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Player Plans a Golf Course for San Clemente

August 12, 1986|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

Gary Jim Player, the gentleman from South Africa, will turn 51 on Nov. 1. No matter, he says. Increased age hasn't meant decreased opportunity.

Player is still being paid handsomely for his ability to hit a golf ball straight and true. And although it may not travel quite as far as it did in the '70s, a Player shot is still something for golf enthusiasts to watch and envy.

Much to Player's delight, the PGA Seniors Tour has given him and others like him a lucrative forum for displaying their talents. "Here I am at 50 years of age, starting a new career," Player said. "It's something that has given me great desire."

It hasn't hurt his bank account, either. Player has entered 12 Seniors tournaments this year, finishing among the top 10 in nine of them. He has won three tournaments, and has amassed $215,723 in prize money.

In a professional golf career that spans four decades, Player keeps playing. And for that, airline executives everywhere are grateful. Player--who still calls his birthplace of Johannesburg, South Africa, home--is one of golf's most frequent flyers.

Shortly after signing his scorecard that showed a final round of 71 and a second-place finish in the $200,000 Digital PGA Seniors golf tournament Sunday in Concord, Mass., Player was whisked off by helicopter to catch a plane for a seven-hour flight to Southern California.

Four time zones and a severe case of jet lag later, he was teeing off into a sprawling valley of dirt that is the future site of the Pacific Golf Club, a private, 27-hole course to be built adjacent to the 2,000-acre Rancho San Clemente development.

Player was in attendance to help announce plans for the course, the first on the West Coast to be called a Gary Player Signature Golf Course. Player formed a partnership with golf course designer Karl Litten in 1983, and the firm of Player-Litten has designed courses in the United States, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Spain.

But outside business interests haven't prevented him from rekindling his playing career and taking advantage of the burgeoning Seniors tour. Player, whose 71-65-68--204 left him one stroke behind winner Chi Chi Rodriguez (70-67-66--203) at the par-72 Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, is in his first full year of Seniors competition and is thoroughly enjoying being one of professional golf's senior citizens.

"There is a great enjoyment that this tour is giving--not only to players," he said. "And it's like Father Christmas has walked in the door as far as some of the competitors are concerned. Here's Sam Snead, at 74 years of age, breaking his age three times a week. It's a man's desire to break his age once in his life."

Player sees nothing but growth for the Seniors tour, theorizing that crowds will continue to increase as more of golf's familiar names trickle out of the PGA Tour and into Seniors play.

"The tour's like a fire, it's growing so quickly," he said. "Next year, they'll be playing for $10 million. When Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino come along in four years, I see the senior tour being as big as the regular tour."

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