Golf legend sues son, grandson over memorabilia dispute

Legendary golfer Gary Player is suing his son and grandson over memorabilia, including trophies and clubs, he says the duo have sold or tried to sell despite an agreement requiring the items be returned to the nine-time major championship winner.  

Player, a part-time Jupiter Island, Florida, resident, filed a legal complaint in May in Palm Beach County against his son Marc Player, followed by a November lawsuit against Marc’s son, Damian Player.

The lawsuits were “reluctantly” filed after a years-long dispute between Gary Player and Marc Player about the 87-year-old’s collectibles after he ended a business relationship with his son in 2019, said Gary Player’s attorney Stuart Singer.

Damian Player was named in a separate suit because it’s alleged that he solicited buyers for memorabilia held in 19 lockers at a South Carolina storage facility, and allegedly sold or helped sell multiple Rolex watches to someone in Florida “for significant sums of money.”

Already sold in 2021 auctions against Gary Player’s wishes were his 1974 Masters Tournament Trophy for $523,483, his South African Open Trophy for $48,841, his 1965 U.S. Open irons for $17,947 and his 52nd Masters’ golf shoes for $1,171, according to court filings.

‘Only with the greatest reluctance and after many years of trying to avoid this did Gary have to enforce his rights in this way,’ Singer said.

The lawsuit also claims Marc Player failed to transfer social media accounts and the web domain name GaryPlayer.com to his father.

Attorney Darren Heitner, whose law firm is representing Marc Player, said the lawsuit is in its “infancy” but in a response filed in court he claimed the settlement agreement reached in 2021 is invalid because the property rights are owned by a trust. Heitner said he has not been retained by Damian Player, who could not be reached for comment.

Gary Player, a native of South Africa, is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, winning nine major championships on the regular tour and nine major championships on the Champions Tour. He won the 1961 Masters, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

“He still shoots par golf at 87,” Singer said.

Player has six children and was married to his wife Vivienne for more than 60 years before she died of cancer in August 2021.

Earlier that year on Jan. 7, Player was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Donald Trump.

Marc Player worked with his father for nearly two decades as a manager. Over the years, Gary Player assigned the rights to some trademarks, likenesses, logos and images to entities headed by his son. But in 2019, Gary Player said he was revoking the rights after a claim was made that he was owed $5 million by Marc Player, according to Singer.

In August, a statement was posted on Gary Player’s Twitter account saying trophies and other memorabilia were put up for auction by Marc without his permission.

‘These items belong to me and I have taken action to recover them,” the post said.

In a response posted to Marc Player’s Twitter account, Heitner call’s the claims against Marc “petty” and ‘baseless.’ He said some memorabilia was given to Marc Player by his parents and has remained in his possession for decades.

“You cannot take back what no longer belongs to you,” Heitner wrote.

The statement also mentions a 2002 collection of 300 pieces of memorabilia that was sold to South African billionaire Johann Rupert by the London-based auction house Christie’s. 

A 2003 Palm Beach Post article says an announcement by Gary Player that he was going to sell memorabilia through Christie’s stunned golf fans and some of his closest friends and family members.

People speculated about the reason for the sale but Player said he was doing it to raise money for his Blair Atholl School for 450 underprivileged children on his South African estate, to set up a trust fund for his family and to avoid any fighting among his children over the items after his death.

‘I don’t want to see this divided among my children,’ Player said in the 2003 article. ‘I would turn in my grave if I died and this one wanted the U.S. Open and this one wanted the British Open. I’ve seen a lot of people in my career that when they died, it was a tragedy the way the family bickered about whatever was left to them.’

In August, an auction site was listing for sale a 1959 Gary Player Black Knight Putter, the 1968 Carreras Piccadilly World Match Play Golf trophy, Gary Player golf clubs used to win the 1965 U.S. Open and the 1988 Belgian Classic Crystal Trophy, according to one of the lawsuits.

On Dec. 8, Circuit Court Judge Gregory Keyser granted a temporary injunction against Marc Player and anyone working with him from selling Gary Player items that were in their possession at the time of the 2021 settlement agreement. It also ordered monies earned by selling previous items such as the 1974 Masters Tournament Trophy, to be put in a trust, and temporarily bars Marc Player from using his father’s image or name on social media accounts.

Kimberly Miller is a veteran journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network of Florida. She covers real estate and how growth affects South Florida’s environment. If you have news tips, please send them to kmiller@pbpost.com. 

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