Arnold Palmer was born in a steel mill town in Pennsylvania in 1929. His father was the groundskeeper and head golf professional at the Latrobe Country Club which provided Arnold the opportunity to learn everything about golf. He started playing at age 4 and became a caddy at age 11. Growing up, he worked at almost every job at the club and played golf in high school. He went on to Wake Forest College on a golf scholarship but left during his senior year after the death of his close friend Bud Worsham in a car accident.
Upon leaving college, Arnold joined the Coast Guard where he served for three years. While in the Coast Guard, he built a nine-hole golf course at the Coast Guard Training Center in New Jersey. This gave Arnold the chance to polish his golf skills. After finishing his stint in the Coast Guard, Arnold returned to college and competitive golf.
In 1954 after winning the U.S. Amateur in Detroit, Arnold went pro. That win was a turning point in his life as he realized that he was capable of competing at the highest level. After the Detroit tournament, Arnold quit his job selling paint and signed up for the Waite Memorial tournament in Pennsylvania. It was here that he met his wife Winifred Walzer. They remained married for 45 years until her death in 1999.
Over his career, Arnold Palmer won 62 PGA tours and 92 professional championships. His hottest years spanned the four-year period from 1960 to 1963. During this period he won 29 of his titles and brought in a whopping $400,000 – big money in those days! His personal charisma made golf popular and cool. Arnold became golf’s superstar and brought golf to TV audiences and public golf courses. He became known as “The King”.
During this period, Arnold branched out with his successful golf-related business interests establishing Arnold Palmer Enterprises. He founded the Arnold Palmer Design Company to design and build golf courses. Over his lifetime, he designed over 300 golf courses in 37 states and 25 countries. He also purchased numerous golf courses and country clubs including the Latrobe Country Club where he got his start. His signature colorful golf umbrella logo became a well-recognized brand worldwide. He was also a co-founder of the Golf Channel.
Arnold Palmer feared flying so he went out and got his pilot’s license. He was an avid pilot and owned an aviation service company for many years. Flying his Cessna Citation X jet became a favorite hobby. Over the years, he logged nearly 20,000 hours of flying time in various aircraft.
Arnold Palmer was a man of the people. He was immensely popular. It is said that he signed an average of 100 autographs a day during his lifetime. As a result of his popularity and squeaky clean persona, he was recruited several times to run for office in 1964, 1969, and again during the Watergate era. He gave it thought but remembered what his dad told him: “A smart man learned early what he did best and kept on doing it.” He never ran for office.
He liked to drink a mixture of iced tea and lemonade. When overheard ordering this drink at a restaurant, a neighboring patron asked for the iced tea lemonade mix which then became known as the “Arnold Palmer”.
Arnold was a compassionate and charitable man. He served as the Honorary National of the March of Dimes Foundation for 20 years. He was instrumental in raising funds for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women and subsequently the Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando, Florida. He was a long-time member of the board for the Latrobe Area Hospital where he sponsored golf events to support the hospital which led to the formation of the Latrobe Area Hospital Foundation.
Arnold Palmer was the recipient of numerous awards. He was a charter member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, a member of the American Golf Hall of Fame in Pennsylvania and a member of the PGA Hall of Fame in Florida. The pinnacle of his awards came with the Presidential Medal of Freedom received from George W. Bush in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2009.
Arnold Palmer was a patriot and a Republican!
Photo via Golf Channel