Catching up with golf legend Gary Player to talk about his philanthropic work in South Africa through The Player Foundation.
The South African-born Gary Player rose from humble beginnings to be one of the most successful individuals in a highly exclusive sport. Player grew up in a poor and single-family household in Johannesburg, South Africa and by the age of 29 had won all of the four Major golf tournaments, known as the career Grand Slam. After 18 Major Championships (9 on the Regular Tour – 9 on the Senior Tour), solidifying his hall of fame status, Player now pursues a range of philanthropic and business interests.
The Player Foundation, which Player Family started in 1983, aims to support partner schools with resources to provide less fortunate kids with quality education, medical care and social development.
Social entrepreneur and self-described empathy enthusiast Chris Schembra recently caught up with Player about the importance of human connection, giving back to communities and using his celebrity platform as a force for good. Schembra is the “founder and Chief Question Asker” of the 7:47 Club, a dinner group he hosts at his Manhattan home to facilitate non-digital meaningful interactions and business development.
Chris Schembra: What’s the mission that you are fighting for?
Gary Player: I was very poor as a young man. I lost my mother when I was eight years of age. My brother was at war with the Americans and the British at 17 and my sister was at boarding school. My father was working in a gold mine 8000-feet underground. I said to myself, “When I’m a champion one day at something, I’m going to help people that struggle.”
We started our philanthropic efforts in South Africa with my son, putting schools in South Africa for young black kids. Also, we worked with President Mandela helping young black children, which was a great experience and a thrill to be associated with a man like that who I just loved. I realized the necessity for what’s happening with young people around the world.
What was the process like getting your son Marc aligned with this global mission?
He loved the idea. Basically, he was as instrumental as my thoughts were. He remains very close to this, and worked on it diligently to eventually expand to six different countries.
For example, we raised money in Abu Dhabi, with the help of the sheik, and we are putting a Gary Player gymnasium to help special needs children. It’s hard work, to travel all over the world to do it, it’s hard work. But it’s just been unbelievable to see how you can change the lives of millions of people.
What’s one of the tricks or tools you’ve used to stay connected to the cause? To the community on the local level?
We do that when we have our charitable event, they’re all there. This basically applies across the board with everybody. Whatever we’re doing. Whatever charity it is or whatever country it is, so people can see what is actually happening. If they want to visit, they can. But I visit there continuously to see how they’re progressing, meet the people, how they’ve advanced in their studies, etc. Staying active with them.
If you’ve struggled yourself it’s an advantage to be involved in it, because you know what it is to suffer.
What kind of partners would you like to engage more with that can support your mission? Who is an ideal partner of your organization that can help?
The thing is, for us to exist, we need to bring in these top players. The men and women professional golfers, celebrities and businessmen. We play and we have auctions. But our goal is to reach $100 million, that would be ideal, if we could raise that amount of money before I die or hang up my clubs where I’m not able to participate. But any way we’re going to reach that, we can make X amount from these golf days and then we have more events. But we’re going to have to have some kind of donation too.
What are some early career pieces of advice you’d give to those that are just starting their journey?
Make sure that you’re participating yourself. There’s no substitute for personal contact. You’ve got to be able to meet people, encourage them to come. Stay in touch with them once you’ve played. Just don’t say, “Okay. He’s played now. Won’t happen again.” Stay in touch with the people. Keep them informed what’s happening. It’s PR. It’s communication. That’s very, very important.
What kind of joy has philanthropy brought into your life? How does that make you feel?
Well, you see, it’s an advantage if you’ve struggled yourself because you know what it is to suffer. I think that’s the big thing. To see the joy that it does, how it changes people’s lives. It’s quite remarkable.