Jasna Polana is ‘home’ for Player

Senior PGA returns to Princeton this weekend for third Instinet Classic

By: Justin Feil
   As the course designer of approximately 200 golf courses worldwide, Gary Player has the opportunity to play a lot of his own courses. The Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana in Princeton, the site of the Senior PGA Tour’s Instinet Classic for the third straight year, still holds a special place in his heart, and not just because he gets the best room in the house or a nice breakfast to greet him.
   "Coming here is really like coming back home because this is a very special place to be involved with," said Player, who will celebrate his 67th birthday in November. "Mrs. (Barbara) Johnson and (managing director) Christopher Piasecki made me feel so at home. It really was a thrill to come here and be involved from the very beginning.
   "Of all the 200 golf courses that we’ve designed, I’ve never seen an entrance to a golf course like this one. This is by far the best I’ve ever seen. To think that people lived in such a beautiful home and now to turn it into a beautiful clubhouse with all the art for people to enjoy is fantastic."
   Johnson, the widow of J. Seward Johnson, provided the 230-acre property for the development of Jasna Polana five years ago. The clubhouse is a 46,000-square foot converted mansion.
   Just a chip shot away from the former indoor pool at the end of the mansion sits the 18th green, where Sunday a champion will be crowned. Who that might be is anyone’s guess, but not Player’s.
   "You don’t even have a slight chance," Player said of predicting a winner, "but Gil Morgan seems to have a patent on it."
   Morgan has won the only two Instinet Classics to be held at Jasna Polana. Last year, he went wire-to-wire, opening with a course-record 9-under 63 and holding off Tom Jenkins and J.C. Snead for a two-stroke win.
   Morgan faces the most talented field ever assembled to play at Jasna Polana in the Instinet, which tees off today at 9 a.m. Two major commitments this year are $20 million career winner Hale Irwin, the current Senior PGA Tour’s money leader, along with Allen Doyle, last year’s top money winner. Doug Tewell, Dana Quigley and John Jacobs — the next three top money winners this year — are all playing this weekend as well on the course that Player designed and is still looking to fine-tune.
   "They’ve been setting the golf courses up very tough this season so they’ll do that here," the South African said. "The third green has sunk a little bit. We’d like to improve on that. We’d like to put a bunker on No. 11, the par three. We’d like to get the green at 18 another good six or seven yards up; enlarge it on the right so the water is right on the green because it’s a very short par five. There are lots of little things you keep improving in, like all golf courses do."
   Player did not address how those changes might help his own chances. The veteran, who sits 21st in all-time money earnings on the senior tour, has won tournaments in five consecutive decades, yet is still looking for his first win since the 1998 Long Island Classic. He’ll face long odds this weekend after finishing no higher than 36th this year and spending most of the last two weeks circling the world.
   "Since Arizona, I haven’t played a full round of golf," he said, noting the Countrywide Tradition that ended April 28 with a 62nd place finish. "I’ve hit some balls. But after this massive time change, you’re talking about a 50-hour time change in two weeks, I’m not exactly sure (how I’ll play)."
   When his travel schedule is taken into account, it’s hard to figure out when he finds the time to play at all. With age, nothing has slowed or decreased with the exception of his weight.
   His earnings continue to climb, he now has 12 grandchildren and his appearances are as high as ever.
   "I’m traveling and working harder than I ever have in my life," he said. "I know I’m traveling more than any man on this planet. If you take an executive who travels extensively for a company, he might do it for 30 years, which is a long time. I’ve done it 50 years and I suppose I’ll do it another 10 years."
   And that means another 10 visits to Jasna Polana in Princeton, another 10 chances to win on a course he designed, and another 10 trips to a place he likes to call home.