Author: Ruben van der Zaag

Golf Course Architects’ vision: Gary Player

25 August 2017
8 min. read
Ruben van der Zaag
As you might know, is all about golf courses. And who knows a course better than a golf course architect? In this monthly blogpost we give several renowned architects the chance to tell you a bit more about themselves, their work, where they get their inspiration and so on. In this episode we talk to South African golfing legend and one of the most famous golf course architects in the world: Gary Player.
Gary Player showing his vision (photo credits, Gary Player Design)


Name: Gary Player
Website: Gary Player Design
Nationality: South African
Years in the business: More than 50
Number of courses designed: 400
Best known for: The Links at Fancourt, Leopard Creek Golf Club, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort
Favourite golf course to play: St. Andrews Old Course, The Links at Fancourt

The golf course architect: Gary Player

Gary Player is the most successful international golfer of all time. He has achieved the kind of worldwide acclaim reserved for only a handful of sporting greats. Player has won 167 professional golf tournaments worldwide and is one of only five men to capture golf’s coveted career Grand Slam. He won nine Major championships on the PGA Tour and nine Major championships on the Senior Tour and is the only player in history to complete the career Grand Slam on both Tours. Since the early 1980s, Gary Player Design has been a global leader in golf course design, with about 400 designed courses in total.

When did you get involved in designing golf courses?

I became involved in designing golf courses first as a consultant in the early 1970’s during my playing career. It was fantastic to be part of many projects, and really that experience made me realise this would be a great second career after my prime.

How many golf courses have you designed?

Obviously, I work with a team of architects, but Gary Player Design as a company has designed nearly 400 golf courses around the world on five continents in 37 countries and we have 46 active projects around the world.

What made you want to become a golf course architect?

My son Marc, who operates Black Knight International and all the Gary Player brands, saw the opportunity to create and build one of the top golf course architecture firms in the world. It was like a new breath of life for me. The Senior Tour was just getting started, but the schedule was not as rigorous as a PGA or European Tour pro. So in fact it was a natural transition. I love going out on-site visits, getting my hands dirty, and visualizing the potential of a new golf course.

Discussing options at Blair Atholl (photo credits, Gary Player Design)

What is your favourite golf course to play?

There are so many courses I love. The Links at Fancourt in South Africa is special to me as it hosted the Presidents Cups in 2003. St. Andrews Links is another course that is dear to my heart as it is the home of golf. Most recently I am excited about opening a course at Big Cedar Lodge in the United States. It’s a nifty 13-hole short course designed for families and those just learning the game. You can play the whole course in less than two hours. You will see more and more designers and developers building non-traditional courses.

Save Fancourt - The Links to your bucket list.
30 Reviews
Golfers' choice2023
30 Reviews
Fancourt - The Links
South Africa, Western Capefrom ZAR 2,100
1 golf course18 holes
Save St. Andrews Links to your bucket list.
186 Reviews
Golfers' choice2023
186 Reviews
St. Andrews Links
United Kingdom, Fifefrom £175
7 golf courses117 holes

Which of your course designs are you the most proud of?

It’s hard to choose because we have so many. I’m proud of all the courses I designed, but if I have to name some then I The Links at Fancourt and Gary Player Country Club both in South Africa, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria are a few that jump out.

Save Gary Player Country Club to your bucket list.
18 Reviews
18 Reviews
Gary Player Country Club
South Africa, North Westfrom ZAR 850
1 golf course18 holes
Save Saadiyat Beach Golf Club to your bucket list.
34 Reviews
Golfers' choice2023
34 Reviews
Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
United Arab Emirates, Emirate of Abu Dhabifrom AED 525
1 golf course18 holes
Save Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort to your bucket list.
77 Reviews
Golfers' choice2023
77 Reviews
Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort
Bulgaria, Bulgariafrom €145
1 golf course18 holes

And which hole stands out?

Hole No. 9 at the Gary Player Country Club is spectacular. There are plans to change the course and make this hole No. 18 so it can be the finishing hole of the Nedbank Golf Challenge which I am proud to host.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Just look around at this beautiful earth! When you get to 86, every day is a good day and waking up in the morning in good health is all the motivation and inspiration I need!

What makes a golf course good?

In my opinion the best golf courses are the ones that take the environment into account when they are designed and built. I am a farmer at heart. Wasting water by making courses too long is never ideal. When you have a round that takes 6 hours to complete, it makes playing difficult for amateurs to enjoy.

What is the most challenging thing about designing a golf course?

Technology has vastly improved and brought new efficiencies to the actual design process. We used to do everything by hand, and now we digitize grading plans so that the delivery as well as any modifications along the way, are instantaneous. Finding the right developer to work with is absolutely key.

Which type of designs do you like best (i.e. links/woodland/parkland)?

The links style of golf course is my absolute favourite. People started to golf on links-type courses, so I’m always thrilled when that is the developer’s preference.

Do your designs have a certain Gary Player signature?

Our goal is to make a golf course that is environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Using the contrast of natural grasses and indigenous plants can no doubt enhance the overall appeal. But of course, we design our courses to be playable for all levels of golfers and to what developers demand.

Is there a golf course you have designed that you would like to do over?

At some point, every course needs some sort of redesign or updating as it ages. Whether it is putting in new grass varietals, bunkers, tee boxes, etc.

Is there a certain place or country where you would still like to design a golf course?

Yes. Gary Player Design has yet to design a golf course in Australia. Once we get there, we will have designed golf courses on all continents!

How do you design a course that is challenging for different levels of handicap?

With the technology put in today’s equipment, most people can hit the ball a long way. If the golfer is playing a challenging course it’s their responsibility to play off the tees that best suits their game so they will have an enjoyable round. No sense in a player that drives the ball less than 200 yards to hit off the championship tees.

How do you design a golf course that is future proof?

Well, that’s impossible. Even St. Andrews has had to make adjustments. Augusta National makes changes every year to improve their course. It’s important to listen to the members, and – if a redesign is necessary – we are happy to do what they desire.

Save Augusta National Golf Club to your bucket list.
4 Reviews
4 Reviews
Augusta National Golf Club
United States of America, Georgia
1 golf course18 holes

Do you take the sun and wind into account when designing a golf course?

Absolutely. You must prepare around every factor. Which direction does the sun rise and set? Do we want a hole next to a body of water to be effected by the wind? No detail should be and is not overlooked.

Do you think a golf course should always start with an easy hole and end with a difficult one?

I like it when a golf course starts out with a par 5 that’s not too long. That way, if a player hits a bad shot off the tee or with his iron, he really has an extra chance to get things going and enjoy the rest of his round.

Do you have a dream project?

My dream is to design a course that will be the leader in rounds played across the world, where ever that may be. I love this game, and want to increase rounds worldwide on all courses. Players enjoying your course is so, so important.

Which golf course architect would you like us to interview?

Our senior designers, Jeff Lawrence and Steven McFarlene, are the best in the business. No doubt it will be worth your time for an interview to talk more in-depth about our current projects.

Gary, thanks for all your insights and time! We hope that your answers will help golfers to understand and appreciate the lay-out and design of a course. It’s not an easy job to design a course that golfers love, as you have to factor in a lot of different aspects, like toal budget, the terrain, the demands of the developer, etc.

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