It’s hard to believe, but as of Oct. 25 it will be a month since the passing of Arnold Palmer, respectfully known as ‘The King’ of golf. He was 87 years old. An icon of the game, a pioneer of the popular role of sports legend pitchman, and an ambassador of the sport and sports in general. He was also a revered philanthropist whose generosity continues to provide life saving care for children, women and men.
Below are 10 facts you may or may not know about the life and legacy of Arnold Daniel Palmer.
1 A tragedy in 1950 nearly prevented the world from witnessing his golf prowess and experiencing his character. While attending Wake Forest University, his teammate and good friend Bud Worsham died in a car accident in 1950. In turn, Palmer left college his senior year and entered the U.S. Coast Guard for a three-year term. However, following his service he returned to the game of golf, and the joined the professional ranks in 1954.
2 In 2012, during Heritage Auctions’ Vintage Sports Collectibles Platinum Night Signature Auction, Palmer’s storied first set of golf clubs sold for $41,825. The set comprising of seven First Flight hickory-shaft irons and two Louisville woods, was presented in the original tweed and leather Spalding golf bag a youthful Palmer toted on the course. The lot also included three photos of the clubs signed by Palmer, two signed photos of Palmer and the consignor, and a signed letter from Palmer on his personal letterhead, authenticating the clubs and bag. The clubs were purchased in 1948 by the consignor (Palmer’s classmate) who approached Palmer’s father, Deacon Palmer, at that point a golfing pro at the Latrobe Country Club, about whether he had a relatively inexpensive set of used clubs he cwould purchase. Deacon’s response: “I think I may have a set that would suit you.”
3 The Canadian Open of 1955 became his first PGA tour victory.
4 His career as a champion golfer also took Palmer beyond the course in many ways. One being the early arena of sports marketing, where he was among the first to cultivate a lucrative presence in the industry. He was so tuned in to the potential of sports marketing and his role in it that he trademarked his name and logo back in 1968. This was represented in his role as a pitchman for nearly 50 brands, from Cadillac and Wheaties to Paine Webber and Xarelto.
A Life Well Lived
5 In addition to his various championships on the green, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006, and in 2009 the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the time, he was just the sixth athlete to ever receive the Medal of Honor.
6 Undoubtedly one of the most beloved athletes of the 20th and 21st centuries, early on the press began calling his fan base “Arnie’s Army.” His popularity also inspired a variety of merchandise, including the Arnold Palmer Indoor Golf Game. Manufactured in the 1960s, the unique (and now collectible) game came with a green, model ‘hazards’ found on a golf course, tiny golf balls, and a putter. At the end of the putter where a club head should be is an Arnold Palmer figure, in his recognizable putting stance, holding on to a little club. Of course the game came with various clubs, which little ‘Arnie’ used to putt.
7 Although it may not be scientifically proven, golf may have been genetic when it came to the Palmer family. Palmer’s father, Deacon, was the grounds superintendent and golf pro at the Latrobe Country Club in the family’s hometown, Latrobe, Pa. His father was also part of the team that built the golf course in 1921. During Arnold Palmer’s lifetime, he too helped design more than 300 courses, and in 1971 he purchased the Latrobe Country Club, now Arnold Palmer’s Latrobe Country Club. On Sept. 29, a portion of his ashes were spread on the course, near the same place the ashes of his first wife Winnie had been placed in 1999.
Meritorious On and Off the Course
8 In 1968 Palmer became the first golfer to surpass $1 million in total winnings. Lifetime PGA and Champions tour play winnings for ‘The King’ are estimated at $3.6 million. But, according to Forbes, his career earnings figuring in endorsements, designing golf courses, making appearances and the like is an estimated $875 million.
9 Although sports cards featuring golf greats were not released on a consistent basis early on, things have changed in the 21st century with releases of current and past greats issued regularly, reports The Cardboard Connection. Despite the limited release in the early years, there were some Arnold Palmer issues, including one with a unique history.
Many collectors consider the 1965 Bancroft Tiddlers Giants of the Sport Arnold Palmer card to be his unofficial rookie card. The front of the card features an image of Palmer in action on the green with an inset profile image with the pro in a shirt, jacket and tie. On the back of the card collectors find the biography for one Lester Piggott — an English jockey. Meanwhile, Palmer’s biographical information resides on the back of English footballer Stanley Matthews’ card. During Goldin Auctions’ August 2016 auction, an Arnold Palmer 1965 Bancroft Tiddlers Giants of the Sport card. graded PSA 9 MINT, realized $2,187.
10 Palmer and his family focused philanthropic efforts on various avenues of health care. Orlando, Florida is home to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children (opened in 1989), and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies (opened in 2006 and named for his late first wife). He also helped develop the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center, part of the Eisenhower Lucy Curia Cancer Center. This is located within the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Compiled by Antoinette Rahn. Sources: Biography.com; golf.about.com; ha.com; golfnow.com blog; emc.org; and cardboardconnection.com; www.newyorktimes.com; arniesarmy.org; www.golf.com; www.forbes.com; www.goldinauctions.com; www.golfdigest.com