A golfer, like a batter in baseball, starts at home. The first tee at the Old Course is right in town, with the R&A’s solemn clubhouse almost in your backswing and all manner of residences nearby. The base runner, if things are going well, rounds third and heads home. In golf, if you’re 1 up on 18, you can’t get home too fast.
But home for the international golfer — the place where you hang your visor — is a moving target. Carlos Franco, the best golfer in the history of golf in Paraguay, once showed me where he grew up, in a mud hut with no running water. We were on our way to his current home, on a curvy road, behind a wall. Many rooms and many TVs. All those birdies.
Gary Player’s first home (time travel with him to 1935) was in a working-class section of Johannesburg. His father was a gold miner, and the family home was small but modern. That is, it had electricity. Many tournament wins later, Player bought a ranch in South Africa. He also owns a home on Jupiter Island, in South Florida, which means he shares Beach Road with Greg Norman and Tiger Woods.
If you added up all his days and nights at Augusta, Player has logged well over a year there, mostly in various rental houses. You wouldn’t call that home, but it’s an interesting exercise to account for your time on this planet. Player (good golf name) has over 1,000 nights on red-eye flights. A plane is not home, either, even if the pillowcases are monogrammed with your initials.
Since early March, Player and his wife have been living in a large home on a cul de sac in a small development in the far reaches of greater Philadelphia, where the exurbs end and rural Pennsylvania begins.
Player is not in lockdown. He’s sheltering in place.
Gary and Vivienne Player have been staying with one of their daughters, Amanda-Leigh, along with her husband and various grandchildren and other family members. For the grandparents, it quickly became home for now.
“It’s been one of the oddest, most interesting, most gratifying periods of my life!” Gary told me on a recent morning. The front yard was awash in sunlight. “We have family dinner at seven or seven-thirty, then we watch a movie with some sort of religious theme. Last night we watched The Temple Mount. Afterward, we have a family discussion of it. Then we watch regular TV. I’ve never watched so much TV! I tell you — we stay up past midnight watching these shows. I need an alarm to get up at nine! On my ranch, I would get up at five with no alarm, there was so much to do. Here, what do you need to do?”
The nearby walking trail is paved, which is too bad for Player, because he likes a maintenance project. (Witness his physique.) Still, Player has been trying to wear out the trail, but after 9 a.m.
We were sitting on beach chairs on the front porch of the house in tiny, greater (stretching the boundaries here) Schwenksville. The Black Knight was not wearing shoes or socks, but he was wearing loose black golf pants and a tight black T-shirt. He sipped pale tea from a white mug.
Player was recalling random things from this home and that one. How he and his brother cleaned their childhood home after their mother died, when Gary was eight. How the family would swim in an elegant lap pool at the ranch, horses grazing in the distance. How Tiger made a U-turn while driving on Beach Road upon seeing Player walking near his South Florida home. “He pulled up and said, ‘Hi, Laddie,’ ” Player said. Tiger didn’t always do things like that.
Most golfers have a home course, but a home course can be a moving target, too — or it has been for Gary Player this year. With a grandson as his chauffeur, Player has been making the rounds, down to the Jersey Shore (Galloway National), into the Philadelphia suburbs (Cedarbrook), over to southern New Jersey (Pine Valley). “I could play golf every day,” Player said. Give me this day, etc. Be home for dinner!
For Gary Player, home is where he keeps his clubs and where there’s soup on the stove. These days, that’s Schwenksville, Pa. These odd days.