Golf legend Arnold Palmer has fond memories of Baltimore

Golf icon will return for Special Olympics Maryland fundraiser

May 13, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd, The Baltimore Sun

Arnold Palmer's memories of Baltimore date back to Mount Pleasant Golf Course and an ugly opening drive that might still be bouncing somewhere along Hillen Road.

This was in 1956 at the Eastern Invitational Tournament, which he would go on to win after that rocky start.

But let him tell it.

"I was playing with Doug Ford," he recalled in a phone conversation this week from his home in Latrobe, Pa. "I was tired, I'd been playing in a lot of tournaments and I rushed up to the (first) tee. I hit my drive and pull-hooked it out of bounds on the road.

"I was a little disgusted and I said: 'I think I'll withdraw.' And Doug said: 'Aw, come on, you can spot the field two strokes and still win it.' So I stayed. Played some pretty good golf, too. At one point I was up by 12 shots."

Now the golfing icon returns to town May 25 for a Special Olympics Maryland fundraiser called "The 19th Hole — an Intimate Evening with Arnold Palmer and Jim Nantz."

Along with Nantz, the long-time CBS announcer and good friend, Palmer will talk about his legendary career, and golf in general, in an "Oprah-style" setting at Martin's West in Woodlawn. A question-and-answer session with the audience will follow

Fifty-five years after his win at Mount Pleasant, Palmer seems to have only good memories of Charm City, a city he visits often.

"I love Baltimore," he said. "I think it's one of the great cities in America. I'm big on the seafood."

Besides, that screaming hook onto Hillen Road didn't exactly jinx his golf game.

Two years later, Palmer won the 1958 Masters, the first of his seven career major championships in a glittering 54-year career that included 92 wins and made him a fabulously wealthy man, as well as a household name.

With TV sports programming in its infancy in the 1950s and 1960s, he became golf's biggest star. The sight of the handsome and charismatic Palmer hitching up his pants, dragging on a cigarette and charging from behind to win another tournament enthralled viewers all over the country and persuaded thousands to take up the sport.

These days, Palmer shuttles between homes in his native Latrobe and Orlando, Fla., where he owns the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Bay Hill is also the site of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational, won this year by European Martin Laird.

At 81 and in good health, Palmer stays busy taking care of business at Bay Hill and the Latrobe Country Club, and serving as a goodwill ambassador to golf. He also designs golf courses, although he says he's been doing a lot less of that lately.

"The economy has hit the golf course construction business (hard)," Palmer said. "We kind of over-built golf courses a bit. But it's starting to come back."

In the meantime, Palmer is designing courses in China, Brazil, and parts of Europe and Africa where the economy is stable and demand for new tracks is still high.

He's also hoping the inclusion of golf in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro gives a boost to the international course construction industry.

Palmer is working on a new course in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and has expressed interest in designing a new course for the Olympics in Rio, too. (Golf was included in the Olympic for the first time at the 1900 Games in Paris, then dropped after the 1904 Games in St. Louis.)

Palmer's ties to the Special Olympics go back decades. "It's a very important cause," he said.

And after Special Olympics Maryland executive vice-president for sports marketing Tom Schniedwind read about a conversational program that Palmer and Nantz did at a tournament at Pebble Beach, Schniedwind said the pairing of the two for a similar fundraiser here made perfect sense.

"Arnold Palmer made golf accessible to the guy and gal on the street," said Schniedwind, who added that the May 25 event at Martin's West helps pay tribute to a man and a sport that have had a life-changing impact on non-profits everywhere.

http://www.19thholemd.com

If you go

What: A fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland, "The 19th Hole — an Intimate Evening with Arnold Palmer and Jim Nantz."

When: May 25. VIP reception at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 7, program begins at 8.

Where: Martin's West

Tickets: For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://www.19thholemd.com or call 410-789-6677, ext.122

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