By Michael Vlismas
Former England and Manchester United football star Andy Cole reflected for a moment on what he experienced at the Gary Player Invitational presented by Coca-Cola at Sun City this November. ‘This is how far I’ve come,’ he said. ‘I take nothing for granted anymore.’
As he prepared to make his debut in Player’s annual charity tournament, Cole expressed his gratitude at being part of the spirit of Golf and Giving that the global Gary Player Invitational series has come to embody as part of its quest to raise money for underprivileged children and needy charities worldwide.
‘Sitting here and playing golf in the Gary Player Invitational, I’ve still got to pinch myself now and again because it’s still surreal for me. I had dinner with Gary Player. I was sitting there all the time thinking, this gentleman is 81 years of age and he’s nothing but sheer class. We can all learn from that. To be such an icon and such a global superstar, yet to be so humble. It says it all.’
More than R8.5 million was raised during the 2016 global series, enabling The Player Foundation to make another significant contribution to numerous charities and beneficiaries around the world.
What began as a family project on Gary Player’s farm in South Africa, where he built a school and church for the local children, has now grown into an organisation with a global reach under the banner of The Player Foundation organised by Black Knight International.
And Player himself remains as driven as ever to reach the $100 million charity donations target he has set for his foundation.
This year, the Gary Player Invitational series included six tournaments played in Abu Dhabi, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and South Africa.
The beneficiary of the Abu Dhabi tournament was the Zayed Higher Organisation (ZHO) for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, which aims to improve the lives of UAE individuals with special needs by encouraging the benefits of sport, health and wellness. The funds raised are being used to purchase the equipment of the new Gary Player Gymnasium at ZHO.
In Japan, the tournament and its partners raised valuable funds for Support Our Kids, which nurtures the children who were affected by the Tohoku Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The programme enrolls destitute youth into an overseas homestay programme. With the help of The Player Foundation, the programme has placed 342 participants in homes in 10 countries.
In the United Kingdom, the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational supported Depaul’s mission to end homelessness and change the lives of those affected by it. Depaul supports some of the most disadvantaged young people in the United Kingdom, providing emergency overnight and longer term supported accommodation for over 3 500 young people every year who face the terrible prospect of being homeless.
The United States tournament raised valuable funds for the First Tee of America, CESA soccer scholarships, Give to Colombia and numerous other schools throughout the country. The CESA financial aid programme allowed 126 children to play soccer and 243 coaches to educate more than 2 000 players from age of 4 through 19 years old.
And in South Africa, the funds raised have facilitated the expansion of Wildlands and enabled the establishment of the organisation’s recycling project in Colesberg. It also contributed to the ongoing work of Wings and Wishes, which was able to provide 1 570 transport tickets to sick children and expand its reach from the Eastern Cape of South Africa to other impoverished areas in eight of the country’s nine provinces.
The global series of Gary Player Invitational tournaments remains the bedrock of The Player Foundation’s fundraising efforts, which began under the vision of Marc Player in 1983, and has raised more than $62 million for charity.