The 2014 Gary Player International (GPI) tournament, presented by Coca-Cola, raised approximately R3.5million for its charity beneficiaries – Wings and Wishes and the the Wildlands Conservation Trust in partnership with Qhubeka – at the star-studded gala dinner and auction held at Sun City in late November.
This year, the GPI celebrates its 15th year and its fitting that its founder, Gary Player, won the tournament for the first time in its history, together with his team comprising former Bafana Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena and businessmen Michael Zamkow and David Blue by six strokes on 29 under par. The respective teams of professionals Padraig Harrington and Ian Woosnam shared second place on 23 under par.
Player said he was thrilled with the support shown at this year’s auction and with his win. “It is incredibly exciting and gratifying to see an event like this change the lives of people. The generosity on display [at the auction] last night was just amazing. My great dream is to reach a billion rand raised for charity through The Player Foundation before I retire. And I’m still young, I’m not ready to retire yet,” he said.
The auction’s most sought-after item, an exclusive package to The Masters as a guest of Gary Player and Black Knight International, raised the highest bid for the evening, raking in R 700 000.
Other items on auction included unforgettable experiences at the Open Championship, Wimbledon, Rugby World Cup, and BMW Championship, as well as a sculpture by renowned South African artist Donald Greig, bespoke jewellery piece by Schwartz Jewellers, exclusive Au.Ra brandy, and a trip to Ireland’s Old Head Links.
“The South African leg of our GPI series is always a fantastic event that produces incredible results in our charity drive,” said Marc Player, Black Knight International CEO and GPI series founder. “We are most appreciative to all our superb sponsors and generous guests who aid in creating a brighter future in South Africa and around the globe.”
On his win, Player said, “I felt like a young man out there. It was such a thrill for me to play that kind of golf. There is always a challenge in this game. I’ve just been invited to a big tournament in Hawaii in January so this couldn’t have come at a better time. But I’m just so thrilled at the response we’ve had this year, raising so much money. And I want to thank our sponsors for supporting us for so many years, and our participants who gave so generously of their time and money this year for charity.”
Player’s teammates were in awe of his performance on Sunday. “He’s an incredible person and it was an honour for me to be a part of this,” said Mokoena, who made his debut in the tournament. “I came from humble beginnings so I know exactly how powerful these kinds of events are for the underprivileged.”
And both Zamkow and Blue were full of praise for how Player led their team. “He’s an unbelievable competitor,” said Zamkow. “He pushed us all the way. We went through the rain and the sun, and he just never gave up. He putted superbly and he never stopped encouraging and helping us,” said Zamkow.
“He’s a true sportsman,” added Blue. “He was just so positive out there. No matter what we did, he just kept motivating us. I’ll be back to defend this title next year, that’s for sure.”
As he walked off the 18th green, Player’s wife Vivienne hugged her husband as she’s done so many times throughout one of the greatest careers in the history of golf. And Player responded by handing her the silver baobab trophy that goes to the winning team.
“She said it’s such an iconic trophy because it’s so typically African, and she has always wanted it in our trophy cabinet at home,” said Player.
For a Grand Slam champion who owns every Major trophy in the game, this one will indeed take up a special place in the Player household.
For more information on the Gary Player Invitational, visit www.garyplayerinvitational.com and follow @GPInvitational on Twitter – #GOLFandGIVING and #GPI2014.