I was reading an article recently about the legacy Arnold Palmer left in terms of an autograph.
Since turning pro in 1954, Palmer’s signature and his much sought after autograph were the same, and it remained like that all his life.
Palmer’s autograph was like a benchmark for all autographs, so much so, he used to say that if you’re going to give a fan an autograph, make sure they can read your signature.
There are also many times, as former PGA Tour star Peter Jacobsen will attest, that Palmer used to ‘chip’ his fellow PGA Tour players if they handed over an unreadable signature.
It seemed to be the norm up until around the 70s to hand the autograph hunter a readable signature, and you only have to get onto the internet and search for the signature of players like Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus who all provided fans with an autograph you could easily read.
This is in stark contrast to today’s golf stars with far too many autographs unreadable and more akin to a ‘let me get out of here as quick as I can’ scribble.
I recently looked at my collection of signed flags, including my prize Masters commemorative flags and aside from Palmer, Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods and one or two others, I struggle for a few seconds to remember whose autograph is whose. As well, I did get onto the ‘net’ and picked-out a 2018 Ryder Cup commemorative flag signed by all 12 Europeans and there’s not one ‘readable’ autograph, perhaps aside from Ian Poulter’s colourful ‘flagstick’ effort.
Around five years ago, the PGA Tour published an article where they interviewed a former CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises who believed Arnie would have signed around 500 autographs at every PGA Tour event of his career.
Given Palmer contested a total of 1,053 PGA Tour and Champions Tour tournaments, that’s 526,500 autographs plus you can add that when Palmer was in his Bay Hill office each week, he would also be signing around 250 items sent to him in the post by fans.
Multiply that by the number of weeks a year, including adjustments, and the number is up to 696,000.
Now let’s add the 526,500 to the 696,000 and the number of autographs Arnie signed in the States alone in his career is around 1,222,000 autographs. Though this is a pure guesstimate.
I have attended Arnie’s event on a number of occasions and much like Arnie’s very readable autograph, so too is the nature of his tournament and by saying this I mean, that aside from honouring Palmer, organisers present an event without pretence where everything is pretty much laid-back, and it was how Palmer conducted matters when he was alive and those now holding the Arnold Palmer Invitational reins have not sought to deviate.
Take the main road leading into the tournament.
Unlike so many PGA Tour tournament venues, there are no security entrance gates, meaning if you wish to drive-up to the Bay Hill club during any of the other 51 weeks of the year, you can do so freely.
There’s plenty of stories over so many years of golf fans, whether or not they were playing Bay Hill or simply wishing to visit the famed club they’d bump into Arnie either in the clubhouse or riding about on his motorized buggy with his beloved dog, Mulligan occupying the passenger’s seat.
Even for those attending this week’s upgraded $US20m event, there’s the sight of Arnie’s golf buggy and with two sets of his Callaway’s strapped-in on the back of the buggy, parked in front of the main vehicle drop-off point to the clubhouse.
Then if you venture onto the practice range, here’s Arnie’s opened ‘rainbow’ umbrella along with a set of his clubs positioned on the far-right side of the range as a continuing tribute to him, while all about the course, and also very much in the pro shop, the sight of a readable Arnold Palmer signature rests on nearly every item being sold.
When Palmer was alive, he would attend a media dinner get-together on the Saturday night of the tournament, held within the Bay Hill clubhouse that in itself is a remarkable shrine to Palmer’s career and the people he met. Palmer would sit with the media for a couple of hours and clearly enjoy being in our company.
And while the media is fortunate to be served breakfast and lunch at all tournament stops, one of the favourites at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was the sight of pizzas, cold beer and bottles of red wines being delivered around 5pmish each day to cater for those media who’d be still working on their copy into the early evening.
One memory involves a dear departed friend in Dai Davies who worked for the Guardian newspaper. Dai loved his red wine and he would always have a bottle delivered to his desk.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is like that.
I wrote the piece below back in 2014 of how I was walking out of the Bay Hill media centre one evening after filing my copy, and here was a chap approaching with a Golden Labrador on a lead. It was Palmer with Mulligan by his side. Palmer stopped and chatted and again, it was another of those special moments in visiting Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
A few years back and post Palmer’s passing, I was covering December’s PNC Championship at the close-by Ritz Carlton host course, and visiting Orlando that week was my good friend and golf journalist colleague known affectionately as Swamy.
Swamy had never been to Bay Hill, so he jumped into our car and upon arriving at Bay Hill, here was Palmer’s great friend, Dow Finsterwald on the practice putting green. I commented to Swamy to look at Dow’s golf bag and it was his 1977 USA Ryder Cup captain’s bag.
Finsterwald was born four days before Palmer on 6th September, 1929 and they became long-time good friends.
Swamy and I were each delighted in chatting with Dow for a few minutes with Dow, who sadly passed away last November, agreeing to a few photographs with him.
Try doing that at most other PGA Tour stops outside of tournament week as you wouldn’t get past security manning the front gates.
There were many other episodes like this that made the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Bay Hill extra-special, including Graeme McDowell, who lives about a 30-minute drive away at Lake Nona, arranging for a few complimentary cases of his ‘G Mac’s’ craft beer to be delivered to the media whenever St. Patrick’s Day fell in the same week at the Arnold Palmer.
As well, there was the sight and distinct sounds of Ian Poulter arriving at Bay Hill, also from his Lake Nona abode, but ‘showing off’ as Poults does in driving a different Ferrari each day from his believed $US25m collection of Ferrari’s and other sports cars he owns.
Indeed, all good memories.