Gary Player Sells Horse Stud Farm in Test for Trophy Homes

Updated on
  • Champion golfer to sell estate as South African economy wilts
  • Player sees sale of Rietfontein as one of his saddest moments

Golfing legend Gary Player is testing South Africa’s prime property market by selling the farm where he spent more than half his life nurturing his other passion of breeding racehorses.

Gary Player

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The 81-year-old is asking 50 million rand ($3.7 million) for the 1,431-hectare (3,540-acre) ranch in the Karoo, a semi-desert landscape almost midway between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Player plans to wind down after a career spanning five decades, 165 tournament victories, including nine Major Championships, and the registered trademark as the world’s most traveled athlete.

“We’d like to downsize because this is quite a big farm,” Player said by phone. “I don’t think I’ll retire until I’m 90 at least. But we’ve started to prepare.”

Player’s property is coming to market as top-end house prices in South Africa buck a slump, helped by a weak rand that has spurred demand from overseas buyers. For the rest, home values are shrinking, hurt by an economy expanding at the slowest pace since the 2009 recession, rising unemployment and turmoil on the political front, in which President Jacob Zuma is fighting to retain power after being implicated in a series of scandals.

The interior of the Rietfontein ranch and stud farm.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

“Wealthy people from countries such as Angola, Ghana and Nigeria are increasingly buying homes in South Africa,” said Andrew Amoils, head of research at New World Wealth, a consultancy based in Johannesburg. “Even the local number of high-net worth individuals increased 5 percent this year,” he said, referring to people who have have more than $1 million in liquid financial assets.

Property Headwinds

Prices for real estate going for more than 20 million rand rose 4 percent in the first nine months after being adjusted for inflation, he said. The consumer price index averaged 6.2 percent through September.

Photo Gallery: Inside Gary Player's Incredible South African Stud Farm

Existing homes sold for between 4.4 million rand and 16.3 million rand fell by 1 percent in value after inflation this year, according to data compiled by Barclays Africa Group Ltd. The price of a so-called affordable home of less than 600,000 rand dropped 2.1 percent, while the middle-segment declined 1.2 percent, said Jacques du Toit, a real estate analyst at Barclays Africa Group Ltd. in Johannesburg.

“South Africa’s high-end property market continues to sell properties at a good pace and is largely unaffected by political and economic headwinds,” he said. Overall house prices are set to fall 1.6 percent this year, the first contraction since 2012, and another 1.7 percent in 2017, he said.

The farm has attracted a “huge response” from foreigners and locals since going to market in mid-November, said Rory O’Hagan, the chief executive officer of Chas Everitt International Property Group’s luxury-portfolio division. 

Bang for Buck

“Property in South Africa is offering excellent value,” he said. “You get incredible bang for your buck.”

Hills stand on the horizon beyond the ranch.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Player’s ranch is among several luxury properties on offer from the Johannesburg-based realtor. A 243-hectare family owned farm in Stellenbosch, which makes wine and offers views of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, is listed for 115 million rand. A home inside an equestrian estate between Johannesburg and Pretoria with a Japanese teppanyaki bar and alfresco amphitheater is going for 85 million rand.

Britain’s exit from the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, recessions in Russia and Brazil and political unrest in Turkey mean that investing in a trophy property in South Africa doesn’t “sound that bad” to potential investors, O’Hagan said. And while the rand has gained 14 percent against the dollar in 2016, the currency has weakened each of the previous five years, losing more than half of its value.

Broadway Flyer

There is a shortage of stock at the top-end of South Africa’s real estate market and homes priced at between 18 million rand and 35 million rand, said Denise Dogon, the owner of Dogon Group Properties Group, which is also marketing Player’s farm. Her company, which has sold properties to African heads of state, this year got a record 290 million rand for a house in Cape Town.

For Player, moving to Plettenberg Bay on the southern coast will be a big change from the farm in Colesberg he bought in 1974. Known as Rietfontein, the ranch has produced more than 2,000 winners. It’s most notable result was Broadway Flyer, which in 1994 finished second in the St Leger Stakes, the oldest and longest of Britain’s classic races.

The property includes an enclosed horse track, chapel and three-bedroom guest house.

A crucifix hangs on the wall inside the chapel.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

“Other than my parents dying or some of my family members, it will be the saddest moment in my life to sell this farm,” Player said. “It’s a paradise.”

The sale comes at a time when horse ownership in South Africa is declining at about 5 percent a year, even though training costs are among the lowest in the world at about 8,000 rand a month and racing that is open 364 days a year, said Lyndon Barends, managing director of the National Horseracing Authority.

Breeding race horses is just like practicing golf, said Player, who has been an unofficial ambassador for the country’s 5 billion-rand-a-year thoroughbred industry.

“You know a hell of a lot about nothing,” he said. “You find 10 different teachers and they all tell you 10 different things. It’s the same thing in the horse business.”

The golfer has been interested in horses since childhood. Player would ride on a friend’s farm on weekends while his father worked in a gold mine, his brother fought overseas in World War II and his sister attended boarding school.

“We’d come back and wash them down and wipe the sweat off and remember the old saying, ‘the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,’” he said. “I don’t know what is more exciting, the golf or the breeding of horses.”

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