Kingdom. What is your fondest memory from your many years of playing in the Masters?
Arnold Palmer. I have so many fond memories of the place. It’s so great just to go to Augusta and drive down Magnolia Lane amid so much beauty every time and to contemplate all the wonderful things they have done since I’ve been going there—almost 60 years. The course, the clubhouse and everything on the property is very special. Despite the changes, its traditions are the same every year.
K. What was your worst memory of playing in the Masters?
AP. My worst moment there has to be the double-bogey on the final hole that cost me the title in 1961. That’s when I departed from my own rules of playing. You must concentrate to the end, but I accepted congratulations walking off the tee and I had always been told never to do that.
K. You have played a lot of golf over the decades with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. What are your standout memories from the times you’ve spent with them both?
AP. We still see a lot of each other. Jack and I have both been asked to act as honorary starters at the Masters again this year, but I don’t know about Gary [despite unconfirmed reports that Player would join them]. We’ve had some great times together over the years—socially, kidding with each other on the course and having some great competitions between the three of us. We had the Big Three television matches back in the 1960s and Gary and I took part in the Challenge Golf series, but we still see each other a lot at exhibitions. Last year, we played together in a charity day at the Olde Farm Golf Club in Virginia—an event that raised over $15 million for the Mountain Mission School for disadvantaged children.
K. Three of the 2010 major champions were first-time winners. Do you see this trend continuing for the foreseeable future?
AP. I do. I see the young people coming into the game even more prominently and building on a lot of what happened last year. They don’t seem to have any fear but how consistent they will be I can’t say.
Mr. Palmer expects great things from Rickie Fowler during the course of 2011
K. Which of the young guns will you be looking out for in 2011?
AP. Dustin Johnson seems to be coming into his own so I expect more from him in 2011. Also Rickie Fowler. He’s long and mighty impressive for one so young. Then there are all the young European boys, especially from Ireland. It’s going to be very interesting to see who does what in 2011.
K. What do you expect to be the next revolutionary advance in golf equipment?
AP. That’s hard for me to say, but I know Callaway have come up with a new material [Forged Composite]. They’ve collaborated with an Italian automobile company [Lamborghini] and the result is something that’s even harder and lighter than titanium. They’ve also just brought out these new RAZR X irons. I’ve got a set in my bag right now and they’re very nice.
K. With the top players seemingly playing better each year, do you put this down just to equipment improvements or are physical conditioning and other factors having an influence?
AP. I think all of the above. The quality of the equipment and balls these days is unbelievable—it’s mind-blowing to me. But I think physical conditioning is what these guys are doing regularly compared to my generation of players. They are working out long and hard and it’s paying off for them because it helps them hit the ball so far.
K. The opening event on the 2011 PGA Tour in Hawaii was contested by only 32 golfers over a course that measures almost 7,500 yards, yet the scoring was brilliant and the players were hitting wedges for most approach shots. It made for great TV, but is this right?
AP. It’s amazing but it probably isn’t right. It looks like it’s going to continue, though. I read in the paper that they’re talking about scores of 59 and 60 at this year’s Bob Hope Classic down the road from here. There’s no doubt that these courses are easy, but they are also fairly narrow and have a lot of trees on them. However, I’d say they are in so much better condition today than ever before and the greens are as smooth as they possibly could be. Therefore, everything is leaning toward improved playing conditions.
K. Do you believe modern professionals are in danger of becoming too distant from their fans and spectators because they play a game their fans can’t possibly recognize?
AP. I am still advocating that they need to slow down the golf ball. That’s one way they can try to return the game to where it was. I lobby the USGA about it when I can. In fact I hosted the USGA’s rules people for an education weekend at Bay Hill recently.
K. Given that there is such a premium on spare time these days, do you think there is a case for modern 18-hole courses to be designed as three loops of 6 holes each, not two loops of 9?
AP. I’m hearing a lot of mumbling about the need to restructure the way we are playing now to save time. Ideas like whether a full-sized course should consist of 12 holes only or an 18-hole layout be made up of three loops of six are being discussed, but I haven’t seen it in reality yet so I’m waiting to see what happens. I’m looking at all the possibilities but I hope to have a client ask me to design a course along these lines one day.
K. There has been a lot of talk recently about extending the Ryder Cup to four days and perhaps allowing all the players to play in each round. What do you think of this?
AP. I don’t think it would hurt the Ryder Cup to extend it to four days. It would generate a little more revenue for the organizers and would increase the amount of TV coverage the event is given.
K. What benefit do you think there is for the game to have the PGA of America and the PGA Tour as two separate organizations?
AP. I’m the one that separated them in the mid-1960s, you know. And that was with the approval of the PGA and the pros. There was certainly quite a lot of hard bargaining done at the time and the PGA got to retain things like the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship. To be honest I think this arrangement is working well to this day.
K. This year, Bay Hill Club & Lodge celebrates its 50th anniversary. What was it that so attracted you to the place when you first came across it and how much has it changed during that time?
AP. This was before Disney came along to Orlando. My first visit there was in 1965 for an exhibition match for the Orlando Chamber of Commerce. We were a fourball—Jack [Nicklaus], Don Cherry, Dave Ragan and myself. The course was only two years old at the time, but I fell in love with the place at first sight. It was absolutely beautiful—all that fresh water and in such pristine condition. It’s just the same now despite all the development that’s gone on around it. It remains a very attractive place—family friendly with a terrain and atmosphere that’s very catching.
Sam Saunders, Mr. Palmer’s grandson, “is hitting the ball wonderfully well”
K. How is your grandson Sam Saunders’ golf progressing?
AP. He’s definitely making progress and he is hitting the ball wonderfully well and a long way. He’s also very accurate. What’s holding him back is managing his game. He gets frustrated and a little nervous, so it will take a little time for him to get to where he wants to be.
K. Did he go to Tour school last fall or is he planning another route to make it on Tour?
AP. He didn’t make it to the final Tour school. He is eligible for seven invitations on the PGA Tour this year and he will probably get them, but I think he will also play a bit on the Nationwide Tour. I know he’s definitely going to the event in Panama and also one in Pittsburgh. One way or another he will be playing plenty of tournaments this year.
K. In what ways do you believe a golf club can benefit from a redesign? How often should a course be redesigned?
AP. One of our major activities is redesigning courses we have designed in the past or bringing older courses back up to a more modern standard. Golfers like to see where they have to hit the ball and they like traps where the sand doesn’t wash away and the ball gets stuck in the face. We did that very successfully over at Bay Hill. A lot of people think this is harder than designing a course from scratch, but I don’t. As a country we are over-golfed now in terms of having too many courses for the people who want to play, but we hope that won’t stay that way forever.
K. Aside from Bay Hill, what is your favorite opening hole in golf?
AP. Cherry Hills. It’s a downhill par-4 and I drove the green in the final round on my way to winning the [U.S.] Open in 1960.
K. When you design a course, what do you look to achieve with an opening hole?
AP. I try to make it reasonable. It’s the start of the round and I want people to enjoy the experience, at least not feel downhearted too early in their round. I want the hole to be exacting up to a point but not too penalizing. It’s also important that a first hole gets people away and doesn’t cause delays.
K. Of all the majors you played in, which course did you find hardest to play due to the way it was set up?
AP. Oakmont was certainly one. That’s as hard as it can be when it stages the [U.S.] Open. Also, I think that Carnoustie over on the east coast of Scotland is another. Both are extremely challenging at the best of times.
Mr. Palmer isn’t sure if he will play in the pro-am before his tournament at Bay Hill
K. Do you play golf these days with celebrities or politicians perhaps?
AP. I don’t play much golf at all. To be honest, I’m embarrassed that my golf is not up to the standard I would like it to be. I play occasionally at Bay Hill in the daily shoot-out, and I play a little while I stay here at Tradition. At the moment, I’m not sure if I will play in the pro-am before the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, or who I might play with.
K. Have you ever been to Key West? If so, did you like it and what did you do? Fishing? Boating? Visit Ernest Hemingway’s house, perhaps?
AP. I’ve been there for recreation. It’s very tropical down there and warm most of the time. It’s very good for a lot of sporting activities like fishing and boating. I have seen Hemingway’s home down there and it’s certainly very interesting. I read quite a lot, but not much Hemingway. I plan to change that because I feel I should get some education about him.
K. What else do you like to do when you get an occasional day off?
AP. I’d love to go fishing more—fly fishing for trout or salmon fishing. I enjoy eating salmon and preparing it different ways.
K. Have you ever been to Alaska? If so, what did you make of it? If not, would you want to go?
AP. I have been there, but not to play golf. I think it’s an interesting place and I plan on going back. I loved the salmon fishing and the midnight sun.
K. What’s the latest news about your various charity initiatives, particularly the hospitals?
AP. I continue to be very deeply involved in the Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando. It is growing at an almost alarming rate. Then there’s the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Babies. Last year they had more than 13,000 births, and the rooms there are like hotel suites. Annika [Sorenstam] had her baby there. Tiger Woods’ two children were born there also. The program at the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center out here [Palm Springs] is making great strides, not only with developing and refining techniques for treating the disease, but also with early detection which is so important.
K. Do you dabble personally in buying and selling shares on the stock market or do you always leave that to specialist financial advisers?
AP. I do it through a broker, but I am interested in what’s going on and check out what’s going on pretty much every day.
K. How often do you dine at the Arnold Palmer Restaurant in La Quinta and what is your favorite meal there?
AP. I dined there last night! I go there a lot while I’m down in the desert. As for my favorite dish, check out everything on the menu under ‘Arnold’s Favorites.’
K. Do you like ice cream, milkshakes or smoothies? It’s a very inventive culinary area at present, so would you like to put an Arnold Palmer recipe out there?
AP. I like all of these. I have a smoothie every morning when I get up—it’s always delicious, and very good for you. As for an Arnold Palmer smoothie recipe, I have my hands full with Arnold Palmer Tea so I think I’ll stick with that!