Gary Player turns 83 on November 1st. In honor of his birthday, here are 8 items from the Black Knight Archives that help us to preserve his legacy and tell his story. We are constantly adding to the Archives as Player continues to travel the world growing the game and giving back to those who need it. It was very difficult to choose just 8 items when there are so many important photos, documents, and objects that speak to Mr Player’s career, life, and impact.
1. Young Gary’s South African ID card from 1953 when he was only 18 years old. Player was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on November 1, 1935. His mother died when he was only 8 years old and he, his brother Ian, and his sister Wilma were raised by their father, a gold miner. Proudly South African, Player has been an ambassador for his country, using sport to make it a better place and to promote it around the world. He continues to make his home in South Africa and raise his family there, even when at times during his career it would have been to his advantage to live elsewhere.
2. Player’s 1959 paycheck from Slazenger Australia. Gary Player turned professional in 1953 and
began traveling the world, playing in golf tournaments from South Africa to Australia to the Americas. One of the first brands he endorsed was Slazenger. Golfers were not paid as they are now. In fact, it is largely because of Gary Player and his generation of golfers, namely The Big Three, who popularized the sport alongside the rise of television, which enabled golf to grow into the high paying sport it is now.
3. A Shakespeare Gary Player Black Knight golf club. Another of the brands that Gary Player endorsed was Shakespeare. Shakespeare was more well-known for fishing rods, which it continues to make; however, the company tried its hand at golf clubs for a short period of time in the 1960s. Player used the fiberglass golf clubs to win the 1965 US Open, a win that also completed his Grand Slam. Since then, only Nicklaus and Woods have joined him.
4. The Claret Jug. While all of Mr. Player’s Major Championship trophies are special, The Open Championship was his first Major victory. He is the only modern golfer to win The Open in three separate decades (1959, 1968, 1974). The Open is full of tradition as it is the oldest Major. At age 23, Player earned his first Claret Jug as the tournament’s youngest ever winner, and officially became part of golfing history.
5. ESPN Magazine – The Body Issue, 2013. Gary Played bravely posed nude for ESPN’s annual Body Issue. He did so in order to highlight the importance of wellness and a lifelong commitment to diet and exercise. As he said at the time he posed, “I want to show the world how fit you can be at this age and not just accept being old.” Player continues to encourage healthy living and has lived up to his nickname of Mr. Fitness. A pioneer in golf fitness, Player has been exercising since he was a boy, following through on a promise he made to his brother. Long before golfers were considered athletes, Player was in the gym before tournaments, despite being ridiculed for doing so.
6. Letter from Gary Player to Ian Player, December 1956.
In this letter between brothers, Gary announces his engagement to Vivienne and summarizes his recent trip to Australia. He asks his brother to come to his wedding and be his best man. Gary is truly a family man who worked hard to provide for and help his family, including his father, brother and sister, but especially his wife Vivienne and their 6 children. He now has 22 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild who are his pride and joy.
7. Nelson Mandela birthday letter to Gary: “Dear Gary, I am sorry I will not be able to attend your 60th birthday party. But you will be in my thoughts as one who has brought honor and pride to our country. Happy Birthday, Gary! Sincerely, N Mandela, November 8, 1998.” Gary Player admired Mandela deeply and the two became friends. Gary also hosted the Nelson Mandela Invitational charitable golf tournament in South Africa for many years.
8. “Three for the Money:” The Big Three spread from LIFE Magazine, September 7, 1962. Gary Player was a member of golf’s famed Big Three along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The three were rivals on the golf course, but because they traveled the world together, they were also great friends. The three were brought together by Mark McCormack and together with the rise of the television, they brought golf to the masses, growing the game’s popularity around the world through exhibition matches, special televised events, and more.