The successful development of Blair Atholl School, north of Johannesburg, is an achievement that golfer Gary Player holds almost as dear as the many medals and cups he has gathered through his illustrious career.
When Player bought the Blair Atholl estate in 1983, it had a simple farm school for about 20 children.
Today Blair Atholl Primary is a model establishment, catering for about 500 learners from Grade 1 to 7. The school fosters potential by encouraging pupils to develop their talents in mainstream academic subjects, as well as in areas such as sport, drama, dance, music or practical agriculture.
A feeding scheme is operational, not only at the primary school but also at the Blair Atholl Pre-primary, which has a fully-qualified principal and four teachers for the 80 children aged between 3 and 7. The transport needs and basic health requirements of all the children are taken care of; and a special resource centre has been established to serve the community as a whole.
Nelson Mandela is among the admirers of Blair Atholl’s ‘outstanding” facilities, and believes that the school ‘can serve as a model for educational development and renewal in other parts of South Africa”.
Marc Player, CEO of Black Knight International – a Gary Player organisation – says that the Blair Atholl Schools’ project reflects ‘a tripartite relationship between government, the local community, and the Player Foundation.”
Gary Player hosts various golf-related events annually around the world to raise funds for the foundation’s initiatives. He also personally visits the embassies of major governments, and brings ambassadors to tour the Blair Atholl Schools and Resource Centre for a first-hand experience of the daily activities. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan, as well as the South African government and various private corporations, have all responded with support.
Marc Player points out that, although its main focus is the Blair Atholl Schools project, the Player Foundation is a global one and has a global interest in developmental education. It is currently exploring the feasibility of forming an affiliation with a primary school in Shanghai which is funded by St Andrew’s Trust in Scotland. The idea is that the Shanghai establishment should become a ‘sister” school to Blair Atholl with the possibility of an exchange programme being set up for some of the older pupils.
Given the global range of its endeavours, the Player Foundation is particularly proud of its cost-efficiency factor. Marc Player notes that for every dollar raised world-wide, 86 cents reaches the intended beneficiaries because the organisation is not a top-heavy one with disproportionately high administration costs.
The achievements of Blair Atholl pupils are also a source of pride and pleasure to the Player family. Marc Player tells of an occasion when a former Blair Atholl learner – now studying Information Technology – addressed an audience of about 800 at his old school. The young man said that, although he had come from a disadvantaged background, after being set on the road to success at Blair Atholl he felt nothing was beyond his scope, not even the presidency. ‘Dad said that in many ways he found that more meaningful than winning a major championship,” Marc Player recalls.
Gary Player began his career as a professional golfer in 1953 at the age of 17. Known as the Black Knight because of his courageous style of play and his dark attire on the golf course, this sportsman’s achievements include winning 163 tournaments world-wide, winning the South African Open a record 13 times, the Australian Open a record seven times, and the World Match Play Championship a record five times.