Golf can arguably not have had a better brand ambassador than the legendary Gary Player, known as the Black Knight. Sit with him and before you blink he is out there solving the puzzle about people’s obsession with this supposedly ‘elitist’ game.

He says he is 77, but that's difficult to believe. Between juggling golf, media appearances and touring the world as the International Ambassador of Golf for golfing equipment major Callaway, he has more things on his plate at any time than a man half is age.

Player is one of the most successful and perhaps ageless international golfers of all times, with 163 career wins. He had completed golf's Grand Slam at the age of 29. Nowadays, though he continues to play, his time is more occupied with his role as advisor for Calloway’s new products.

Firmly refuting the popular impression that golf is for the rich, he says if it had been so he would have not been where he is today, coming as he does from a very humble farming background. In fact, most of the past champions have come from not so affluent families, he says.

In India the game is still in its infancy, despite having one of the largest numbers of golf courses in the world and despite the fact that golf has been played at the tournament level for well over a century. Indians prominent on the world stage are few and far between, and India does not figure on the calendar of major golf events.

But the urge to make a mark is now visible, Player says. India has to ensure there are no compromises on the quality of the golf courses so that it can host international events, he believes.

In fact, India’s largest real estate company, DLF, has tied up with Player to design a new Championship 9-hole golf course at DLF Golf and Country Club, Phase V, Gurgaon.

A MATTER OF COURSE

In the early 1980s, Player established Gary Player Design, now the world’s most successful golf course architectural firm. The firm has executed over 300 projects in 35 countries on five continents. Ask him what his firm’s USP is, and Player says it is creating “challenging yet playable courses that enhance the existing resources and retain the natural beauty of the land”.

DLF’s is the first project in India by Gary Player Design. The new course at the DLF Golf and Country Club is expected to raise the benchmark for golf facilities in India.

The 75-80 acre course will be a scenic parkland design with dramatic landscape enhanced by ambient lighting and will feature an island green (a putting green surrounded by water). In use will be sophisticated ‘Sub Air Systems’ (for soil aeration and moisture removal) for Mini Verde, a turf grass considered one of the best in the world.

Apart from having the striking landscape that Player’s courses are known for, this new course will use the most advanced technology for golf course construction prevalent in the world.

Not to stop here, Player and his team are also in talks with another private company for a smaller but equally modern course in Gujarat. The cost of building, though, varies with the size of the project.

But, access to golf courses is restricted to club members. Player is quick to stress the need for public golf courses, as is seen in other parts of the world. A public golf course will give access to all, and not be open to just a select few.

He says golf courses can be planned around a city’s community parks, as is the case in many European cities. He claims a golf course can be easily built in parks around high-rise complexes. The park can also have a jogger's track, and a small lake fed with treated water from a sewage treatment plant which can also be used to irrigate the course. Player is ensuring that the DLF golf course will have all of these features. He says golf can also boost tourism once the country starts holding international events. “Why can’t India have its own champion?” he asks.

Player says golf is also played to raise charity funds. It will also help reduce ‘obesity’, as the game requires a player to walk, he quips. Besides, it requires interacting with people. He also advocates that the game should be taken to schools. During his recent visit to India, not only did he play with kids giving them tips, he also interacted with CEOs.

Player also launched a new Callaway product: RAZR FIT Xtreme, the longest fully adjustable driver (an ultimate weapon for a golfer), which uses a technology to produce more ball speed and consistent distance., even on off-centre contact. The product will be available in retail outlets from January, and will carry a new introductory retail price of $399.99.

By the time the conversation winds up, Player has outlined all the benefits the game offers from health to tourism. He doesn’t let you go, though, without a commitment to not “wait for retirement” before taking to golf!

(This article was published on December 6, 2012)
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