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The iron-clad player

South African golf legend Gary Player is 77, but that hasn’t slowed him down. He is now designing a golf course in India
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First Published: Wed, Nov 21 2012. 07 06 PM IST
Gary Player
Gary Player
It was quite a spectacle. Enough to momentarily stun the large gathering seated for dinner. Delivering the keynote address at the World Scientific Congress of Golf at St Andrews in Scotland, Gary Player was wading into his favourite subject, physical well-being. A man who leads by example, Player dramatically threw open his suit jacket, raised a clenched fist above his head and proceeded to land full-fledged blows to his stomach. I don’t recall the exact number of those self-inflicted punches as they happened 14 years ago, but I do remember the entrées taking a back seat for a bit. He mentioned some ridiculous number of stomach crunches (1,500 or so) every morning, the after-effect of which was a brick-walled torso. I ran into him in the men’s facilities after the dinner and thought of continuing on the same subject across the few feet that separated us but refrained, wisely I think.
Something on similar lines happened earlier this month, this time at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon. Now 77 years of age, the South African legend was putting most around him to shame with his agility as he broke into a jig during the pre-dinner entertainment. One of the three young ladies, who gleefully joined him, almost toppled over when she tried to follow Player effortlessly going down on his haunches. His stomach crunches have come down to about 1,000 now.
No surprises when fitness came up again as he spoke to a group of children and their parents during a coaching clinic organized by his equipment sponsor Callaway at the DLF Academy the next afternoon. “Obesity is turning into a tsunami the world over,” he said animatedly. “You think you are providing love by stuffing your kids with fast food from the West. You are poisoning them! You should be feeding them your traditional foods,” he looked around accusingly. Player did add that Vivienne, his wife of 50-plus years, thinks he wastes his time and energy on such lectures.
Not that he ever looks to be running on reserves. One of the Big Three of golf (Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer being the other two), Player has done it his way. Fitness training and gym workouts when such activities were alien and frowned upon by working golfers. Short in height and lean in physique, the man, also known as the Black Knight (because of his attire earlier in his career), has put together a golf résumé that soars over most. Playing has taken a back seat, but there is no sign of a let-up as his business interests, primarily golf course designing and construction, have him flying to different parts of the globe week in, week out. He does say he is the most travelled man on the planet with 15 million air miles and counting, to his credit. From bone-jarring, propeller-driven flying crates to plush business jets, he’s seen them all in the 60 years he’s been on the move plying his trade.
This latest trip to India was on account of a golf course project at the DLF Golf and Country Club and it will sit next to a Palmer layout that has been around for 13 years or so. Nicklaus was the first to put his stamp on India a few years prior to that, also in Gurgaon. Player is the last of the three to leave his mark but he is out to prove a point with his offering to Indian golfers. “The land was flat as a pancake and now we have huge mounds through which the course meanders. I got goose bumps standing on the first tee,” he said with his trademark enthusiasm. Apparently, he experiments with his designs on his 10,000-acre farm in South Africa. That’s a large canvas to play with.
For somebody who is visiting the DLF property after about a year, the place is unrecognizable. The tabletop-like landscape covering 85 acres has been transformed. A 13-acre lake has materialized and some 800,000 cubic metres of earth has been used to create hillocks around it, the highest point being 265m. Most of the play will be along the water’s edge and at times over it, with an island green part of the nine-hole track. The second nine will be built over the existing Palmer course. “Player’s design philosophy is that a course should ‘look like a lion but play like a cub’,” says Theo Geertshuis, Player’s on-site representative and design coordinator. “You work on the psychology of the golfer and create an illusion,” Geertshuis explains. Case in point, the bunkers which look deep and menacing but are shallow towards the direction of play.
The greens are going to be air conditioned. I kid you not. A system called “SubAir” will cool the surface grass in the summer and keep it warm in the colder months through perforated pipes under the putting surfaces. No expense has been spared. Mature trees have been transplanted, some at a cost of up to Rs.50,000 a piece, says Aakash Ohri, director, business development, DLF Home Developers Ltd. Recycled sewage water is being used for construction and will again be used for irrigation when the course opens in the first half of next year.
With DLF’s luxury apartments overlooking this creation, it looks like a win-win for all.
Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Nov 21 2012. 07 06 PM IST
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