Arnold Palmer is many things to many people...world famous golf immortal and sportsman, highly-successful business executive, prominent advertising spokesman, skilled aviator, talented golf course designer and consultant, devoted husband, father and grandfather and a man with a down-to-earth common touch that has made him one of the most popular and accessible public figures in history.
His popularity and success have grown with the tremendous golf boom in this latter half of the century to heights few ever anticipated. Certainly each contributed to the other, a fact given recognition when he was named "Athlete of the Decade" for the 1960s in a national Associated Press poll. Before, during and after that great decade, the famous golfer amassed 92 championships in professional competition of national or international stature by the-end of 1993. Sixty-one of the victories came on the U.S. PGA Tour, starting with the 1955 Canadian Open.
Beside the magnificent performance record, his magnetic personality and unfailing sense of kindness and thoughtfulness to everybody with whom he comes in contact have endeared him to millions throughout the world and led to the informal formation of the largest non-uniformed "military" organization in existence - Arnie's Army. Seven of his victories came in what the golfing world considers the four major professional championships. He won the Masters Tournament four times, in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964; the U.S. Open in spectacular fashion in 1960 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver and the British Open in 1961 and 1962. He came from seven strokes off the pace in the final round in that U.S. Open win and has finished second in four other Opens since then. Among the majors, only the PGA Championship has eluded him. He has finished second in the PGA three times.
Arnie's springboard to professional fame and fortune was his victory in the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1954. He turned professional a few months later. His hottest period was a four-year stretch from 1960 to 1963 when he landed 29 of his titles and collected almost $400,000 at a time when the purses were minute by today's standards. He was the leading money-winner in three of those years and twice represented the U.S. in the prestigious Ryder Cup Match, serving in 1963 as the victorious captain.
It was also during this period that his rapidly-growing business interests got their start, through the impetus of Palmer himself and with the guidance and efforts of his business manager, Mark McCormack, and his wide-ranging organization. Arnold is president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, a multi-division structure encompassing much of his global commercial activity that is centered in Cleveland. He has been involved in automobile and aviation service firms in his Latrobe (PA) hometown, Charlotte NC, and elsewhere around the country for many years.
Arnold is president and sole owner (since 1971) of Latrobe Country Club and president and principal owner of the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Orlando, FL, which he and a group of associates acquired on lease in 1970. Bay Hill hosts the annual Nestle Invitational on the PGA Tour. Arnold also is tournament professional and member of the Board of Directors of Laurel Valley Golf Club, Ligonier, PA, with which he has been affiliated since its founding in the late 1950s.
He is a major stockholder and member of the Board of Directors of ProGroup, Inc., Ooltewah, TN, (Chattanooga area), a sporting goods company which manufactures and markets various leisure-industry products focused on golf, including equipment bearing the Palmer name and design. Another important facet of his activities involves golf course design, management and teaching in businesses operating as Palmer Course Design Company, in which he is associated with Edwin B. Seay, past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects; Arnold Palmer Golf Management Company, and the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy. Since the mid-1960s, Palmer has put his stamp on some 200 new courses throughout the nation and world. His modest business empire and tournament play keep Palmer on the move much of the year, most of the travel in his Cessna Citation VII jet aircraft with Arnold at the controls when aboard.
Palmer was born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, a small industrial town in Western Pennsylvania at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains some 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. He still spends the warm months of the year there, but makes his winter home in the Orlando area. He has numerous active and honorary memberships in clubs throughout the world, including famed St. Andrews in Scotland and prominent Oakmont in Pittsburgh.
The golfing great has been the recipient of countless honors, the symbolic plaques, trophies and citations scattered throughout his personal, club and business worlds. He has received virtually every national award in golf and after his great 1960 season both the Hickok Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year trophies. He is a charter member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and a member of the American Golf Hall of Fame at Foxburg, PA, and the PGA Hall of Fame in Florida. He is chairman of the USGA Members Program and served as Honorary National Chairman of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation for 20 years. He played a major role in the fund-raising drive that led to the creation of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando in the 1980s. A long-time member of the Board of Directors of Latrobe Area Hospital, he established a major annual fund-raising golf event for that institution in 1992.
The saga of Arnold Palmer began when he was four years old, swinging his first set of golf clubs, cut down by his father, Milfred J. (Deacon) Palmer, who worked at Latrobe Country Club from 1921 until his death in 1976, much of that time as both golf professional and course superintendent. Before long, Arnie was playing well enough to beat the older caddies at the club. He began caddying himself when he was 11 and worked at virtually every job at the club in the ensuing years.
The strongly-built young man concentrated on golf in high school and soon was dominating the game in Western Pennsylvania. He won his first of five West Penn Amateur Championships when he was 17, competed successfully in national junior events and went to Wake Forest University (then College), where he became No. 1 man on the golf team and one of the leading collegiate players of that time. Deeply affected by the death in an auto accident of his close friend and classmate, Bud Worsham, younger brother of 1947 U.S. Open Champion Lew Worsham, Arnold withdrew from college during his senior year and began a three-year hitch in the Coast Guard. His interest in golf rekindled while he was stationed in Cleveland. He was working there as a salesman and playing amateur golf after his discharge from the service and brief return to Wake Forest when he won the U.S. Amateur in 1954 following his second straight victory in the Ohio Amateur earlier that summer.
It was during this period that he met Winifred Walzer at a tournament in Eastern Pennsylvania. They were married shortly after he turned professional in the fall of 1954 and Winnie traveled with him when he joined the pro tour in early 1955. The Palmers have two daughters - Peggy Palmer Wears, of Durham, NC, and Amy Palmer Saunders, of Windermere, FL; four granddaughters, Emily (1127/81), Katherine Anne (912182), Anne Palmer (9/14184) Saunders and Nicola Wears and a grandson, Samuel Palmer Saunders (7130187). Arnold's brother, Jerry, who succeeded their father as course superintendent at Latrobe CC, and sisters, Mrs. Lois Jean Tilley and Sandra Sarady, live in the Latrobe area. Jerry is now general manager of Latrobe CC and all Palmer properties there. Their mother, Dons, passed away in 1979 after a long, brave battle against crippling arthritis.