Distinguished Travel Hacker

Golf Legend Gary Player's Simple Fix for Sub-Par Hotel Gyms

South Africa’s greatest golfer claims to have flown more miles than any athlete in history, and he has some advice.

Gary Player watches a shot during the 3M Greats of Golf in Houston.

Photographer: Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America

At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all of our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end hacks, tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.

Gary Player won his first U.S tournament in 1957, a different era in golf. “I won $2,800 in Lexington, Ky.,” he says during an interview on Friday in New York. “Now it’s a million dollars or more each week. Some of these young guys are making more in a week than I made in my entire life on the regular tour. And I won nine majors.”

It was a different era when it came to air travel, too. Because Player was based in South Africa, he was at a distinct disadvantage compared to the American and European golfers. “It took 40 hours to get here when I first came to America,” he says. “We flew in a Constellation at 27,000 feet, which is where the storms are basically based. No earphones, no lying in a bed: You sat up straight. Plus, we had six children and no disposable diapers.” 

But he managed to become one of the most successful golfers ever to play, and he is still the only non-American to win the career Grand Slam and the only man to win the Grand Slam on both the regular and senior tour. He won in Japan, in the U.K., in South America. He won 13 South African opens and 7 Australian opens.

I still have the lowest score there,” Player says. “I shot a 65 with that lousy equipment, and no one’s ever beaten it. If I’d had a gym like they have today, and if I’d lived in America, I’d have won more majors because I was second seven times.”

At 82, Player still travels regularly. In the last eight weeks, he has gone to Thailand, then to Britain for Wimbledon and the British Open, then to the U.S., and then back to his ranch in South Africa. He attended the President’s Cup in New Jersey last week, where he met former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and talked exercise and nutrition.

Gary Player at his Rietfontein ranch and stud farm, in Karoo, Colesberg, South Africa.
Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

When it comes to his overall health, though, Player is at a loss to explain it.

“I shouldn’t be as healthy as I am, traveling all over the world, working on my ranch, it’s not possible to do it at my size and the life I lead,” he says. “At 82, I still do over 1,000 sit-ups four times a week, and I run on the treadmill at max, and I can still push 300 pounds with my legs. This [slaps stomach] is still like a plank. And I work today at 82 as hard as I did when I was 25.” He raises his hands skyward. “It’s a divine gift.” 

This week, he is hosting the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational at GlenArbor Golf Club outside New York, where top golf professionals, celebrities, and business influencers from around the world play to benefit underprivileged children. Events have been held in the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and the U.K. and have raised more than $62 million to date this year, with the ultimate goal of $100 million by 2025. We caught up with the golfing legend to ask how he does it.

There’s one sure way to make jet lag worse.

You learn from experience how to combat time change. But the key is to not eat a lot on airplanes and not drink any alcohol. I eat very little, maybe some fruit or vegetables. But not a lot of heavy bread and meat and alcohol—that is fatal. You can’t digest it, you’re sitting in a position like this [leans forward in his chair]. Before I get on the plane, I have a good workout, it fills my body with oxygen, and I’m tired and I can sleep. Then, when I get off the plane, I try to get a lot of sunlight and go for a good walk; and the next day, I exercise hard again. Now there’s even a jet lag pill, I don’t take it all the time, but it can’t hurt. And you’ve got to drink a lot of water. 

Player holds his dog while exercising on a leg press machine in the gym room at his ranch. 
Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The exercise most hotel gyms ignore.

Over 64 years, if you add it up, I’ve probably [averaged] over a hotel a week. One of the biggest things I appreciate now are the gymansiums in every hotel—but they’re not advised correctly. They’ve got weights, a treadmill, but no leg press. The most important part of your exercise is your legs. If you look at people who are in hotels, they’re primarily of an older age, I think I’m correct in saying that. They’ve got to exercise. As you get older, your legs get weak, and you lose your balance. Millions of people today will fall, because of weak legs. So you’ve gotta keep them strong. I’m 82, and I keep this [pounds the top of his legs] and I keep this [slaps his stomach], that’s what holds your body together—your thighs and your core. 

The golf club protector.
Source: The Golf Warehouse

How to protect your golf clubs while flying.

I always check my bags in and have this thing I call a “mushroom,” and it fits inside just beneath my drivers, so anything that hits the bag hits the mushroom instead and protects the clubs from getting crushed. The guys, they throw your bags in the plane sometimes. I’ll never forget: I was coming back from Singapore into L.A., and all my woods were flat-broken, because they had taken the bag and thrown it in. So I got this mushroom, and then I have a cover that goes over my bag, which prevents it from being scratched and ruined. Almost every pro has a cover for their bag, unless they have their own airplane.  

There’s no point in packing your good luck charm.

Superstition, for me, is absolutely fatal. I watch [Rafael] Nadal—I’m such a Nadal fan—but I watch him putting all his little bottles in the same place, I watch him scratching his nose, pulling up his pants, all these little things, but he went through a stage when he was not doing well, and what did all that help him? Now he’s doing well, so maybe it helps him. But if I were his coach, I’d tell him: Look, you’re losing, it’s not helping, you’re wasting energy. I hear guys say they’re lucky on No. 4, and then their first shot, they hit it out of bounds. I have zero superstitions, and thank goodness. 

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