Gary Player: DeChambeau can drive nine greens at St Andrews!

The importance of golf to the environment is paramount all around the world and the wildlife and birdlife on our golf courses plays an integral role to the atmosphere that nature creates. Golf course designers globally regard the presence of mother nature a vital ingredient for the enjoyment of the game, safeguarding the site by introducing wetlands and woodland.

Nature was at the forefront of the course we created at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi which secured the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary Certified Property Award, so it was a wonderful milestone for us to announce the sighting of an extremely rare migratory bird called the Steppe Whimbrel, recently identified and photographed on the lake at Saadiyat.

My brother, Ian, was a world-leading conservationist and had a passion for wildlife. On my farm in South Africa we have 124 different species of birds and every morning I would call them to feed from my verandah. I’ve always had a special affinity for birds and when I heard that the Steppe Whimbrel had been seen on the golf course, I had goose pimples. I believe that we now have a total of 183 bird species recorded at Saadiyat and the number is increasing.

I recently spoke on television, criticising that trees on golf courses worldwide are being cut down, in some cases trees that have been there for 80 years or more. Thankfully, this would never happen in Britain. We had to lose trees in Britain during the War, but for good reason.

Look at some of the ‘superstar’ golf courses of the world – places like Pine Valley, Augusta National, Royal Melbourne and Wentworth among countless others – they’re tree-lined. But there seems to be a fad at the moment that you’ve got to cut your trees down to let air and sunlight getting to the course.

It’s absolute nonsense. The sun comes from above, and if you want more of a breeze then you just need to thin the trees out a bit, you certainly don’t have to cut them down. What’s happening is pure madness. Those responsible know nothing about nature. They decide to take down the trees because either the architects or green keepers say ‘cut them down’ and they do it. What is happening is an environmental tragedy.

I went to play Tiger Woods’ first public golf course in Missouri as part of The Payne’s Valley Cup to celebrate its opening and it was very enjoyable. But I must comment on the par-3 19th hole. I have – never seen anything quite so spectacular before.

Both Jack Nicklaus, myself, Tom Fazio, Ben Crenshaw and now Tiger have all built golf courses there at Big Cedar Lodge. It has five courses. I built a 13-hole par-3 golf course, which is really taking off because the people can come in, have breakfast and play 13 short holes – some regular par-3-length and then some around 100 yards – and then they’re off back home in a matter of a few hours. It’s certainly worth seeing. It’s got the whole of the history of the West under the clubhouse! It’s got shark-diving, hunting and fishing.  It was good to see Tiger swinging very nicely. He can still hit it a good distance and he was happy and smiling. The subject of weight training was discussed and I recalled that I started working out in 1944, when my brother went to War. He gave me a set of weights, and worked out with Frank Stranahan who was second to Ben Hogan at the 1953 Open at Carnoustie. He and I were the only two players doing weights. We were heavily ridiculed but, as the saying goes, ‘he who laughs last laughs best.’

Thank goodness Tiger came along when he did and continued to prove his point. Then along came Rory and a host of others. The golf media blamed players for weight training whenever a player was off form, saying it hampers the way they play golf.

Now, the game has produced Bryson DeChambeau, who has just won the US Open and he’s exercising well. He’s a hard worker and a true gentleman. The golf media have continued to tease him, calling him ‘The Scientist’ but again, who’s laughing all the way to the bank?

There’s nothing worse than someone who thinks they have a superior attitude on a particular subject, because they will meet someone with more knowledge than them and then realise they’re not really that superior.

Admiration for Bryson’s work ethic

I admire Bryson’s work ethic because it’s something I did all my life. I used to stay on the range and practice until dark after finishing a round. So, there he was on Saturday evening before the final round of the US Open, practicing. I said to my family: ‘He will win tomorrow.’

Bryson certainly looks like he’s got ‘it.’ I can’t say that for sure yet, because only about 14 people in the history of golf have ever had ‘it’, but he’s going to be interesting to follow. He weighs 230lbs now and he says he wants to get to 245lbs for The Masters.

Bryson has a magnificent golf swing. If you break it down into pieces it’s a ten out of ten swing. Very few people understand the basic theory of the game and there are certain things in the swing that are essential, and he has those ingredients. So far, it’s all working well for him, and he has brought golf to another level.

One thing I can be sure of is that in a short space of time, players will be hitting it a long way past where he currently hits it. Sooner than later there are big, strong athletes who might play sports like Rugby or American Football, who will come to golf because of golf’s longevity and the attractive prize-money on offer.

I can predict that we haven’t seen anything yet. Therefore, it’s about time that the people I admire at the R&A and the USGA will have to do something with the golf ball. Because, right now, DeChambeau can drive nine greens at St Andrews – the Home of Golf. It’s frightening to think about. It’s going to make so many great golf courses obsolete. We can’t make them any longer because we’re running out of space and water – and the members don’t want to see their golf courses ruined.

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