Gary Player. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Gary Player. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

Golfing legend Gary Player is testing SA’s prime property market by selling the farm where he spent more than half his life nurturing his other passion — breeding racehorses.

The 81-year-old sports star is asking for R50m for the 1,431ha ranch in the Karoo, about halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Player plans to wind down after a career of five decades and 165 tournament victories, including nine major championships.

"We’d like to downsize because this is quite a big farm," Player said by phone. "I don’t think I’ll retire until I’m 90 at least. But we’ve started to prepare."

Player’s property is coming to market as top-end house prices in SA buck a slump, helped by a weak rand that has spurred demand from overseas buyers.

For the rest, home values are shrinking with economy growth at its slowest pace since the 2009 recession, rising unemployment and political turmoil with President Jacob Zuma implicated in a series of scandals.

"Wealthy people from countries such as Angola, Ghana and Nigeria are increasingly buying homes in SA," said Andrew Amoils, head of research at New World Wealth, a consultancy in Johannesburg. "Even the local number of high-net worth individuals increased 5% this year," he said, referring to people with more than $1m in liquid financial assets.

Property headwinds

Prices for real estate in the R20m plus bracket rose an inflation-adjusted 4% in the first nine months of the year, he said. The consumer price index averaged 6.2% to end-September.

Prices of existing homes in the R4.4m-R16.3m bracket fell 1% after inflation this year, according to Barclays Africa Group figures.

Prices of "affordable" homes priced below R600,000 rand fell 2.1%, while the middle-segment eased 1.2%, said Jacques du Toit, real estate analyst at Barclays Africa Group.

"SA’s high-end property market continues to sell properties at a good pace and is largely unaffected by political and economic headwinds," he said. But overall, house prices were set to fall 1.6% this year, the first contraction since 2012 followed by another 1.7% in 2017, he said.

Player’s farm had attracted a "huge response" from foreigners and locals since going to market in mid-November, said Rory O’Hagan, CEO of Chas Everitt International’s luxury-portfolio division.

Bang for Buck

"Property in SA is offering excellent value," he said. "You get incredible bang for your buck."

Player’s ranch is among several luxury properties on offer from his company. A 243ha family owned wine farm in Stellenbosch with views of Table Mountain is listed for R115m. A home on an equestrian estate between Johannesburg and Pretoria with a Japanese teppanyaki bar and alfresco amphitheater is going for R85m.

Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, recession in Russia and Brazil and Turkish political unrest meant that investing in a trophy property in SA does not "sound that bad" to potential investors, O’Hagan said. While the rand gained 14% against the dollar in 2016, it weakened in each of the previous five years, losing more than half of its value.

Broadway flyer

There is a shortage of stock at the top-end of SA’s real-estate market, homes priced at R18m-R35m, said Denise Dogon, owner of Dogon Group, which is also marketing Player’s farm. Her company has sold properties to African heads of state.

For Player, moving to Plettenberg Bay will be a big change from Rietfontein farm in Colesberg, which he bought in 1974. It has produced more than 2,000 winners. It’s most notable result was Broadway Flyer, which in 1994 finished second in the St Leger Stakes, the oldest and longest of Britain’s classic races.

The property includes an enclosed horse track, chapel and three-bedroom guest house.

"Other than my parents dying or some of my family members, it will be the saddest moment in my life to sell this farm," Player said. "It’s a paradise."

The sale comes at a time when horse ownership in SA is declining at about 5% a year, even though training costs are among the lowest in the world at about R8,000 a month and there is racing 364 days a year, said Lyndon Barends, MD of the National Horseracing Authority.

Breeding race horses is just like practising golf, said Player, an unofficial ambassador for the country’s R5bn-rand-a-year thoroughbred industry.

"You know a hell of a lot about nothing," he said. "You find 10 different teachers and they all tell you 10 different things. It’s the same thing in the horse business."

The golfer has been interested in horses since childhood. Player would ride on a friend’s farm at weekends while his father worked at a gold mine, his brother fought overseas in the Second World War and his sister was at boarding school.

"We’d come back and wash them down and wipe the sweat off and remember the old saying, ‘the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man’," he said. "I don’t know what is more exciting: the golf or the breeding of horses."

Bloomberg

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