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Arnold Palmer’s father Deacon was the head professional and green keeper at Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania so the young Arnie grew up in a golfing environment, helping his father about the club. He attended Wake Forest College in North Carolina but left in 1951 to enlist with the US Coast Guard, where he served for three years.
He won more than twenty events in and around his home state, starting in 1946, but he reached the pinnacle of his amateur career in 1954 when he won the US Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit. Within a short time, he married his wife Winnie, quit his job as a paint salesman in Cleveland, and turned professional.
Arnie’s first win on the PGA Tour wasn’t accomplished on home soil. Instead, it arrived at the 1955 Canadian Open in Toronto, at Weston Golf and Country Club. This would be the first of almost a hundred professional victories that would come his way around the world over the following thirty five years as a player on both the regular men’s and senior tours.
Of course, the highlights of that stellar career were the seven Majors he captured between 1958 and 1964. In addition to those individual titles, Palmer also had a fantastic record in team events when he represented his country, winning thirteen out of thirteen: seven Ryder Cups (1961-1975) as a player or captain and six World Cups (1960-1967) as a player.
He was Mark McCormack’s first signing for IMG and his charismatic style was a major factor in establishing golf as a big time sporting event on television in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Arnie’s good looks and modest background, allied to the way he played golf by taking risks and wearing his emotions on his sleeve, captured the hearts of the viewers.
Arnold teamed up with architect Ed Seay in 1972 as a design partner, forming the Palmer Course Design Company which was later renamed Arnold Palmer Design Company when the firm moved to Orlando, Florida, in 2006. Together, they were responsible for more than three hundred golf courses around the globe, including the first modern course to be built in China in 1984.
Ed Seay was the technical powerhouse driving Arnold’s design business for more than thirty years. A graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Landscape Architecture, Ed began working with Ellis Maples in the mid-1960s before continuing his design career with Mr Palmer.
He was a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Urban Land Institute, and the Advisory Board for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Seay was elected as a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1970, serving as ASGCA President in 1976-1977, and he was a member of the organization until his death in 2007.
Erik Larsen worked for Arnold Palmer along with Ed Seay from 1983 to 2005, designing nearly a hundred courses across twenty-three states and in twenty-five different countries. After moving to the Orlando office in 2005, he became executive vice president of the company, running all the company operations for Mr. Palmer until starting his own firm, LarsenGolf, in 2011.
Thad Layton began his design career with Arnold in 2000, having gained a degree in Landscape Architecture from Mississippi State University. Since then, he has gained a wealth of experience and insight from his direct involvement in more than fifty projects within and out with the United States.
According to the company’s website, “his overriding goal is to create a fun and strategic golf course for every level of player. He believes the best courses are built in the field and can often be found on-site working side by side with the construction crew to get the details just right.”
Brandon Johnson joined the Arnold Palmer Design team in 2006. A graduate of North Carolina State University, where he gained his degree in Landscape Architecture, he then studied at Harvard Graduate School of Design, earning his Masters degree in Landscape Architecture in 1999.
“The design process is meant to be fun, loose, rigorous and sometimes exhausting through the exploration of plentiful ideas,” Johnson says on the company’s website. “The ultimate goal is discovering fresh, unique and creative solutions that thrill our clients, excite the player and utilize the land to the fullest.”
Arnold Palmer remained active in his design business right up until he passed away in September, 2016. He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage to Winifred Walzer in 1954 and by his second wife Kathleen Gawthrop, who he married in 2005, six years after Winnie died.
The Arnold Palmer Design Company lives on in Arnie’s absence, with Thad Layton and Brandon Johnson ensuring Mr. Palmer’s golf course design philosophies continue to live on throughout the world.
World Golf Hall of Fame – Class of 1974: “It is not hyperbole to say that golf’s place within popular culture today is due in large part to the powerful presence of Arnold Palmer. He was an integral part of the game’s explosive growth in the 1960s. His timing was impeccable – as television proliferated and became a major part of the American landscape, it needed a star. And Palmer, who won the game’s biggest events with a boldness and charisma not previously seen, was the perfect star.
He had an everyman quality to him that appealed to the masses. His passion on the course, dramatic whirlybird follow-through and fierce animation was different from the cool intensity that the game’s greats before him had cultivated.
With his thick forearms and wasp waist, he was a sweaty, 5-10, 165-pound blue collar dynamo who joyfully made golf an athletic event – and fans from all walks of life could not get enough.
‘Arnold Palmer did not play golf, we thought,’ wrote Hall of Fame member Dan Jenkins. ‘He nailed up beams, reupholstered sofas, repaired air conditioning units. He was the most immeasurable of all golf champions.’
With a fiery, muscular swing that produced a piercing draw, Palmer was one of the finest drivers of the ball who ever lived, and from a distinctive pigeon-toed stance, a superb putter.
He led the PGA TOUR’s money list four times, and in 1963 became the first player to win more than $100,000 in a season. He played on six Ryder Cups teams, and was the winning captain twice.”
From The Story of American Golf by Herbert Warren Wind:
“One reason why the galleries swarmed to Palmer, as earlier galleries had to Jones, was that they liked the looks of this broad-shouldered, compact athlete who had the build of a halfback or middleweight boxer, this handsome man whose face was so mobile that his moods and feelings were clearly registered for everybody to see. They also liked his manner – calm, assured, masculine, and American – plus the vast underlying drive and energy that early in a tournament were visible only in his love of forceful hitting and his long, reaching strides down the fairway, but which manifested themselves unforgettably during the decisive hours when he was taking off after the leader and holes were running out fast.
He had to count on his natural athletic talent to carry him a long ways, for his technique lacked the refinement of a great champion’s… When he came tearing down the final holes – ‘charging’ became the word favoured by his fans – he made golf seem as exciting as any contact sport, and many sports buffs who had hitherto scoffed at the game became ardent converts after watching Palmer in action on television. When his fans met their hero in the flesh they were seldom ever disappointed. He had the innate politeness and patience to treat people as individuals in handling their endless requests for autographs and answering their repetitive questions… Success did not change him, and by remaining entirely himself, he was equally at home with Presidents, as men, Caddies, students, tycoons, farmers, and small-town radio interviewers eager to tape a closeup with him.”
Linksmagazine.com: “The King’s two (arguably) greatest designs could not be more different from each other. Old Tabby Links on Spring Island in the Carolina Lowcountry is pancake-flat, but manoeuvers in compelling fashion through a live oak forest. The hourglass-shaped par-three 17th along the marsh gets all the attention, but Old Tabby is loaded with fun variety, including a handful of short par fours led by the curious 15th, which combines a Palmer rarity – centreline bunkers – with an island green.
On the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, Tralee Golf Club is almost certainly the most spectacular natural site Palmer and Seay ever worked with. This seaside links is defined by towering dunes on its back nine, but the front side features a pair of holes with a classic Palmer feel – the 3rd, a short par three playing out to a point of land back dropped by a 14th-century castle; and the 8th, a strong dogleg par four tracking along the beach.
Along with Latrobe, the course that’s most closely linked with Arnold Palmer is the host venue of his Invitational, Orlando’s Bay Hill Club. It’s easy to forget that the Tour mainstay was actually originally designed by Dick Wilson back in 1961. That said, the King made an indelible mark on Bay Hill through a series of renovations dating back to 1969. The most recent changes, in 2009, involved rebuilding the greens and adding closely shaved slopes to give players a range of short-game options.”
Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer by Tom Callahan (2017)
A Life Well Played: My Stories (2016)
Reflections on the Game with Thomas Hauser (2012)
Arnold Palmer: Memories, Stories, and Memorabilia from a Life on and off the Course (2004)
Playing by the Rules: The Rules of Golf Explained & Illustrated from a Lifetime in the Game (2002)
A Golfer's Life with James Dodson (1999)
Play Great Golf: Mastering the Fundamentals of Your Game (1998)
Arnold Palmer's Complete Book of Putting with Peter Dobereiner (1986)
Arnold Palmer's Best 54 Golf Holes (1977)
Go for Broke! My Philosophy of Winning Golf with William Barry Furlong (1973)
495 Golf Lessons with Earl Puckett (1973)
Golf Tactics (1970)
Situation Golf (1970)
My Game and Yours (1965)
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