My love of aviation goes back to my childhood in Australia, when jets and the thought of becoming a pilot obsessed me. I assembled dozens of model airplanes and had them tethered all over my room, and at night I'd lie in my bed and imagine my future as a fighter pilot. I tried collecting stamps and had a few other hobbies, but it was flight, especially fighter jets, that really fascinated me.
I remember going to local air shows when I lived in Townsville, Australia, and admiring the skill of the pilots who flew the F111s. Later, at Townsville Grammar School, I joined the air cadets with the idea that eventually I'd become a pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force. Interestingly, my father had the very same dream for himself, but World War II ended just as he was about to enter the service.
Although I ended up becoming a professional golfer instead of a pilot, I have long had a relationship with Qantas Airlines, the eighty-six-year-old carrier and one of the most recognizable Australian brands in the world. As part of my conscious effort to be a global ambassador for golf and Australia, I signed a formal deal with the airline—one of my earliest endorsements—in 1976, and I am exceedingly proud to have featured its logo on my bag for thirty years.
Given that I have owned my own aircraft for the past fifteen years, you might think that my Qantas relationship would have dissolved, but the company continues to utilize me, more as a spokesperson for Australia than for the airline itself. In fact, I recently flew from Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas and the experience could not have been better, from the service to the pilots to the flight attendants.
Because of the intense schedule I keep, I could not possibly accomplish what I do without my jet and my helicopter. They are vital business tools that allow me to further develop Great White Shark Enterprises.
Originally I leased planes to fly from event to event, but then a blown engine during a flight in 1990 forced me to make an emergency landing in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Let me tell you, there were some harrowing moments before we touched down, and I decided right then to buy my own plane.
The Gulfstream G-550 I have now is the seventh jet I've owned in the last fifteen years. I travel about forty weeks a year. Since that much travel over many years can be tough, I have outfitted the planes to make each expedition as pleasant as possible. (I figure that from the time I first turned professional in 1976 until now, I've put in more than eight million air miles!)
I now have a full-time flight department operating both my Gulfstream and my Bell 407 helicopter. The Gulfstream does 6,500 nautical miles nonstop, so when I go on global trips—Florida to Australia, for example—I travel with three pilots and a flight attendant. We stop once for gas and then keep going straight through to Australia, about eighteen to nineteen hours of flying depending on the wind and the time of year. The pilots do all the work on these runs, but the helicopter—that one I fly myself.