““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
In a career that began more than 30 years ago and has included tournament wins on five continents, golf pro Nick Price has been the embodiment of the international player. Born in South Africa and raised in Zimbabwe, the now 53-year-old father of three started competing on the so-called Sunshine Tour in his native land in 1977. In time, he moved on to the European PGA Tour, and then in 1983 Price joined the PGA Tour, beating Jack Nicklaus in his first year on that circuit to capture the World Series of Golf.
Price didn't win another Tour event for eight years. But when he did, he began a run that soon led him to the pinnacle of the golf world. Price won his first major in 1992, taking the PGA Championship, and followed that with four victories during the 1993 season and six in 1994, including the British Open and that year's PGA. Those performances helped him become the top-ranked player in the world, and he was twice named the PGA Tour's Player of the Year. During his career, he amassed more than $20 million in tournament winning, and in 2003 he became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
All told, Nick Price won 18 times on the PGA Tour. But that tells only part of his golfing story, for he also prevailed in 28 other professional events, in places as far-flung as Morocco, Japan, Switzerland and Australia.
Not surprisingly, Price turned to private jet travel as his schedule filled with commitments to play in those international tourneys. His first airplane was an IAI Westwind, which he bought just as his career was heating up in 1993. Then he purchased a Lockheed JetStar 731, which coincidentally had been owned by his friend and fellow Hall of Famer Greg Norman. Price used the JetStar for six years, and upgraded again in 1999, acquiring a Gulfstream III.
He sold his GIII in 2006, when he began to curb his international play, and bought a fractional share of a Cessna Citation Excel. That change, however, has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for business jet travel.
What was it that drew you so deeply into private jets?
They made my travel so much easier. That became even more important by the time I started doing really well on the PGA Tour in the early 1990s and began playing a lot overseas. I bought the JetStar and eventually the GIII because they were capable of taking me wherever I wanted to go abroad.
Why did you play internationally so much?
In part, it was because I was from Southern Africa and wanted to play at least three or four tournaments there each year. I also enjoyed competing on the European PGA Tour and over in Japan and Australia. In my heyday, I probably played 20 events a year in the U.S. and as many as 12 overseas. So, making sure I had a good way to get around was very important to me.
What did you like most about owning those jets and traveling that way?
Obviously, the convenience and comfort were a big factor. I could arrive at tournaments fresh and ready to play. It was also great for my family. Flying privately made it easier for my wife, Sue, and me to bring our children around when they were young.
Why did you sell the GIII and get into fractional ownership?
I stopped playing overseas. Once I did that, I told Sue it was time to sell the plane.
You used to do a bit of flying yourself, didn't you?
I had about 150 hours in a single-engine plane, a Cessna 172, and also had some time in helicopters. But these days, I leave the flying to others.
How do you use your Citation Excel share?
I buy 90 hours [a year] through CitationAir, and I use that to travel to some of the Champions Tour events I play in every year, and also for the golf course architecture business I started. Occasionally, I will also charter when the situation dictates. Like a trip we recently took to Mexico for two days. It was easier chartering a plane for two days so the pilots could spend the night down there with us.
What are you doing competitively these days?
I play 18 to 20 tournaments a year on the Champions Tour. I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it. But once I turned 50 and got out there, I found it was all I wanted it to be and more. I am playing golf for fun, and I am really enjoying it. The fields are smaller, the guys out there are the ones I grew up playing with and admiring, and for someone like me who is on the back nine of his playing career, it is a more social, more entertainment-based tour. We all feel we can still play pretty well, and we all have a pretty good time doing it.
How have you done on the Champions Tour?
I've done all right. I won my first tournament there in 2009, the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, and I've made a little over $1 million in prize money each of the last two years.
Did you ever think of giving up competitive golf once your time had passed on the regular PGA Tour?
I really wasn't sure how much I did want to play after the 2005 and 2006 seasons. I didn't play well, and truth be told, I had gotten burned out a bit. The best way to explain it is that after that period in the 1990s when I played so well, I really ran with it. I played a lot of golf, and it just wore me out after a while.
So how much are you playing these days?
I'll compete in as many as 20 Champions Tour events in 2010, and probably three or four other tournaments—unofficial events like the Shark Shootout and the CVS Charity Challenge. I'll also do maybe seven or eight sponsor-related events a year.
How else do you occupy your time?
My golf course design business takes up about half my time. Actually, it is probably my biggest love right now. I do two or three courses a year, and I am going for a boutique-style operation. If you do multiple courses in a year, as some guys do, it is difficult to be in control because you need so many people to do your work for you. By limiting myself as I am, I can be really hands-on. I can spend three or four weeks on-site during construction.
How many courses have you designed?
I am working on my 25th and 26th, both of which are in Mexico. I worked with co-designers on my first 18 projects, so I could get as much of a grounding in the business as possible. Then I broke off to go completely on my own.
Do you have a favorite tournament win as you look back at your career?
Probably the British Open in 1994. That is such a special tournament, and even more so to me after coming so close to winning in 1982 and 1988. I finished second both those years, to Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros, and I never thought I'd win it. So, it meant an awful lot to me. Holding up the Claret Jug was something I will never forget.
Speaking of the British Open, have you given any thought to entering that tournament again after watching Tom Watson almost win it last year at age 59?
If I could take my game up a notch, particularly my putting, I'd probably think of going back there. But right now, I am just not good enough, and I'd far rather give my spot to someone who has a better chance of winning. But you never know what can happen down the road. The way I figure it, I have three or four good years of playing left, and I'd go back to the British in a second if I thought I was capable of competing.
What would it take to make you feel that way?
I'd need to become a multiple winner on the Champions Tour, maybe three or four events there to even consider going back to the British.
NAME: Nick Price
OCCUPATION: Golf pro whose wins include 18 PGA Tour championships. Ranked as the world’s #1 player in the mid-nineties. Also, golf course designer.
TRANSPORTATION: Cessna Citation Excel fractional share purchase from CitationAir. Previously owned an IAI Westwind, a Lockheed JetStar 731 and a Gulfstream III.
HOME: Lives in Hobe Sound, Fla., with wife Sue. Three children.