Next week the U.S. Open, a tournament won by Gary Player in 1965, takes place at Erin Hills, Wisconsin. Player’s 1965 triumph still resonates for its dramatic finish—Player, of South Africa, took the trophy after an 18-hole playoff against Kel Nagle of Australia to become the first foreign-born winner of the U.S. Open since 1927. The win earned him one of golf’s most elusive titles, a Career Grand Slam for claiming the top spot in all the major tournaments—The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. Player achieved this at age 29, becoming the third golfer in history initiated to the ultimately exclusive fraternity, joining Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods later achieved the Career Grand Slam bringing the total to only five.
The winner of 167 tournaments spanning seven decades, Player remains a fixture in the golf world as the International Ambassador of Golf, traveling around the globe to compete and promote the game. Known as the “Black Knight” for his all black attire when competing, Player is also a lifelong fitness advocate.
You have designed courses on five continents. What is it about the Greenville area—its topography and lifestyle—that inspired your design of The Cliff’s Mountain Park Course?
No doubt the area surrounding the Blue Ridge Mountains is a little slice of heaven in the southern United States. Most of the courses around the area are parkland style, so to find a piece of land where a links style course fits beautifully into the landscape was very intriguing. Of all The Cliff’s courses, Mountain Park stands out because of this style and the fact that it plays firm and fast and can easily be walked.
The course showcases your signature design stamps—fitness (walkability), conservation (links treatment and grass selections), and as befitting the International Ambassador of Golf, a course that is at once challenging yet accessible and welcoming to new golfers.
Playability and environmental sensitivity is at the forefront of our core philosophy. My heart and soul is shown throughout the course. Nature is on display around every corner. We are proud The Cliffs at Mountain Park received accolades from the members and professionals, as well various organizations and top publications immediately after it opened. It has continued to improve every year since.
The North Saluda, the river wending through the course, has been rehabilitated and stabilized. Did your conservation ethos have a hand in this transformation?
When we first started the project, the Saluda River was in dire condition due to poor farming practices over decades. Because it runs throughout the course, it was essential to not only beautify but also transform to be a healthy water source and habitat. Now fish and other wildlife are found throughout.
What is your favorite hole on the course?
The par-3 seventh gives golfers a breathtaking view but also a challenge with how the winds can change with the hole at a low elevation compared to the tee box. We even decided to build our family house on the hillside overlooking this green. Absolutely gorgeous when the leaves change in mid-October.
Of the 400-plus courses you have designed around the world, you chose this one on which to build one of your homes. Why?
Our decision to build a family vacation home at Mountain Park was really all about timing. It was the right place and at the right time. Our relationship with the developer at the time was to take on a multi-faceted role in the local community, the golf course, office, village, real estate as well as overall marketing of all The Cliffs projects worldwide.
The home is stunning and indeed “Infused with Africa.” What is special about this setting that it can accommodate an aesthetic from an ocean away?
South Africa is my heart. During my playing career, I could have easily moved to the United States but I am so proud of my country. Bringing an African lifestyle was one of our requirements when we designed the home, and was very important for our family to be reminded of where we all grew up.
What was your objective with the overall architecture and how did Africa shape the structure?
For us, we wanted our family and guests to feel they were in a home from South Africa. My son Marc worked tirelessly to reach this goal of being "Infused with Africa”. Yes, there is a taste of Africa in every room. From painting and sculptures to tables and chairs. The house will be offered either furnished or unfurnished depending on the buyer preference.
Your house is a home and also a showcase for art. Why is art important to you?
It’s about the beauty and education you gain. Art is soothing but sometimes confusing. Art is tranquil but can be exhilarating. I study many different mediums. Piecing art together for a particular look and feel, especially in one’s home, is challenging but so rewarding when you get the balance right. I like to think we achieved this with this home. It's a happy place and has great feng shui.
What is your favorite memory in the home? Additionally, did any other golf legends join you in Greenville for a gathering? Or has this been a sanctuary for you and your family?
It’s a sanctuary where we can invite guests from all over the world to enjoy or piece more privately as a family. I’m not sure you can get that experience anywhere else in this great country. Spending time with my grandchildren makes up the fondest memories I have of this special place. We have had many interesting guests from the world of golf and entertainment stay with us.
Why are you selling?
There is a saying, “Everything shall pass.” The Cliffs is now on a stable financial footing with a new developer. Our family has enjoyed our time together here but no longer use it as much as we would like to. But I am still very active traveling the world designing courses, playing in tournaments, and raising money for charity. It’s time for another family to enjoy this masterpiece.
Finally, you have achieved success as a devoted family man, legendary golfer, international businessman, and beloved philanthropist and friend. What advice can you share for a life fully lived?
One of my favorite sayings is, “The harder you practice, the luckier you get.” It has held true my entire life. I came from a very poor background. And here I am in my 80s enjoying my life and truly living. I can attribute that to my positive attitude, healthy diet, and regular exercise. Rest is rust. Be grateful. Be humble. Be positive.