Arnold Palmer, Latrobe legend who reshaped golf, dies at 87

For many years I have looked up to Arnold Palmer, less so for his golfing record but for the life he lived – he was a business man, friend, community leader, philanthropist, and pioneer in many ways. When one looks at his life, in many ways, one feels very insignificant by all of his accomplishments and contributions. His life certainly was about success, business and wealth but certainly friendship, giving, helping others, leadership, and a whole lot more….

from the Tribune Review
Arnold Palmer, Latrobe legend who reshaped golf, dies at 87
| Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, 9:35 p.m.

Updated 17 hours ago

Arnold Palmer, a seven-time major champion who from a humble upbringing in Latrobe transformed professional golf with his charisma and daring style, died Sunday at UPMC Shadyside. He was 87.

Palmer’s death was confirmed by UPMC spokesman Paul Wood. Palmer had been in declining health in recent years.

No one could have imagined the widespread global impact Palmer would have on golf.

Palmer played golf with numerous presidents, but he will be remembered for bringing golf to the proletariat.

His charitable work impacted the country’s less fortunate, and he became the game’s goodwill ambassador, touching lives worldwide.

“Arnie’s life has always been about others,” said longtime friend Doc Giffin of Latrobe. “He never stopped giving or caring.”

Palmer became an endearing figure and an icon as the sport’s most respected diplomat. He was considered a renaissance man. Besides being hailed as one of the greatest golfers, Palmer was a philanthropist, pilot, golf course designer and author of several books, including “A Golfer’s Life” and “Kingdom: 80 Years of a Legend.”

Born Arnold Daniel Palmer on Sept. 10, 1929, Palmer came to prominence during the golden age of television. His aggressive, free-swinging approach combined with his handsome looks gained him a loyal following that became known as Arnie’s Army.

Nicknamed The King, Palmer won 92 professional tournaments, including four Masters, which ranks tied for second most.

“Arnold came along just at the right time with the advent of television,” said Larry Mize, a former Masters champion. “He had that swagger, and he interacted with the fans. Golf really took off when Arnold came in.”

For Palmer, golf was more than a game. It was a character builder, something instilled in him by his father, Deke Palmer, a former groundskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, a course his son later would own.

Like his life on the family farm in Latrobe, Palmer said repeatedly there are no shortcuts to success.

“I can spend the rest of my life being thankful that golf has given me the opportunities to make significant contributions throughout the world,” Palmer told the Tribune-Review in 2009.

Palmer was the pioneer of an authentically unique swing that defied the fundamentals of the game. He dared to do things differently. He gambled when the odds were stacked against him.

Sometimes, he won. Sometimes, he lost.

“I was always a big fan of Arnie’s game,” said professional golfer Rocco Mediate, a Greensburg native. “I think in many ways I tried to emulate what he did on the golf course. I think a lot of us did.”

Palmer was adored, in part, because he played like no other. His fans marched around the course with their hearts in their throats. They endured emotional ebbs and flows while an even-tempered Palmer often risked it all without flinching.

“Arnie knew no other way to play the game,” golf great Gary Player said. “We were rivals, and we wanted to promote the game.”

Palmer’s reach became even more expansive after his playing career ended. As an entrepreneur, he helped launched several businesses. He became synonymous with the half-lemonade, half-iced tea beverage: the Arnold Palmer. The Westmoreland County Airport was renamed Arnold Palmer Regional Airport on Palmer’s 70th birthday.

The USGA issued this statement Sunday night:

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Arnold Palmer, golf’s greatest ambassador, at age 87.

“Arnold Palmer will always be a champion, in every sense of the word. He inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit, displaying sportsmanship, caring for golfers and golf fans, and serving as a lifelong ambassador for the sport. Our stories of him not only fill the pages of golf’s history books and the walls of the museum, but also our own personal golf memories. The game is indeed better because of him, and in so many ways, will never be the same.The United States Golf Association said Sunday night: Palmer was honored numerous times by several presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama. Palmer was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States (in 2004 by President George W. Bush), and Congressional Gold Medal (in 2009), the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

He became only the fifth athlete to receive the Congressional Gold Medal when Obama signed the authorization. Palmer was the first athlete to receive all three of the country’s highest civilian honors (he received the National Sports Award — a one-time award — from former President Bill Clinton in 1993).

“I don’t know that I’ve done anything to deserve it, but I accept,” Palmer said when receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Arnold Palmer democratized golf,” then-House Speaker John Boehner said. “(He) made us think that we, too, could go out and play, made us think we could really do anything. All we had to do was go out and try.”

In a statement, Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., wrote, “On behalf of the Saint Vincent Community, I offer my prayers and heartfelt condolences to Kit, Peggy and Amy Palmer and their families on the loss of a great person — Arnold Palmer — a Latrobe legend. I hope all of us will remember his courageous spirit as we strive in our various roles to make the world a better place.”

In 2013, Forbes magazine estimated Palmer’s net worth at about $675 million. His endorsements included Callaway, Ketel One and Rolex. The Arnold Palmer Design Co. has created hundreds of golf courses, and Palmer owned Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla., in addition to Latrobe Country Club.

Palmed also had stakes in automotive dealerships, clothing licensing, golf course design and consulting.

Palmer didn’t talk much about his wealth. Instead, he worked feverishly to raise money for charities.

In 1989, the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women opened in Orlando days before his 60th birthday. Later, his charitable organization would meet its goal of raising $10 million for the hospital. The Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, named after his first wife who died of cancer in 1999, opened next door in 2006.

“The hospital project had grown to mean so much to both Winnie and me and our family — the ultimate pet project in some way,” he wrote in “Mentored by the King.”

Palmer leaves behind his wife, Kathleen, daughters Peggy and Amy, several grandchildren and, of course, Arnie’s Army.

The Legend of Latrobe also leaves endearing and lasting memories. Golf was a passion, but he carved out a place in history with a club of persimmon that he effortlessly swung like a maestro, orchestrating an unforgettable career, legacy and life.

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at

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