The Gary Player Invitational, held at the Zimbali Country Club over the weekend, enjoyed a hugely successful charity auction, with the golfers, celebrities and business executives taking part in the event raising over R4-million.
That figure is a new high in the 13-year history of the charity event, which is presented by Coca-Cola. The proceeds will go the Wildlands Conservation Trust and Wings and Wishes.
The auction was the highlight of a black tie gala dinner and drew incredible support from the tournament guests as well as friends of Gary Player from around the world, many of whom made generous donations prior to the auction, while some even phoned in their bids during the evening.
The top bid was the R520 000 for an exclusive Masters Experience with Gary Player, including staying in The Player Group House for the week of the iconic major.
A life-sized Gary Player Rhino, featuring images of Player's 1965 US Open triumph and Dr Ian Player's commitment to conservation, was auctioned for R100 000. The bid was then increased by R10 000 by a generous couple when they were informed that their original bid matched the record for a similar rhino.
As a personal thank you to Gary Player, football legend Kenny Dalglish announced a surprise item of four season tickets, or two director's box tickets, to a Liverpool Football Club game and a round of golf at Hillside Golf Club, hosted by Dalglish, which sold for R57 500.
"We are delighted regarding this phenomenal response and the generous way in which so many people have contributed to the charity efforts of this tournament," said Marc Player, Chief Executive of Black Knight International.
"To have so many friends from around the world supporting our beneficiaries this year is a very humbling experience. We are incredibly thankful for their continued support and willingness to make a difference."
Out on the course, Tim Clark, who credits the Gary Player Invitational for being the start of his professional success, led his team to victory.
Clark, Dalglish and businessmen Alex Maditsi and Doug Jackson celebrated a seven-point victory in style with Jackson holing a putt from off the green on the last for a birdie at the end of a final round that produced a few moments of brilliance from the amateurs in the field.
'It meant a lot to me'
"I remember being invited to this tournament for the first time in 2000. I was just a rookie professional then, and to have had Gary Player even think of inviting me was a big deal. It meant a lot to me. I always feel like that was the start of my career," said Clark, whose team finished on a 36-hole total of 175 points.
Second place went to the team of Ladies European Tour professional Carly Booth, Irish pop star Brian McFadden and businessmen Greg Whittaker and Steve Phytides on a total of 168 points.
The final day brought with it tough conditions as a strong wind challenged the field of professionals, celebrities and businessmen, but still there were a few individual highlights.
'The time of my life'
McFadden was thrilled to sign off his debut in this tournament with a second place. "I had the time of my life and I can't wait for next year," said the former Westlife star. "But I realized this week I'm not a professional athlete. I think I've got more of a physique for pro darts."
Phytides, who took time away from his successful logistics business to help contribute to the charitable cause this week, was one of the standout performers in his team. "It was a privilege to be part of this, and I have to thank Mr Player for giving me that opportunity. It's been the highlight of my own golfing career," he commented.
The team of double senior Major champion Roger Chapman, South African cricket legend Shaun Pollock and businessmen Chuck Colton and Joe Ralebepa struggled to hold onto their second place overnight and finished third overall on 165 points.
"We wanted to do our best to chase down the leaders, but we didn't make too many big points on the final day. But it was still great fun to be a part of such a good cause," said Pollock, who was on the winning team last year.
Tournament host Gary Player and his team of actor Jack Wagner and businessmen Carlos Pires Oliveira Dias and Andre Pires Oliveira Dias finished on 163 points.
"The last two holes really hurt us," said the ever-competitive Player. Wagner, a scratch handicap who as a teenager could choose between a golf and drama scholarship and opted for the latter, agreed. "I think we all had our moments of brilliance and then our moments of sitting in the cart and keeping quiet."
They were followed by Ian Woosnam, actress Angie Everhart, Christian Karg and Brad Caufield on 159 points.
Karg produced a magnificent shot on the par-four 18th, hitting his five-iron approach to within one foot and holing the putt for birdie. "That was a good four-pointer for me, and it was exactly what we needed to get past Team Torrance, which was our goal at the beginning of the day," he said.
Sam Torrance, Ian Wright, Gideon du Plessis and Nick Jonsson took sixth place on 150 points, with Du Plessis loving every second of being in the presence of a former Ryder Cup captain for two days.
"It was such a memorable experience. Sam Torrance is a fantastic golfer, but an even better storyteller. But I'm so honoured to have been part of this, and thank Gary for what he's done in this tournament, and for South Africa as a whole," he said.