Rolex, the name synonymous with elegance, craftsmanship and quality, found time this week to honor three golf legends who exude those same characteristics.
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were in Geneva, Switzerland, to celebrate what is, perhaps, the longest on-going relationship in modern sports history. The three golfers have been associated with the 102-year-old watchmaker for nearly half its existence.
"Like you, we at Rolex honor excellence and achievement," said Rolex managing director Patrick Heiniger. "We equally honor the humor and humanity that each of you radiates. It is thanks to that magical mix that we are here together so many years down the road.
"What we share transcends our association through sport and is rooted in the timeless values that each one of you celebrates in your daily life, be it through your philanthropic work, your business activities, your passions, your hobbies.”
Palmer and the business manager for all three golfers, the late Mark McCormack, first met the late Andre Heiniger, Patrick’s father and then Rolex’s managing director, while on a business trip to Japan in 1961, and the relationships grew from there. Nicklaus and Player were presented with Rolex watches to mark their U.S. Open victories in 1962 and 1965, respectively, and Palmer became Rolex’s first golf ambassador in 1967.
Joining the Big Three were their wives and two other world-class sportsmen and Rolex ambassadors from the same era, the Grand Prix racing champion Sir Jackie Stewart and the Olympic and World Cup champion skier Jean-Claude Killy. They were all presented gold Rolex GMT Master II watches to mark the occasion.
The guests were also given a tour of watchmaker's factory prior to a ceremony in Rolex's Andre Heiniger Auditorium. A video of the Big Three created especially for the occasion was shown before Patrick Heiniger spoke and recognized the Big Three in these words:
“In 1960, Arnold gave new life to the British Open and made it a championship never to be missed by the best players. As a result he created the modern Grand Slam.
“In 1965, Gary overcame all odds to be the third golfer ever, and the first of his generation, to win all four of the major golf championships in his career.
“In 1986, Jack proved that he was indeed the golfer of the century, winning the Masters at 46 years of age, to increase his total to 18 majors, five more than the great Bobby Jones.”
After the ceremony there was luncheon in Rolex’s executive dining room for all attending, and that the tour of the Rolex facilities was continued. In the evening, Heiniger entertained the Big Three and their wives with a private dinner to conclude their visit.
That was only part of a whirlwind week that saw Palmer and wife Kit depart The Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe in his Cessna Citation X on July 22 at 5 a.m. Accompanying the aviator was chief pilot Pete Luster and his wife, Mary. The flight was accomplished with just one refueling stop, in Newfoundland.
The group spent two days in Prato, Italy, near Florence where Palmer stopped at the Golf Club Le Pavoniere where club members reveled in the company of a man they've long admired.
"It was a great day spent with a legendary golf champion," said club president Gianni Hills. "We were able to follow him through 18 holes and it's something none of us will ever forget."