124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Gary Player's Problems

November 07, 2007

It's ironic that Gary Player, the game's ambassador, a man able to put a positive face on almost any situation, has become embroiled in a messy political brouhaha that spans two continents and the entire world of golf.



Wednesday the Nelson Mandela Invitational, which Player has hosted, was cancelled after the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, at Archbishop Desmond Tutu's urging, pulled out of the event. Tutu urged Mandela himself to distance himself from Player because Player's company, Black Knight, is involved in a government-owned golf course in Myanmar. Prior to the cancellation the tournament had removed Player from the guest list in response to Tutu's remarks.

Player has criticized the ruling Myanmar junta, but called the cancellation "a sad day for the children of South Africa" and vowed that he would try to stage another event to benefit needy South African kids.

It's been a tough year for Gary. His comments about steroids at the British Open drew skepticism and criticism. Then, in November, John Barton's Golf Digest story on Papwa Sewgolum unearthed pro-apartheid positions Player had taken in the 60s. Player, who supported and sponsored black golfers in the 60's and 70's, too, obviously has changed his views.

"We were brainwashed," concedes Player. "It was like the Germans during the war. They had a propaganda machine, and they brainwashed young people. And they brainwashed us in South Africa. As a young man, you're listening to all this, and they're saying it's going to be separate but equal. And then suddenly I realized that it wasn't equal. Apartheid was a dreadful policy."

Forty years later, Golf's Ambassador is having to defend his relationship with another oppressive regime, though he is hardly the only architect to build courses for questionable clients.

--Bob Carney

(Photo: SABC News)