Nicknamed the Black Knight, Mr. Fitness, and the International Ambassador of Golf, Player is also a renowned golf course architect with more than 325 design projects on five continents throughout the world. He has also authored or co-written 36 golf books.
His business interests are represented by Black Knight International, which includes Gary Player Design, Player Real Estate, The Player Foundation, Gary Player Academies, and Black Knight Enterprises, aspects of which include licensing, events, publishing, wine, apparel and memorabilia.
The Gary Player Stud Farm breeds thoroughbred race horses, including 1994 Epsom Derby entry Broadway Flyer.
He operates The Player Foundation, which has a primary objective of promoting underprivileged education around the world. In 1983, The Player Foundation established the Blair Atholl Schools in Johannesburg, South Africa, which has educational facilities for more than 500 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. In 2013 it celebrated its 30th Anniversary with charity golf events in London, Palm Beach, Shanghai and Cape Town, bringing its total of funds raised to over US$60 million.
Player was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the youngest of Harry and Muriel Player's three children. When he was eight years old his mother died from cancer. Although his father was often away from home working in the gold mines, he did manage to take a loan in order to buy a set of clubs for his son Gary to begin playing golf. The Virginia Park golf course in Johannesburg is where Player first began his love affair with golf. At the age of 14, Player played his first round of golf and parred the first three holes. At age 16, he announced that he would become number one in the world. At age 17, he became a professional golfer.
Player married wife Vivienne Verwey (sister of professional golfer Bobby Verwey) on 19 January 1957, four years after turning professional. Together they have six children: Jennifer, Marc, Wayne, Michele, Theresa and Amanda. He is also a grandfather to 21 grandchildren. During the early days of his career Player would travel from tournament to tournament with wife, six children, nanny and a tutor in tow.
His eldest son, Marc Player, owns and operates Black Knight International, which exclusively represents Player in all his commercial activities, including all endorsements, licensing, merchandising, golf course design, and real estate development.
Gary Player is the brother of Ian Player, a notable South African environmental educator and conservationist who saved the white rhino from extinction.
Player is a supporter of Arsenal and Scottish football club Rangers F.C.
Player is one of the most successful golfers in the history of the sport, ranking third (behind Roberto de Vicenzo and Sam Snead) in total professional wins, with at least 164, and tied for fourth in major championship victories with nine. Along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus he is often referred to as one of "The Big Three" golfers of his era – from the late 1950s through the late 1970s – when golf boomed in the United States and around the world, greatly encouraged by expanded television coverage. Along with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods, he is one of only five players to win golf’s "career Grand Slam". He completed the Grand Slam in 1965 at the age of twenty-nine. Player was the second multiple majors winner from South Africa, following Bobby Locke, then was followed by Ernie Els, and Retief Goosen.
Player played regularly on the U.S. based PGA Tour from the late 1950s. He led the Tour money list in 1961, and went on to accumulate 24 career Tour titles. He also played an exceptionally busy schedule all over the world, and he has been called the world's most traveled athlete. Player has logged more than 26 million km (16 million mi) in air travel – in 2005 it was estimated that he had "probably flown further…than any athlete in history".
He has more victories than anyone else in the South African Open (13) and the Australian Open (7). He held the record for most victories in the World Match Play Championship, with five wins, from 1973 until 1991 when this feat was equalled by Seve Ballesteros, finally losing his share of the record in 2004, when Ernie Els won the event for a sixth time. Player was in the top ten of Mark McCormack's world golf rankings from their inception in 1968 until 1981; he was ranked second in 1969, 1970 and 1972, each time to Jack Nicklaus.
He was the only player in the 20th century to win the British Open in three different decades. His first win, as a 23-year-old in 1959 at Muirfield, came after he double-bogeyed the last hole. In 1974, he became one of the few golfers in history to win two major championships in the same season. Player last won the U.S. Masters in 1978, when he started seven strokes behind 54-hole leader Hubert Green entering the final round, and won by one shot with birdies at seven of the last 10 holes for a back nine 30 and a final round 64. One week later, Player again came from seven strokes back in the final round to win the Tournament of Champions. In 1984, at the age of 48 Player nearly became the oldest ever major champion, finishing in second place behind Lee Trevino at the PGA Championship. And in gusty winds at the 1998 Masters, he became the oldest golfer ever to make the cut, breaking the 25-year-old record set by Sam Snead. Player credited this feat to his dedication to the concept of diet, health, practice and golf fitness.
Being South African, Player never played in the Ryder Cup in which American and European golfers compete against each other. Regarding the event, Player remarked, "The things I have seen in the Ryder Cup have disappointed me. You are hearing about hatred and war." He was no longer an eligible player when the Presidents Cup was established to give international players the opportunity to compete in a similar event, but he was non-playing captain of the International Team for the Presidents Cup in 2003, which was held on a course he designed, The Links at Fancourt, in George, South Africa. After 2003 ended in a tie, he was reappointed as captain for the 2005 Presidents Cup, and his team lost to the Americans 15.5 to 18.5. Both Player and Jack Nicklaus were appointed to captain their respective teams again in 2007 in Canada; the United States won.
In 2000 he was voted "Sportsman of the Century" in South Africa. In 1966, Gary Player was awarded the Bob Jones Award, the highest honour given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. The "Gary Player – A Global Journey" exhibition was launched by the Hall of Fame as of March 2006.
In 2000, Player was ranked as the eighth greatest golfer of all time by Golf Digest magazine.
In 2002, Player was voted as the second greatest global golfer of all time by a panel of international media, golf magazines and fellow professionals conducted by the leading Golf Asia Magazine.
On 10 April 2009, he played for the last time in the Masters, where he was playing for his record 52nd time – every year since 1957 except for 1973, when he was recovering from surgery. After Nicklaus and Palmer, he was the last of the Big Three to retire from this tournament, a testament to his longevity.
On 23 July 2009, at the age of 73, Player competed in the Senior British Open Championship at Sunningdale Golf Club, 53 years after capturing his maiden European Tour victory at the Berkshire venue.
Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters announced on 5 July 2011 that Player had been invited to join Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as an honorary starter. The Big Three were reunited in this capacity starting with the 2012 tournament.
In July 2013, he became the oldest athlete ever to pose nude in ESPN The Magazine's annual Body Issue to inspire people to keep looking after themselves throughout their lives whatever their age.
Gary Player and Gary Player Design have executed over 300 projects in 35 countries on five continents. The company offers three different design brands: Gary Player Design, Player Design, and Black Knight Design.
With golf accepted back into the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Gary Player Design was selected among the finalists of an official RFP in early December 2011.
The Player Foundation was established in 1983 and began as an effort to provide education, nutrition, medical care and athletic activities, for a small community of disadvantaged children living on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. The Player Foundation has since blossomed into an organisation that circles the globe bringing aid to underprivileged children and impoverished communities. Since its establishment,The Player Foundation has donated over $50 million to the support of children's charities, the betterment of impoverished communities and the expansion of educational opportunities throughout the world.
The Foundation is primarily funded by four Gary Player Invitational events presented through Black Knight International and staged in the United States, China, Europe and South Africa annually. The Gary Player Invitational is a pro-am tournament that pairs celebrities and professional golfers from the PGA and Champions Tours with businessmen and other local participants. The proceeds of these tournaments and other special events provide funding for an ever-expanding number of institutions around the world, including the Blair Atholl Schools in South Africa, the Pleasant City Elementary School in Palm Beach, the Masizame Children’s Shelter in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, and AIDS infected children in Baoshan, a drug-infested city located on the China-Burma border.
Proceeds from the Gary Player Invitational have also been donated to The Lord’s Taverners in the UK and the following organisations in South Africa; Wildlands Conservation Trust, Twilight Children, and Bana Development Centre.
In 1966, he espoused openly racist views and support for the apartheid policies of Hendrik Verwoerd in his book "Grand Slam Golf", stating: "I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of Verwoerd and apartheid ... a nation which ... is the product of its instinct and ability to maintain civilised values and standards amongst the alien barbarians. The African may well believe in witchcraft and primitive magic, practise ritual murder and polygamy; his wealth is in cattle. More money and he will have no sense of parental or individual responsibility, no understanding of reverence for life or the human soul which is the basis of Christian and other civilised societies. A good deal of nonsense is talked of, and indeed thought about 'segregation'. Segregation of one kind or another is practised everywhere in the world."
In July 2007, a media controversy emerged over his statements at The Open Championship golf tournament about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in golf. He was the first golfer to call for mandatory drug testing on all tours around the world. Subsequently, the PGA Tour introduced a formal policy.
He has been a pioneer of diet, health and fitness although he upset the Atkins Diet organisation by disagreeing with their "all protein" approach.
He was branded a "traitor" by South African Nationalist Government supporters for inviting and bringing both black tennis pro Arthur Ashe and golfer Lee Elder to play in South Africa.
Player has hosted the Nelson Mandela Invitational golf tournament since 2000. In October 2007, further media controversy arose about his involvement in the 2002 design of a golf course in Burma. As a result of the political uprisings in Burma, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund withdrew from the fundraising golf tournament because of Player's unsubstantiated business links with the country. Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu accepted Player's position and statements on Burma. Player refused to withdraw as he personally built the golf event from scratch and issued a statement rebutting these claims via his website. The event is now annually staged at the Fancourt Resort as the Gary Player Invitational.
In June 2016, in an interview with bunkered.co.uk, Player branded as 'laughable' a report released by The R&A and USGA which said that driving distance in golf was only increasing minimally. He warned of a 'tsunami coming' due the governing bodies' failure to address issues surrounding new golf technology.
Player has occasionally been accused of cheating, particularly in the 1974 Open, an allegation that Player has strongly denied. Later, at a skins game in Arizona in 1983, Tom Watson accused him of cheating by moving a growing leaf from behind his ball.On 8 June 1961, Player was the guest on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. In a comedy skit, he gives Tennessee Ernie Ford a golf lesson.
Received the 1966 Bob Jones Award from the United States Golf Association.
Named Honorary Member of the R&A in 1994.
Received Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from St. Andrews in 1995.
Received Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland in 1997
The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational trophy is named the Gary Player Cup.
Named Honorary Member of Carnoustie in 1999
Received Honorary Doctorate in Law, University of Dundee, Scotland in 1999
South African Sportsman of the Century award in 2000
Received the 2003 Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monte Carlo.
Awarded the Order of Ikhamanga (in gold for exceptional achievement) in 2003 by President Mbeki of South Africa for excellence in golf and contribution to non-racial sport in South Africa.
He was the world's first golfer to be featured on any country's postal stamp in South Africa.
Has designed over 325 golf courses on six continents around the world.
He currently plays on the U.S. Champions Tour and European Seniors Tour occasionally.
He received the 2006 Payne Stewart Award from the PGA Tour.
Played in his 52nd Masters Tournament at Augusta National in April 2009, extending his record of for most Masters appearances
Inducted into the African American Sports Hall of Fame in May 2007, with Lifetime Achievement Award
Has played in a record 46 consecutive British Open Championships, winning 3 times over 3 decades.
Stars with Camilo Villegas in a MasterCard "priceless foursome" television commercial launched during the U.S. Open in June 2009
In November 2009 he was awarded the inaugural Breeders Cup "Sports and Racing Excellence Award" at Santa Anita Park in California which honours owners and breeders of thoroughbred race horses.
Was inducted into the Asian Pacific Golf Hall of Fame with Jack Nicklaus in 2011 at a ceremony in Pattaya, Thailand.
In December 2011, Gary Player Design was selected amongst the finalists to design the golf course for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro
He received the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award at The Players Championship in May 2012. The first international person to receive this accolade.
PGA Tour playoff record (3–10)
Major championships are shown in bold.
South Africa Tour (now Sunshine Tour)East Rand Open: 1955, 1956, 1959
General Motors Open: 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976
ICL International: 1977
Liquid Air Tournament: 1963
Natal Open: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1966, 1968
Nissan Skins Game: 1986, 1988, 1991
Rand International Open: 1974
Richelieu Grand Prix, Cape Town: 1963
Richelieu Grand Prix, Johannesburg: 1963
South African Masters: 12 times: 1959, 1960, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1976
South African Open: 13 times: 1956, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981
South African PGA Championship: 1959, 1969, 1979, 1982
Sponsored 5000: 1963
Sun City Classic: 1979
Transvaal Open: 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1966
Western Province Open: 1957, 1960, 1968, 1971, 1972
Ampol Tournament: 1956, 1957, 1959 (shared title with Kel Nagle)
Australian Open: 1958, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1974.
Wills Classic: 1961
Wills Masters: 1968
Australian PGA Championship: 1957
North Coast Open (Coffs Harbour): 1956, 1957
Dunlop International: 1970
Gold Coast Classic: 1981
Victorian Open: 1959
Egyptian Matchplay: 1955
Brazil Open: 1972, 1974
Chile Open: 1980
Trophée Félix Houphouët-Boigny: 1980
Dunlop Tournament (England): 1956
PGA Grand Slam of Golf - 1979 (shared title with Andy North)
Ibergolf Tournament (Spain): 1974
Japan Air Lines Open (Japan): 1972
Johnnie Walker Trophy (Spain): 1984
La Manga Tournament (Spain): 1974
NTL Challenge Cup (Canada): 1965
Piccadilly World Match Play Championship: 1965, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973
Skins Game: 1983
Trophée Lancôme: 1975
Western Australia Open: 1956
World Cup of Golf: (Team event) 1965, World Cup of Golf Individual Trophy 1965
World Series of Golf: 1965, 1968, 1972
Yomiuri Pro Championship (Japan): 1961
World Cup of Golf Individual Trophy 1977
Fred Meyer Challenge 1986 (with Greg Norman: shared title with Peter Jacobsen & Curtis Strange)
Champions Tour playoff record (4–2)
Senior majors are shown in bold. See "Other senior wins" below for Player's wins in the Senior British Open.1987 Northville Invitational (United States), German PGA Team Championship
1988 Senior British Open*
1990 Senior British Open*
1997 Dai-ichi Seimei Cup (Japan)
2000 Senior Skins Game (U.S. – unofficial event)
2009 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf – Demaret Division (with Bob Charles)
2010 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf – Demaret Division (with Bob Charles)
2012 Insperity Invitational – Greats of Golf
2015 Insperity Invitational – Greats of Golf
* The Senior British Open was not recognised as a major on the Champions Tour until 2003, so Player's wins in the event do not count as major victories.
European Tour playoff record (0–2)
1 Defeated Kel Nagle in 18-hole playoff – Player 71 (+1), Nagle 74 (+4).
CUT = missed the halfway cutMost consecutive cuts made – 37 (1970 PGA – 1980 Masters)
Longest streak of top-10s – 6 (1962 PGA – 1964 Masters)
WD = withdrew
"T" indicates a tie for a place.
1 Won in an 18-hole playoff, Player (68) to Charles (70).
1The Senior Open Championship was not a Champions Tour major until 2003, though it was on the European Seniors Tour. Player won the event three times prior to this recognition.
DNP = Did not playWorld Cup (representing South Africa): 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 (winners, individual winner), 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1977 (individual winner)
Slazenger Trophy (representing British Commonwealth and Empire): 1956
Chrysler Cup (representing the International team): 1986 (captain), 1987 (captain, winners), 1988 (captain), 1989 (captain), 1990 (captain) this list is probably incomplete
Dunhill Cup (representing South Africa): 1991
Alfred Dunhill Challenge (representing Southern Africa): 1995 (non-playing captain, winners)
UBS Cup (representing the Rest of the World): 2001 (captain), 2002 (captain), 2004 (captain)
CUT = Missed the half-way cut
NYF = Tournament not yet founded
"T" = tied
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10.