Gary Player will hit the ceremonial tee shot on Wednesday to kick off the Masters in Augusta.
In addition to being one of the sport's most traveled athletes, Gary Player—one of only five men to achieve golf’s coveted Career Grand Slam—is indisputably one of the greatest golfers of all time. This week, he’s heading to Augusta National and the Masters Tournament where he’ll be hitting the ceremonial tee shot alongside long-time friend and once upon a time competitor Jack Nicklaus.
And at 80 years old, Player is just as active today as he was when he was on the PGA tour, devoting much of his time to traveling the world, designing golf courses, and hosting the Gary Player Invitational.
This week, Player took some time to talk to T+L about his travels and who he thinks will take home the green jacket at this year’s Masters.
What are some of your favorite courses around the world?
One of my favorite places is Sun City South Africa. It has 36 holes of golf and a massive game reserve of wild animals. It has four to five swimming pools; it has crocodile parks; it has horseback riding; it has all the casinos, restaurants, and tennis courts. I mean, I could go on and on and on, but it’s absolutely marvelous.
And then you go to a place like Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs Virginia—what a place! I mean it has everything for you, trout fishing, tennis, a beautiful cathedral, and of course, so many golf courses. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and I are in collaboration designing a new course in Greenbrier, which is exciting. And then you go to Hawaii, and you have all of these magnificent places. The world is just inundated with great resorts. It's just fantastic, isn’t it?
How do you manage to travel as far and as often as you do and maintain your health?
Well, in the last eight days I went from Johannesburg to Hong Kong to Vietnam to Japan to Los Angeles and then to Florida. With all of the time changes, it was really very tough on the system. So what I try and do is not eat on the plane and only have water and maybe a little fresh fruit. But I never have any bread or meat or alcohol on planes. Then I go to the gym, and I work out. The day I’m traveling, I work out twice as hard as I normally do so that I can sleep on the plane. I'm a great sleeper. I can sleep seven or nine or ten hours, so that’s a blessing. Then I always have a clove of garlic the day I’m traveling 'cause you're breathing in so many germs and so many people are getting sick on airplanes. Garlic and onions are the best things to fight that.
What an interesting trick, have you done that for as long as you’ve traveled?
Well I always work out very hard and eat well. The best diet you can have is to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper, and to not have any dinner a couple nights a week. That’s the best thing for you. You don’t put gas in your car when you park it in the garage at night.
What have you learned after so many years of traveling?
Something I’ve learned from traveling is the importance of exercise and the importance of sleep. The importance of being able to laugh, the importance of not overtaking medicine. The importance of education, good manners toward people, and in particular, toward women. The importance of positive thinking. You’ll meet monks and you’ll meet scientists and you’ll meet health gurus, and you’ll meet all kinds of people in the world, and you learn something from all these people, so it's an accumulation of education, everything you learn along the way.
Travel is the best education in the world. You learn so much when you travel, it's unbelievable. I've been very blessed.
On another note, what about vacations? Where’s your go to spot?
I spend a lot of time on my ranch in South Africa, about four months a year there. But every year I take a three-week vacation with my family and we go to a place called Plettenberg Bay. South Africa has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. There are thousands of miles of white sand beaches and beautiful mountain ranges.
What’s the craziest round of golf you’ve ever played?
I played on a golf course in a game reserve with so many wild animals around that if you hit the ball over the fence you wouldn’t even think of getting it because there was a lion or a rhinoceros or an elephant or baboon that would kill you. The first time I played there, I hit the ball over the fence, and I looked at the caddy, and said ‘would you get the ball?’ and he said ‘no sir, you get it.’ That’s quite an experience. You know I’ve played a lot of golf courses in my career where you play on sand greens and sand greens are better than the grass greens, so that was a very unusual experience. And then I’ve played at Sun City where we have a crocodile hole. I designed the golf course with the greens in the shape of Africa. We built the green up, and we built this pond around the green and we have 40 crocodiles in there that are 10-12 foot long.
What’s your favorite thing about The Masters?
I think the beauty and the discipline of the tournament. It's the first major championship of the year; everybody in golf of note is attending; it's in the spring, and it’s just a paradise. It's full of history.
How has Augusta National changed over the years?
Well it has way better conditions. They spend a lot of money on the course. One big change is the prize money, which is now something like $1.5 million. So everything has gotten better. The new chairman of the club has built magnificent facilities including a great wine cellar, increased the clubhouse facility. It just gets better and better.
Any predictions about who’s going to win this year’s tournament?
Well it’d be very nice if [Rory] McIlroy could win and then he’ll win the Grand Slam which only five of us have ever done. Jason Day is playing the best golf in the world today, but then you have Jordan Spieth who’s a wonderful putter, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, and Bubba Watson and Kevin Kisner. Anybody could win it, it’s one week, so if you play well and you putt well, you win.
Michelle Gross is a Freelance Producer and Contributing Writer at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @mtothegnyc