to believe that.

I do that. I work out with weights. I also work on my mind which I think gets weaker with age. You have got to keep working on your mind. I love people and I love working. I have designed 300 courses around the world and all that keeps me going.

What's your ambition in India?

I would love to help build a young Tiger Woods-like person for India. Wouldn't that be wonderful for India and for golf? I would like to be partly responsible for developing the game here in your country.

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Image: Shaili Chopra and Gary Player.
Photographs: Courtesy, ET NOW
Tags: India , YMCA , Africa

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'Struggle is important in life'

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You think so much for golf's growth. But in the 1950s, when you were playing big time, not many thought of the game for the game's sake. It was played for money. Ben Hogan, like you, played to earn and didn't play to play?

No where would we get a job. To give you perspective, when I won the Masters three times, my total prize was $80,000 but today the first prize is $1.4 mn. I used to travel 40 hours to America with six children with connecting flights to play tournaments, but today's players all have their own jets. But I loved my time since we stayed with friends and it was all so honest and fun. None of that happens today.

You have been a destiny's child. When you first went out to play, you were just a miner's son. And it all changed over the years.

My mother died when I was 8. My dad went to a gold mine to work and made a 100 pounds a month and my brother went to the law school at 17. I chose to go to a good school but when I came home there was no one in the house. But I was inspired.

One has to struggle to appreciate things. I mean, look at this great man, my hero Mahatma Gandhi. Went through India in a pair of sandals and a robe and got independence for India. Struggle is important in life. That's why when I did well I started saving money for the under privileged. I have raised about $45 mn now through the Gary Player Invitational.

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Photographs: Courtesy, ET NOW

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'My son decided to turn my talent into business'

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Who inspired you to pick up the clubs?

I got my full honours for soccer, rugby, cricket and other sport. But when my dad called me to play golf I called it a sissy's game. But eventually I succumbed and went out and played but thank god for it since I loved it so much and it has allowed me to become a world champion, allowed me to travel the world, contribute to the society and what an education it has brought me.

What was your first golf set like? A bunch of rusted irons?

My dad took an overdraft to buy them but I didn't know what was good or bad so I was grateful for them. I used to stand in the water to hunt for my golf balls because I couldnt afford to lose them even if the water would be eye-deep! So different from the golf these days where in America you have free trips, free cars, free clubs, shoes, food and the list is endless.

At one time, you were paid to be a golfer but now it pays to be a golfer! But you have evolved into a brand, a corporation before just the golfer.

My son decided to turn my talent into business. He is very brand conscious. Our brand is called the Black Knight. As players, we have to learn to marketing ourselves and all these things are important. And then, of course, there was Mike McCormick of IMG who was an amazing man and helped our brand in a big way.

The first three people he signed on was Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and me. Can you imagine? So we decided to build on our brand the Black Knight. Just like Chanel, she may be dead but the brand carries on.

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Photographs: Courtesy, ET NOW

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'I have great respect for a country like India'

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Your maiden move into India is a big investment in DLF?

It means an awful lot. I have great respect for a country like India. It is a fascinating country. I am here to work with DLF and up a first course for this country. They gave us a a flat piece of ground but what we are going to make of it, will be unique. We have beautiful lake of 13 acres with four holes around it.

Every one of the courses I do is indigenous in the region and we remember the weekend golfer is the one we need to cater for. We want to make him come out and make them feel this is a gift for nature. The idea is also to always promote junior golf.

Your dream four ball...?

Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Billy Graham.

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Image: Gary Player in action.
Photographs: Courtesy, ET NOW

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