K: Tell us about the new center dedicated to your career in golf that will soon be
opened at the USGA golf museum.
AP: It’s going to be a new wing at the USGA’s Golf House headquarters in New Jersey
and it will house all sorts of things that have to do with the history of golf. A lot of it will
centre around what I have done in connection with the USGA. In my time I’ve won the
Open, the Senior Open and the US Amateur Championship, so there’s quite a lot for them
to feature. I think it will consist of an appropriate combination of trophies, pictures from
the past and other exhibits. The timetable is that it’s due for completion in two years from
now, and hopefully I will live that long to be there to open it! It’s being created to attract
more people to Golf House to learn about the history and background of the USGA. They
don’t have a golf course at Golf House, but they have pretty much everything else to do
with the business of the USGA – an experimental centre, a research laboratory and offices
where the administration of the game and its rules are based.
K: You have recently been to Toronto to mark the 50th anniversary of your first
PGA Tour win in 955. We carry a report on your visit in this issue of Kingdom
and it sounds as though you had a good time up there.
AP: It was wonderful. The people there did a really nice job and I was very flattered by the
reception I received wherever I went and all the things that happened during my stay.
K: The PGA Tour is set for a major realignment of its schedule in 2007, with the
Players’ Championship moving to early May so that all the really big tournaments
take place between April and September. What do you think of this proposal?
AP: As I understand it, the plans are pretty well in place although the actual dates of the
tournaments have not been finalised as I don’t think they’ve put the 2007 schedule to bed
yet. Many years ago, when I started playing on the PGA Tour, we played from January
to September. Then the Tour stopped and the players took the opportunity to play in
events which were unsanctioned and not part of the official schedule. I used to visit lots of
different places and didn’t need anyone’s permission to do so. There is going to be more of that over the next few years and it will be interesting to see where and how often the bigname
players play during the fall. It should give golf a higher profile in the summer months
and in the fall there won’t be important championships competing against a major football
schedule for air time.
K: 2005 was another busy year for Palmer Course Design Company. Does 2006
look like being just as busy?
AP: At present, we probably have 25 jobs on the go all over the world. I’m working pretty
heavily on this as we speak. We will be unveiling some new ones in the near future. In
January, we’re opening a course in Palm Desert, California, home of the Bob Hope Desert
Classic – North Star. The Bob Hope is a pro-am tournament on the PGA Tour which
stages five rounds across four different courses, and North Star is already in the rotation
for the next year’s tournament. Another new course of mine, SilverRock, will also join the
rota for 2007. With the Palmer Course at PGA West in La Quinta already on the rota,
that would mean that three out of the four courses at next year’s Bob Hope will be Palmer
designs, which would make me very proud.
K: Have you got any really special projects in the pipeline at the moment?
AP: One new project that will take up a lot of my time because it falls into the category of a
Premier course is at White Oak, North Carolina. It’s owned by a group of Irish people and
is going to be pretty special. There’s also another ambitious project that we are hoping to
get at a place called Bend in Oregon.
K: Another of your courses, the Victoria in southern Portugal, hosted the 2005
World Cup of Golf. It seemed to make a good impression on the players.
AP: I didn’t go there myself for the tournament. It went very well for the first three rounds,
but the exception was the last day when it rained so heavily that they lost the fourth and
final round which was a bit of an anticlimax. I think the thing that was most astonishing is
that they kept saying it never rains in Portugal. But overall, the course was well received.
K: What is your playing schedule for 2006? When we spoke last summer,
you were saying you might cut back. Is that still your intention?
AP: At this point in time, I have signed up to one event – the Senior Skins Game. I
have not committed to playing in anything else. I will definitely not play in the Bay Hill
Invitational Presented by MasterCard although I will be there as host. The key factor is that
my golf frankly is not up to speed. If I feel more confident with my game as time goes on I
might select a couple of events on the Champions Tour. The problem isn’t putting, that part
of my game is fine. I suppose it’s just that I don’t hit the ball far enough these days.
K: This obviously means you won’t play in the Masters in April. Will you be there
at all this year?
AP: I plan to go to Augusta for a day or two. I’ll go for the past champions’ dinner and I
will stay maybe for the first day of the tournament. It’s always a great place to visit.
K: Have you given any more thought to becoming the honorary starter
for the Masters?
AP: It’s something that I certainly haven’t ruled out doing one day, but I’m not even
thinking about it at the moment.
K: We understand that your grandson is a promising golfer. Have you played much
with him and passed on much advice?
AP: I played with him recently in a grandfather-grandson event in the PGA Tour’s Father
& Son Championship at Champions Gate in Orlando. His name is Sam Saunders, he’s 8
years of age and plays off a scratch handicap. He’s obviously very promising, but he’s just
about to go to college at Clemson in South Carolina on a golf scholarship, hopefully for
four years. Clemson is a great rival to my old alma mater, Wake Forest. In the grandfathergrandson
event, we weren’t really as good as we should have been. We shot 67-65 for
12 under over the two rounds, but it was a scramble and we were 11 strokes behind the
winners. I see him every day but I don’t play with him every day, although I keep a pretty good eye on him. I think he will turn pro eventually but there’s no rush. He’s tremendously
long and averages 320 yards off the tee, but he can be a bit wild – some of shots don’t even
have zipcodes on them. For someone who hits it as far as he does, you only need one thing
slightly out of kilter and you can go a long way off line. He used to play basketball, but
right now he’s just a golfer.
K: Michelle Wie is two years younger than your grandson, yet she has already
turned professional with a view to playing regularly on the LPGA Tour? Do you
think this is too early?
AP: I can have some influence on my grandson’s situation and I am an advocate of letting
young people play golf with a view to getting as much experience as they want while they
are growing up. Personally, I think it’s advisable they get to a mature age before they turn
professional. I think the proper time for them to turn pro probably is after they have
completed their education. After all, they have their entire life in front of them to play
professional golf. There has always been a real danger of burn-out on Tour and I have seen
many a young star of 6 or 7 who was going to be the next big thing only to find that by
the time they get to 24 you never hear of them again. That is sad.
K: Tiger Woods won two majors in 2005 and was once again the dominant player
on Tour after a couple of seasons when it seemed his standards might be slipping.
Is he right back on track in your view?
AP: I don’t think Tiger’s ever gone away. No. He’s been the dominant player in professional
golf since he turned pro almost 0 years ago. I don’t think anything will disrupt that in the
near future, but there are some young people coming along who have equal presence on the
course and can become major factors where Tiger’s concerned. A couple of the Australian
golfers are very good, especially Adam Scott. When he fills out physically he will get a lot
better. Then there’s Sergio Garcia, who has been knocking on the door for some time and
is still quite young, and Sean O’Hair, last season’s rookie of the year. But I’m not sure that
any of these is ready to challenge Tiger just yet. Talking of Tiger, he did what I think they
should all do – he went to college at Stanford and then turned pro after that when he
knew the time was right to do it.
K: What do you think about the recent relaxing of the rules on the use of GPS
systems in competitions on golf courses?
AP: I think the fact that they have adopted it and it will be put to use was inevitable. It is
a significant development in the regard that it could have a dramatic effect on the speed of
play. Anything that helps to speed up the time in which we play golf is good for the game.
One of the big problems to date has been people delaying play while trying to work out
their distances. With the application of GPS systems, all this becomes academic because
they will know exactly how far they’ve got for each shot and it’s then a matter of taking out
the club you normally hit that distance.
K: We have a travel article about golf in Hawaii in this edition of Kingdom, Mr.
Palmer, and we understand that it is one of your favorite places.
AP: I’ll be playing in the Senior Skins over the Four Seasons course on Big Island
in Hawaii in January, and the action will be shown on television some time later over
two consecutive days in February. It will be a new format this time: a two-man team
scramble. There will be four teams taking part and I shall be partnering Peter Jacobsen.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Hale Irwin will all definitely be playing as
well, so I’m told. The golf will only take a day, but I plan to stay in Hawaii for about a
week because I like it there so much. Turtle Bay, in particular, is one of my favorite places,
not least because I got married there a year ago. The two courses there, both of which I
designed, are wonderful and the resort is quite popular. It’s on the north shores of Hawaii
which makes it a surfers’ paradise. All the major surfing competitors go there.
K: Last summer I visited Whistler Golf Club in British Columbia, one of your
designs, and I was spellbound by the place? You must love that part of the world.
AP: I haven’t been up there for a couple of years, but I’m very aware of what is happening
up there and the things that they are doing for golf in general in the area. I think it’s the
most beautiful area in the world with the mountains, forests and huge waterways. It’s
just lovely and I always enjoy going there. There’s always a lot of activity there – skiing,
snowboarding, mountain-biking, sight-seeing – and of course they’ve got the Winter
Olympics coming in 2000.
K: How are things down at Bay Hill. We understand you’ve had some construction
and refurbishing work done on the facility.
AP: We’ve been upgrading the 70 hotel bedrooms so that they’re now five-star quality,
making them more pleasant for our guests. As you know, we have many Europeans in
particular come here and they love the place. This refurbishment work will be finished
shortly. We’ve been doing some upgrading work on our two- and four-bedroom lodges in
the grounds of the hotel as well. Our busy season starts straight after the beginning of the
year, but we have more people coming all the year round now than before, especially in the
spring and on into the summer. Having said that, January to May is still our busy season.
K: Have you played any good courses lately?
AP: Yes, I recently opened a new course in Stuart, Florida called Tesoro. It’s really beautiful
and it’s only 20 minutes from here [Bay Hill] in my Citation 10 jet.
K: So you’re still flying regularly?
AP: I still fly about 200 hours a year. In a reasonable year that’s pretty much what I average.
When you think that I put in 200 hours and my average flying speed is about 500mph, it
makes you realise that my annual mileage is up into the big numbers. Mind you, I always
have a co-pilot – we have to because that’s the law.
K: Another of the articles in this issue of Kingdom is about the proposed
conversion of Hamilton Hall overlooking the 18th green on the Old Course at
St Andrews into a high-end luxury members’ club with guaranteed access to
Kingsbarns. What do you think of that?
AP: I think it’s a wonderful idea and it will have a big impact on the town of St Andrews.
Kingsbarns is important to this – it is a beautiful setting and also a pretty good golf course.
K: What did you think of your colleague and design partner Ed Seay winning the
2005 Dave Marr Memorial Award for services to golf?
AP: I’ve had a very long and great friendship with Ed, and of course I think he is one
of the most brilliant architects in the business. This award is thoroughly deserved and it
means a lot that it is named in honor of my great friend Dave Marr. The combination of
Ed’s brilliance and my association with the game has meant we have worked together on
a lot of really nice projects. He is a good guy and has been a great partner to work with all
these years. He must have been designing courses for 40 years.
K: Are you still as active as usual with your charity work?
AP: I’m doing a lot of promotion work for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Cancer
Treatment in Orlando. The Winnie Palmer Clinic for the treatment of sick babies will
be opening here in Orlando some time in the next year. There’s also the Arnold Palmer
Pavilion for the treatment of cancer in Latrobe and the Prostate Cancer Center at the
Eisenhower hospital in Palm Springs, California.
K: Are you going to be involved in the Ryder Cup this September, especially as it is
to be played on one of your courses – the K Club near Dublin?
AP: I don’t have any particular plans to go over to Europe for the Ryder Cup, but I haven’t
eliminated the possibility yet.
K: Mr. Palmer, thank you very much for your time and best wishes for 2006.
AP: It’s a pleasure and a happy new year to you and all our readers.