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Muirfield Golf Club; Interview with Gary Player; Progress at St. Andrews

Aired August 5, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET


SHANE O'DONOGHUE, HOST: The oldest major in the world at the oldest club in the world.

Welcome to Muirfield.

Welcome to LIVING GOLF.

On this month's LIVING GOLF...

JOHN HUGGAN, JOURNALIST AND FORMER SCOTLAND PLAYER: It's just a good, solid, honest, tough golf course.

O'DONOGHUE: The club that gave us the game as we know it.

PETER ARTHUR, MUIRFIELD HISTORIAN: Essentially, this is what it started with, these 13 rules.

O'DONOGHUE: Muirfield's (INAUDIBLE) Jersey and the greatest player in Open history -- back home with the great whose nine majors started here.

ERROL BARNETT: I don't know what I like better, golf or horses.

O'DONOGHUE: Plus, Tom Weiskopf and his new course at St. Andrews.

TOM WEISKOPF, OPEN CHAMPION, 1973: It's up to me to produce. And I'm looking forward to it.

O'DONOGHUE: Muirfield is, without a doubt, one of the greatest, most historic of Open venues. This is the club that gave us the rules. This is the course that first staged a major over the four rounds that we take for granted to this day.

And later this month, it will once again welcome the very best golfers in the world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) this Open champion, defending champion, is going to be very special.

ERNIE ELS, OPEN CHAMPION, 2002: And it's definitely, obviously, a very favorite, uh, one of my golf courses.

O'DONOGHUE: When Ernie Els returns as both defending Open champion and the last winner at Muirfield, he'll be writing the latest chapter in a history that goes back 269 years.

ARTHUR: What we have here is the original rules of golf, which, uh, date from 1744, when the club was, uh, was founded in Edinboro. And these 13 articles formed the basis of the -- the current rules of golf. Obviously, there have been many, many amendments over the years.

But essentially, this is what it started with, these 13 rules.

O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): In 1891, the honorable (ph) company moved to Muirfield. The next year, they hosted Muirfield's first Open, the first ever to be held over 72 holes. And in the locker room, there are reminders that extending a course for new technology is nothing new.

ARTHUR: Here is a chart of what the course looked like when the club first moved down to Muirfield in 1891, where the course was something like 6,200 yards.

But some additional land was purchased later on to allow the club, really, to become quite a lot longer.

Then, additional land having been purchased up to the north of the existing course, that allowed what you can see is a fairly small contained area to be extended by probably a factor of something like 40, 50 percent.

O'DONOGHUE: Different layouts there may have been, but over the years, they've had an uncanny knack of sifting the great from the good, from Barnon (ph) and Braces (ph), to Cotton (ph) and Clair, Nicklaus, and Watson, to Faldo (ph) twice and Ernie in 2002.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you take away every club you think you can play the bunker with, the smallest club you can play the bunker with...


O'DONOGHUE: Former Scotland player John Huggan (ph) grew up around here and has seen his fair share of Muirfield Opens.


O'DONOGHUE: Memorable moments from Muirfield and Opens past?

HUGGAN: Well, I was here in, again, 1972, believe it or not. I was a little boy of 11. And I was right behind the 17th green when Lee Trevino did the famous chip in.

LEE TREVINO, OPEN CHAMPION, 1971, 1972: I had an old dimple-faced wedge, Helen Hicks, 1937. And I chipped in four times with it.

What we were doing is we were chasing Jack. Jack had already won two of the legs of the grand slam. And I remember Jacklin and I playing on the last day. And when we got to the ninth tee, Nicklaus had got -- come from six back and caught us. And then Jacklin and I both eagled number nine.

O'DONOGHUE: Gary Player won his first ever major and his first Open here in 1959 (INAUDIBLE) had lost it. He did it with a six at the last, as well.

HUGGAN: That's right.

GARY PLAYER, OPEN CHAMPION, 1959: The last hole is one of the great holes of golf in the world. I drove it in the bunker. I didn't try and get greedy, got it out, hit a six iron onto the front edge, mis-hit it a little bit and three putted. And I walked off with my tail between my legs.

Here, I had the -- the Open championship in my grasp and let it go, I thought.

O'DONOGHUE: Faldo's wins -- he won here twice.

What's memorable about those?

HUGGAN: Well, the first thing, he had extreme cold that's memorable. He had 18 pars on the last day, which everyone goes, oh, how dull and boring was that?

But it was a fantastic round of golf in very, very difficult conditions. And there -- and there were some exciting pars in...


HUGGAN: But this hole -- like this hole that we're on right now, he had a magnificent up and down from the bunker and maybe a 50 yard shot on the green...


HUGGAN: -- to make four and keep it going.

NICK FALDO, OPEN CHAMPION, 1987, MUIRFIELD, 1990, 1992 MUIRFIELD: And then I hit a good five on into the last and -- and, you know, and that memory of that shot -- because that was weird. That was a little bit like, (INAUDIBLE) discover people, don't you?

You know, it would be like the -- when you have a rotten car crash, when you see the wall and everything is in slow motion and you're going oh, no, no and you hit that wall.

And it was just like -- it was like oh, yum, yum, whom, you know?

That was my golf shot. It was so funny. The book off -- it went off like that.

Now, if it were (INAUDIBLE) -- could you -- the first time you sensed all these new sensations.

O'DONOGHUE: And Faldo's love of Muirfield has even tempted him out of retirement.

FALDO: And it's so special and -- and the Open is just special. And I thought, you know, just for the fun, if I could just get over the hurdle and just -- and just say to myself, what will be will be. You know, I can't go for a score. I mean the last Open I played three years ago, so I'm not like a -- so wherever I get to the 30 morning before the hurdle, I might change my mind.

O'DONOGHUE: Of course, yet again, Faldo will be walking a slightly different course than the one he remembers. Muirfield's swapped some land to extend the ninth, along with a few other holes. And bunkers have been moved tighter to several greens.

COLIN IRVINE, COURSE MANAGER, MUIRFIELD: We're off of the main green and this is where we moved two bunkers that used to sit on these two poles here. So we brought one into there and the other one up to a -- much closer into the green on the apron (ph) site, to become much more a gathering bunker.

You've tightened up the snake and you've also got the wall and the bones (ph) on the other side. So -- but it's a lot more (INAUDIBLE) if it landed on the small green there.

PETER DAWSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THE R&A: It's our duty to keep our -- our famous linked courses still in a position to provide the sort of tests we need to identify a champion, I think. So it's still very much Muirfield. Many of the changes you can't see, you won't even know they've been done, almost. And I think when the players come here, they'll recognize the Muirfield they've come to know and love.

O'DONOGHUE: Now, these days, we've become used to my own country of Ireland producing a steady stream of major winners, a relatively small population punching well above its weight.

But go back 100 years and for Ireland, read Jersey, that tiny island off the south coast of England. And it all started here at Muirfield, with one of the greatest stars of his era.


O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Rare footage of Harry Vardon, arguably golf's first superstar.

ARTHUR: Here we have a picture of Harry Vardon, who won the Open, of course, six times in all, and won here in 1896, and also with him, the third member of this photograph is Ted Ray who won the Open at Muirfield in 1912. And it's just amazing to think that both of these great champions, they both came from the island of Jersey.

O'DONOGHUE: Jersey, a small British dependency much nearer to France than the UK. Remarkably, Vardon and Ray didn't just both come from Jersey, they came from the same remote part of the island. They even went to the same school.

DAVID CRAWFORD, FORMER HEAD, ROYAL JERSEY, GC: Greenkeeper they were born into very much working class families, really. Vardon's father was a gardener. Ray's father or family actually made a living collecting brack or seaweed off the beach.

O'DONOGHUE: Then, when young Harry was eight, in a twist of fate, it just so happened that the first golf course on the island, Royal Jersey, was laid out within yards of his family cottage.

CRAWFORD: All the children played out here, you know, crept out at night and played with marbles and clubs they'd pressured (ph) themselves. It's a classic example of children in isolated areas excelling at a sport because they have nothing else to do but practice.

He started caddying for the members and then he was lent clubs and began to play.

O'DONOGHUE: Vardon moved to England and his career really took off at Muirfield in 1896, when he won his first Open. Two years later, he beat the two time Open champion, Willie Park, Jr.. To claim his second Open at Prestwick. His fame was sealed.

CRAWFORD: Park was so upset that he challenged him to a home and away match for 100 pounds at North Berwick. Ten thousand people followed it. They had to put flags up to say who had won a hole because some people couldn't even see it.

O'DONOGHUE: Vardon made several trips to America, traveling the country to play exhibition matches. On his first visit in 1900, he managed to find time to win the U.S. Open while he was there. His growing success and the fame and money it brought inspired Ted Ray and other Jersey talent. This footage shows them during a joint tour of the U.S. in 1920, during which the Jersey men finished first and second in the U.S. Open, Ray, adding the title to his Muirfield Open championship. He'd go on to be Britain's first Ryder Cup captain.

Peter Thompson and Tom Watson are the only two men alive who have come close to matching Vardon's record of six Open championships. Thompson was a boy when Vardon died in 1937 and went on to dominate his own era of Opens.

PETER THOMPSON, FIVE TIME OPEN CHAMPION: He was the God of golf. And, you know, to aspire to such a position, I think it was a sacrilege to do so. It was way out of my league, I promise you.

And it wasn't until I had passed five that I thought, well, it's possible, really, to equal the great man. But I didn't do it, regretfully.

O'DONOGHUE: Former Ryder Cup player, Tommy Horton, also grew up in Gruville (ph) and still plays at Royal Jersey.


O'DONOGHUE: He collects Vardon memorabilia and believes but for the First World War and continuing illness, Vardon would have added to his six Opens.

TOMMY HORTON, FOUR EUROPEAN TOUR WINS: When you think about 1914, when he won his last Open, they took him out of hospital two or three weeks before the Open championship. And having had only a few weeks practice, fresh out of hospital, he went on and won the Open championship.

Now that, to me, is incredible.

O'DONOGHUE: In a small Jersey museum, you can find Vardon and Ray's medals -- seven Open championships and two U.S. Opens between them. From Muirfield to the eve of the First World War, Vardon had set a record that's never been matched. And from their poor, isolated beginnings, they have transformed golf throughout the world.

CRAWFORD: There is absolutely doubt that the great boom of golf in America was started by Harry Vardon. He brought golf into the mainstream for everybody to play. And I think that was probably his greatest achievement.


O'DONOGHUE: Still to come on LIVING GOLF, where the Muirfield Open champion of 1959 really feels at home.


G. PLAYER: I'd say the farming and the horses, I prefer, a little bit, because at least I'm with my family.



O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF at Muirfield.

Now, for one of the greatest players that the world has ever seen, the story really started here. Gary Player walked off the 18th hole at the Open in 1959 in tears, thinking he'd blown it, when, in actual fact, he had won the first of his nine major titles.

We went back to his stud farm in South Africa to reflect on his career and the other great passion in his life.

Beautiful horses.


PLAYER: Whoa, these are really.


PLAYER: Top notch, by the best sires in the country.

This is (INAUDIBLE) the best sire that we've ever had. He'll go for a lot of money at the sale. And this one is by Captain Bell (ph), a full champion sire.


PLAYER: You've got to do this business with quality beasts, because they're all eating while you're sleeping. So that's not a good investment.

BARNETT: Speaking of investment, how did these horses enter your life?

Why did you decide to take a property that has such great horses? PLAYER: Well, when I was a young boy and my mother died, a friend of mine used to take me to his farm in Johannesburg. And I used to ride horses. And I just fell in love with them. And they're the greatest athletes in the world. And (INAUDIBLE) just said the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. And I don't know what I like better, golf or horses.

BARNETT: Really?

G. PLAYER: Yes, I...

BARNETT: It's that close to your heart?

G. PLAYER: Yes, I'd say the farming and the horses, I prefer a little bit, because at least I'm with my family more of the time and I'm more settled now in some routine.

Here, well, I'd like you to meet my wife Vivian, who I've been married to for 56 years.

BARNETT: Oh, wow!

G. PLAYER: And she's been my great inspiration, six children, 22 grandchildren, and besides that, been my great friend.

BARNETT: Hey, Vivian, a pleasure to meet you.

V. PLAYER: Nice to meet you.

BARNETT: What has it been like all these years, next to this man?

V. PLAYER: Quite a journey.

G. PLAYER: A lot of traveling.

V. PLAYER: A lot of traveling, yes. It's been fantastic.

G. PLAYER: We wanted to show you a picture here of Elvis Presley, who I met in 1961.


G. PLAYER: I won the Masters and I get a message, Elvis wants to meet you. And I wanted to meet him. And he comes out with a jacket on and he says, "How do you do, sir?"

And he says to me, "I want to play golf." He had a terrible grip (INAUDIBLE) grip right.

He says, "What's important?" I said, "Elvis, you've got to learn to use those hips."

He says, "The hips?" he says, "Baby, you're talking to the right man." He goes...


BARNETT: How many times have you heard this story?

V. PLAYER: Lots of times.


G. PLAYER: This is the day I won the grand slam. This obviously was a great day in my life, to win the grand slam of golf, to be the third man in history, the first modern-day player to win it. So this I look at every day as I go to work and I feel very grateful that I was able to do that.

BARNETT: You were 29 years old.

G. PLAYER: Twenty-nine years old.

BARNETT: Getting this distinction.


BARNETT: That's my age now. You're making me feel like I've...


BARNETT: -- got to get to work.


V. PLAYER: -- you wanted to do that.

G. PLAYER: Yes, something I wanted so, so badly. And I was able to do it. So it's a great blessing.

We'll show you some of the little babies now.

Go ahead.

BARNETT: So this is where you keep the moms with their kids?


BARNETT: So how many horses do you have in total?

G. PLAYER: Oh, we had about 250.


G. PLAYER: Now we're down -- we'll be down to about 120.

BARNETT: She's OK with us being close to the...

G. PLAYER: Yes, she's fine. Yes, she's fine. She's got a nice temperament.

BARNETT: So how old is she?

G. PLAYER: She must be close to eight now, eight years old. She's not even a -- she hasn't even reached her prime as far as babies. If her babies can run well, we keep her. If they (ph) don't, we get rid of her as a riding horse.

Well, we've got to breed champions, so we can't hang around with horses that don't produce champions, you know?

Put your head up, boy. Put your head out, boy.

Thanks, Jack.

I saw a horse sell for $10 million in America.


G. PLAYER: That the Arabs bought, $10 million, by Northern Dancer, who was the best sire ever probably. The horse couldn't even win -- couldn't hardly walk well, never mind win a race.


BARNETT: So what is it, then, about horses, because you talk about them so passionately, that...


BARNETT: -- touches you and fascinates you?

G. PLAYER: For me, it is the athletic prowess. When I see this horse, I just never see any human being that's an athlete like this. In fact, when we had the President's Cup in America, President Clinton attended. And he and I were talking. And I was telling him of my great love of horses.

And he said, well, I voted, as president of America, as one of the greatest athletes America ever had -- in fact, the top 10 -- Secretariat. And all the press, they were astounded.

And they said how can you ride -- vote a horse as one of our best athletes?

He says, well, it was an athlete, and so correctly so.

They're so intelligent, so higher in the intelligence, too. They know exactly what's going on.

This one is always very inquisitive what's going on. She's got a great temperament.

Now, some of them are mean as can be. But we'll take you over in a while and show you the stallions. Now, they're the opposite. You don't go near them. They are tough when they're covering mares at this time of the year.

BARNETT: Wow, a beautiful horse. Whoo.

G. PLAYER: Isn't that beautiful?

BARNETT: You can see his coat glistening in the sunlight.

G. PLAYER: Oh. Now, this horse...

BARNETT: Whoa...

G. PLAYER: -- this horse was -- look at that.


G. PLAYER: This horse is something special. I think this horse has got a chance to make a real champion. And if he produces champions, he becomes worth 200 million overnight.

BARNETT: Two hundred million rand?

G. PLAYER: Yes, $300 million, $400 million (INAUDIBLE).


G. PLAYER: Yes. And he might be worth not -- not even 10 rand.

Hey, hey. Hey, stop it. Stop it.

BARNETT: This is pent up horse energy.

G. PLAYER: This is power.

BARNETT: So what happens to this horse next?



BARNETT: -- he just keeps breeding?

G. PLAYER: He keeps bearing babies.

BARNETT: What a life.

G. PLAYER: And then, then he gets paid for it and he gets a -- he gets 80 to 100 of the best looking chicks every year.



BARNETT: -- upset about?

G. PLAYER: If there's reincarnation, this is what I want to come back, is a stallion. But as long as I'm a good one.


O'DONOGHUE: Still to come on LIVING GOLF, the most exclusive club in St. Andrews breaks ground.





O'DONOGHUE: Now, further on up the east coast of Scotland lies the home of golf, St. Andrews. And just a few months ago, they started building a new course there, designed by another Open champion, Tom Weiskopf.


O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): On a hillside, desolate, high above St. Andrews, these were potato fields. For 16 years, the owner has planned to turn them into a golf course. We first came here 15 months ago.

Tom Weiskopf

--- 41 bedroom suites. The course will be round the back of that lane of trees. And then panning around, all of here will be the golf course.

O'DONOGHUE: But then, yet more delays. Now, the council has finally given permission.

The diggers arrived on site in April. Time for those behind St. Andrews International to take another look.

WEISKOPF: There's the greens detail. There's the elevation.

O'DONOGHUE: Former Open champion, Tom Weiskopf, was chosen to design the course in the late 1990s.

WEISKOPF: The greatest asset are the views. And from the clubhouse and standing on that first tee, you look down into the bay at St. Andrews and really see the steeples in, you know, that are in town. So you're well aware that you're only 2.4 of a mile away from downtown St. Andrews, the home of golf.

O'DONOGHUE: But does St. Andrews really need another golf course?

MCKAY: St. Andrews needs a private golf club and no other facility can provide that. That's why we're doing it. And we wouldn't have done it anywhere else.

O'DONOGHUE: And that's one of the key points. This will be a private members club -- no visitors, a new business model for St. Andrews.

MCKAY: There are a number of fine pay and play courses in the area, so it would have been somewhat foolhardy to try and compete with them. The most important thing is that there was a demand in the marketplace to have a club which gave the members ownership. So that's the basis of our business plan.

O'DONOGHUE: To start with, they're looking for 40 founder members to put in a half a million pounds each.

But will they really find them?

STEPHEN JONES, LAWYER, ST. ANDREWS INTERNATIONAL GOLF CLUB: (INAUDIBLE) in St. Andrews is the only private members golf club. The club is being built to eight, six, seven (INAUDIBLE) and will have superb facilities. And for that reason alone, and for the people associated with it, I think we're pretty confident we'll have our founder members pretty quickly.

O'DONOGHUE: They need them by October to finish building. Then, they're looking for further members at 100,000 pounds each.

JONES: (INAUDIBLE) parties with other clubs around the world, particularly in Asia or in America, 100,000 is a steal to come to a club (INAUDIBLE).

O'DONOGHUE: They plan to spend around 20 to 25 million pounds on the project. Of that, about eight million will go on the course.

WEISKOPF: We'll create a lot of native-looking landscape. So we'll actually take it out and stretch it out and flatten it out. So at the end of the day, it will look like a big block of melted chocolate instead of a constant slope across it, which it has.

ESIE O'MAHONY, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, SOL GOLF: The most difficult thing for us to do was to interpret their design from paper to reality. And we've worked with many different designers. And actually, each one has their own signature. Each one will be looking for something a little bit different, a little bit special.

So our job is to create that and find that.

O'DONOGHUE: With work underway and due to be finished in two years, we'll be following progress at St. Andrews International.

Can they raise the money?

Can they make a private club work here?

And can Tom and Esie turn potato fields into golf course gold?


O'DONOGHUE: Well, that's it for this edition of LIVING GOLF.

Next month, we'll be at the Women's Open at St. Andrews and looking forward to Europe versus the USA in the Solheim Cup.

But for now, from the home of the honorable company of Edinboro golfers, on the eve of the Open championship, good-bye.