Kingdom: Well, you’ve certainly had a busy last few months.
Arnold Palmer: It’s been really busy. I’ve been going crazy. There was my birthday and all the things that happened in Florida and Pennsylvania and then Washington. It doesn’t appear to be winding down any either.
K: Vince Gill and Amy Grant were a surprise act at one of your birthday celebrations and we have interviewed Vince later in the publication. How long have you known him and what is he like asa golfer?
AP: That was in Orlando and that was on the occasion of the birthday party for me and for the hospital. He’s a very good golfer. Amy plays, too. They are good friends. They’ve done a lot to help support charity and I have been to their event in Nashville. We met after I’d invited him to come and entertain at Bay Hill way back.
K: The Arnold Palmer Hospital turned 20 on your 80th birthday. During those 20 years the hospital has proven a phenomenal success. What plans do you have to build further on that success?
AP: We don’t really have any plans to build further as far as the hospital is concerned. We do have plans to expand the present facilities. We’re going up a floor on Winnie’s hospital, we’re expanding the cancer research center and we’re also expanding the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women. By expanding, that means the floors will be going up another floor.
K: Are you ever sorry you didn’t give that paint salesman thing in 1954 more of a chance?
AP: No. There was some thought I’d need to persevere with that occupation. You never know and I needed to have a back up plan and that’s just what that was until I won the U.S. Amateur that same year. Was I a good paint salesman? Obviously not! If I’d been really good, I’d still be there selling paint, wouldn’t you think? I’m thinking I chose the right path for me.
K: Other athletes put HOF after their names to illuminate their status. Are you going to one-up them now by putting CGM for Congressional Gold Medal winner after yours?
AP: No! Nothing even close. You know me better than that! I’m not that kind of guy. It was the most prestigious honor I’ve ever received. Its recipients are among the most impressive people in American history. George Washington was first and I won’t be the last. There’s John Wayne, Roberto Clemente, Byron Nelson, George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Bob Hope, Louis L’Amour—a lot of great Americans. I don’t have the medal yet. They’re making it at the U.S. Mint. They don’t make it until it is signed into law and that’s what President Obama did the other day. I’ll display it here in the office.
PALMER WITH LONGTIME FRIEND PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
K: President Dwight D. Eisenhower will be posthumously inducted into World Golf Hall of Fame shortly. What was, and is, your involvement in this induction?
AP: I’m going to make that induction and that will be a pleasure for me. We’re really looking forward to that.
K: Could there be yet another still higher honor out there for you?
AP: I guess not. I wish somebody would give me a PGA Championship, but that’s not going to happen. [Note: the PGA is the only major championship that eluded Palmer’s grasp.]
K: There’s been a lot of criticism of Tour players that they’re too satisfied with finishing 10th or worse. Some golfers have made great careers without winning. Is too much money a problem for today’s competitive golfers?
AP: That’s a good subject. I don’t know. The fact is a man can become a multi-millionaire and never win a tournament. I thought about that a little yesterday when I read in the paper that Tiger had earned over a billion dollars playing golf. A billion dollars. Well, I was the first one to make a million, but you think, man, a billion! That’s a helluva lot more than a million.
K: How did the SportsCenter promo shoot go for ESPN up in Bristol?
AP: Oh, I was very impressed by their organization. The physical layout, the studios, the entire program was impressive. It was a nice day. I really enjoyed seeing what they’re doing. And I’m happy to say Golf Channel is still doing well. I don’t think they’re going to get as many channels as ESPN, but they’re doing a great job.
K: There’s a popular clip making the rounds on the Internet of you from that day at ESPN chipping a golf ball into a glass of Arnold Palmer Tea. It’s a thrill to watch. How many shots did that take?
AP: I hit a number of shots and lucked one in. The crowd gave a great reaction. It was a lot of fun.
K: Are you at all surprised that many younger folks know of the Arnold Palmer drink, but not that you’re a real person with a real history?
AP: No, I did not know that. Is that true? That’s funny! (Photographer Scott Spangler says he was showing some students of his a picture of Arnold Palmer and one of the young ladies said, “You mean that’s the iced tea guy?” Spangler says he informed her that Palmer had some notable escapades in his life long before he became the “iced tea guy.” Palmer erupts with laughter.)
K: What were your impressions of Barack Obama?
AP: He was very polite and has a very nice personality. He’s very interested in golf. He told me that he had watched me with his father when he was just 6 years old. So that goes back a while. Because of that he said he’d watched me all his life. He was quite nice. Very hospitable. We talked about golfing together and it may happen.
K: You know your way around the White House pretty well by now. Do you still feel as awestruck as the first time you entered? When was that?
AP: I’ve been there a number of times on official business and have been to numerous receptions there. I’ve been to elegant state functions with Presidents Nixon, Reagan and both Bush 41 and Bush 43. My friendship with President Eisenhower was just getting started when he was leaving office, but we did so much together outside of the White House. And he came here to visit me for one wonderful weekend on my birthday.
K: Do you still feel awestruck walking in there?
AP: Certainly. There’s something about it. There’s an air, a little nervousness. I think anybody who walks into the White House feels that. It’s just natural. You get a real sense of America and what the country stands for. It’s quite awesome.
THE KING AT PNC PARK
K: Tell us about Arnold Palmer Night at PNC Park?
AP: The Pirates got whipped pretty good, but except for the baseball, it was a great night. I thought my 80mph fastball on that first pitch was pretty good. Then the Pirates took the field and gave up eight consecutive hits to start the game. It tied a record. I joked to Kit that they should have left me in. I blame her for startling pitcher Zach Duke. She insisted we have a picture taken with him before he went to the mound. I think she got him so shook up it took him a long time to regain his composure.
K: The Boo Weekley MasterCard commercial about dream foursomes is so much fun to watch. His dream foursome included you and his father Tom. Golfers and their fathers share such a loving and intense bond. How often do you think of your father and what inspires those thoughts?
AP: I still think about him all the time and remain very thankful for all the things that he taught me. For all the advice and the feelings he gave me in my youth. He was great. And for that reason I do think a lot about him. I was lucky to have him for a father.
K: I understand you have two new courses in China. Any signs that business here at home
AP: We do. We’re building courses in China as we speak. We’re very pleased about that. I may go there and check them, but I’ll wait and see. I may go. Not many signs that business is improving here. I was in Los Angeles recently to look at our Rolling Hills course. Then I went up to Pebble Beach for a look around. We have some potentials, but we’re just waiting for the green light to move forward.
K: What kind of special obligation to history does APDC feel when it updates a course like Pebble Beach?
AP: I suppose the only thing I think about is not getting too carried away and trying to stick to the tradition that has been so historical there. You need to respect the traditions of that fine club and all the great golf that’s been played there over the years. It’s a real national treasure.
K: How about the renovations at Bay Hill? How satisfied are you about the outcome?
AP: I’m very pleased. It’s open and being played. I hope what we did will be regarded as something very traditional and historic that will set Bay Hill aside from most of the other courses on tour. It was already highly regarded. The renovations were exceptionally well done and I’m grateful to all the people who worked on it. Up and down the line, everyone did fantastic work there. I’m very proud of the results and I think others will be just as pleased as I am.
K: Golf has been admitted to the Olympic Games. How would you organize the tournament?
AP: With so many countries involved, I think it would have to be a medal play event with maybe five or six members from each country. They would play a medal play event using maybe the top two or three or four scores from all the nations. There could be some real surprises. There are some very good golfers from different countries all over the world now. It ought to be interesting.
K: You tinker with golf clubs and on a grander scale with golf courses. Do you find it hard to resist making design suggestions at every course you play?
AP: No, I just make them! If I see something I think will improve a situation, I’m not shy about making suggestions.
PALMER, ED SEAY AND ALISTAIR JOHNSTON BRINGING GOLF TO CHINA
K: Do you ever spend any time with Alastair Johnston at his home, mulling through his extraordinary library of golf books?
AP: Alastair and I work very closely with one another. He’s sort of my representative with IMG and he is a good friend. We’ve done a lot of things together. His collection is number one in the world. It’s quite an achievement.
K: You’ve been all over the world? Where are you eager to take Kit that she’s never been?
AP: We have some thoughts about where we’d like to go. One of the places I have been, but not to really enjoy, is Alaska. We’d love to go there and do a little sightseeing, maybe some salmon fishing. I don’t think I want to go there to play golf, but I might.
K: While you’ve had some nice ceremonies recently, your man Doc Giffin’s been honored at several ceremonies both here in Latrobe and in New York. Has any of it gone to his head?
AP: (laughs with Giffin, who is in the room) Oh, absolutely! He’s been impossible. No, Doc is great. He’s been a real asset to me for all these years. Obviously, or he wouldn’t be here. He’s been with me 43 years and it’s been a real pleasure. I treasure his advice and his friendship.
K: Tom Watson almost won the British Open a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday. What did you make of his performance?
AP: I was very sorry to see he didn’t win. He was right on the verge of doing something that had never been done before and I was very sorry it didn’t happen. Him winning would have been just a fantastic occasion. I felt bad it didn’t happen.
K: You will be acting as honorary starter again at next year’s Masters with Jack Nicklaus. How will that work and do you think Gary Player might also join you both in due course?
AP: I think it’s very possible that Gary will join us. I’m looking forward to teeing it up with Jack this year at Augusta. We’re going to have a lot of fun.
K: Jerry McGee says he wants his ashes sprinkled from a plane onto the 12th green at Augusta. He says he never hit the green in life and wants to do it in death. Why do so many old golfers end up scattered on famous courses?
AP: Well, what more pleasant atmosphere could you want to be for eternity? A golf course is something that is very pleasant out in the environment. It’s the most pleasant place on earth. Who wants to spend eternity in a cemetery surrounded by dead people?