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Q&A with Gary Player

Q&A with Gary Player

As Gary Player said, "You're never so tall as when you're standing on your knees."

April 2009

On Sunday, after his 52nd and final Masters, Gary Player flew down to La Paz -- the site of his first Mexico-based golf course design, scheduled to open next summer. Player has designed almost 300 courses in 30 countries.

I tracked down the self-proclaimed most-traveled man on the planet at the Costabaja Resort, on the coast of the Sea of Cortez. "This is an extraordinary place," Player said by phone. "How many places have desert right on the ocean?" We discussed his new project, his emotional week at the Masters, a round with Mother Teresa, three-foot putts for his life and calling kids fat.

What's your design philosophy?
Golf architects are making courses too tough and greens too undulating. I've been around professional golf for a long time, and believe me, there's nothing more irritating to professional golfers than playing on undulating greens. If it irritates professional golfers, can you imagine how it irritates the weekend golfer?

When a golf architect has to make undulating greens to make it a test, he's a poor architect. Anyone can make a 6,000-yard course tough if you put in undulating greens. But it takes a special architect to make a course where your greens are soft and friendly and yet it's still a good test. That's what we like to try to do. The world is running out of water rapidly. I mean, rapidly! California is on its way to being a desert. Arizona, Texas, all of these places has severe problems with water. I try to do golf courses that don't have high costs. That's why golf is in such a poor state at the moment. Golf courses are so long, and the costs have gone up according to oil, water, machinery, manpower, and we've priced ourselves out of the business.

We've got to start building courses that are more playable, not as long, more friendly, and also more beautiful, because the average man is full of stress. He comes out to play golf. If you can make it beautiful and enjoyable, it does something for his soul.

How many times have you been to Mexico so far, and how many times will you be back before you open this course?
This is my second visit here. I will continuously come back, and then I will be back for the opening. I'll come back six or seven times. I have my people here, visiting all the time. I'm involved in the plans, I'm involved in the opening, I'm involved with the PR, I like to be involved in everything. Of course, now I have more time to do it.

All we hear is that Mexico is a little unsettled right now. Why should travelers feel safe in La Paz?
It's a small village. The big crime, as I understand it, is in Mexico City and the border towns in the north. They don't have crime down here at all. It's like a sleepy, beautiful, friendly village. I've never had the slightest feeling of not being safe. And I'm quick to pick it up because I've been to a lot of dangerous places having traveled probably more than any human being who ever lived.

How would I get there?
There are many ways to get to La Paz. You can fly into Mexico City and then into La Paz. You can fly here through Los Angeles and San Diego. There are many different routes you can come. It just depends on what you want to do.

Give us some specifics and tell us about the property you're working with for this golf course?
It will probably be mainly a cart golf course, but you'll be able to walk it. It's high in the mountains. The variation of the levels of the soil is fantastic. One minute you're playing four holes along the ocean, the next minute you're in these massive mountains with big valleys leading down to the sides of the fairways. There's a variety of scenery, which to me is so exciting. The really good golf courses you play are the ones where you can remember the holes. I played a course in Naples this year, I played it four times -- I couldn't remember the holes because they all looked so similar. That's what a golf course architect has got to do, make each hole memorable, so when you finish the round you remember the holes.

It sounds like all 18 holes at La Paz are mapped out. At what point do you put a tag on a signature hole?
I like to wait. I'm never in a hurry to say, "This is my signature hole," because it can jump up and bite you. Fortunately I have a lot of time to decide that.

How long will this course play from the back tees?
It will play 7,200 yards. Obviously we'll have several tees for ladies and several tees for men, so they'll be able to take their choice. I'm being very conscientious about the water. We're doing a lot of desalination to the water for all the homes and hotels and everything. We're going to be very aware of water. I don't think you should be ever be allowed to have more than 85 acres of irrigation on any golf course you do.

And some of them are going way over that, right?
Oh my goodness. It's all coming to an end. You can believe me, it's coming to an end. We're going to see so many golf courses close up. I just did a golf course on my ranch in South Africa. My brother, who's the world's leading conservationist, he's built a golf course that's 70 percent water-free, oil-free, machine-free, labor-free and costs. And that's what's going to happen in the world, they're going to that kind of golf course in the future. They have to.

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