Remembering Arnold Palmer

As tributes flow in for the most popular player ever to tee up a golf ball, Arnold Palmer’s ties to Westchester are remembered fondly.

Palmer had his first Westchester win in the 1963 Thunderbird Classic Invitational tournament at Westchester Country Club (WCC), pocketing a whopping $25,000 for winning the precursor to the Westchester Classic and Barclay’s in a playoff over Paul Harney. He won the tournament again in 1967 when it was played at Upper Montclair Country Club in New Jersey. His second triumph in Westchester came in 1971 when he beat Gibby Gilbert and Hale Irwin by five strokes to win the Westchester Classic at WCC.

Palmer’s triumphs in the game of golf were nearly overshadowed by his successes in the business world. In addition to level-headed practicality, he had a winning personality that made him a welcome guest and golf partner for leaders around the world. Among the many places he frequently teed it up in social games was the Blind Brook Club in Purchase.

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“We were at the bar before the dinner and Mr. Palmer bellied up right next to us,” remembers WCC member Vic Pino. “We asked him if we could buy him a drink and he accepted. We told him we were representing Westchester Country Club, and he went on and on about how fond he was of the course and the club. He then called over his photographer and told him to take a picture with all of us and sent us copies  when he returned home.  He was engaging, cordial, and a gentlemen, a unique individual who defined the meaning of class. He will be missed.”

I, too, met Arnie at an annual dinner for the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association (of which I am a board member) in 2009. He gave me a firm handshake with both of his big paws—still powerful at age 80—and looked me squarely in the eye as he said how much he enjoyed the event. That was the last time Arnie came to the dinner. For a change that year, he was there to present an award to someone else.  In this instance, it was the Winner Palmer Award, which was given to Donald “Doc” Giffin, his long-time advisor and compatriot. The Winnie Palmer Award was created to honor Arnie’s first wife, who devoted much of her life to charities addressing literacy and health-care issues. 

Arnie himself was honored numerous times by the organization in Westchester. In 1965, he received the writers’ highest accolade, the Gold Tee Award. In 2001, a special “Golden Anniversary Award” celebrating the 50th MGWA dinner was given to Arnie, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player with the inscription that they were the players who had the greatest influence on golf during the past half century. In 1992, his Bay Hill Classic received the Bing Crosby Tournament Sponsor Award.

Arnold Palmer was 87.

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