Gary Player: Amateurs must be king to grow golf

Gary Player believes amateur golfers such as James Pickard of Honiton Golf Club, seen playing during the SkyCaddie PGA Pro-Captain Challenge Grand Final at Arabella Golf in Mallorca, are key to the continued growth of golf. Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Amateur golfers must become a priority to keep the sport growing even though the professional game is a multi-million-dollar industry that is getting stronger, Gary Player told Reuters in a frank discourse on the future of the game.

"Professional golfers have never played for such enormous money," the nine-time major winner, who turned 83 on Thursday, said in an exclusive interview.

"Some of the pros win in two tournaments what I won in my entire life.

"Professional golf is so popular now and Tiger Woods coming back has really given it a shot in the arm. And the Ryder Cup was fantastic. There are so many big events, big attendances, big sponsors, massive money for the players, but what we need is to build the courses for the average man.

"The pro is not that important. It's the average person who comes to the course, to enjoy the game and have fun. That is key."

"Golf courses need flatter greens, wider fairways and not so many bunkers to make them [amateurs] enjoy the game. Amateur rounds are down because they are too expensive and too slow.

"There must be no restrictions on the weekend golfer. Let them enjoy the round. There used to be the long putter, that was then banned. To hang with that, let them use it."

Player, who still travels extensively, has a strict fitness regime and looks much younger than his age, has been talking about technology potentially ruining the sport for at least five years, as longer distances achieved mean designers lengthen the layouts and add more hazards to keep courses challenging for the professionals.

But that only serves to widen the gap with the amateurs.

"We want them [amateurs] to come out and enjoy themselves. We've done too many things to chase them away from the game instead of getting them into the game," Player said.

Earlier this year, when he hit the ceremonial opening tee shot at the Masters, Player called for rules to be put in place to reduce by 50 yards the distance golfers can drive the ball.

"The equipment, in my eyes, is ruining golf... There is so much emphasis being put on length right now. All I hear is fathers telling me how far their sons hit the ball.

"We saw in the Ryder Cup, Europe annihilated America because they [the Americans] had to hit the ball straight. American golf is wide fairways and long hitting. The rest of the world is narrower and straight hitting. Straight hitting is important.

"But the old cliche still holds true, 'You drive for show and you put for dough'," Player said.

"Putting is the most important thing. A short putt is the same value as a 350-yard drive."