Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Latrobe, Westmoreland County
Arnold Palmer was one of the world's best known golfers. He also wrote several books and owned multiple companies, including the multimillion-dollar Arnold Palmer Enterprises.
Awards: Presidential Medal of Freedom, The Masters, Professional Golfer's Association Hall of Fame, World Golf Hall of Fame
Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on September 10, 1929, Arnold Palmer was one of the most popular golfers in the history of the sport. From 1954 to 1987, he won 86 golf championships and was inducted into both the Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) Hall of Fame and the World Golf Hall of Fame. Palmer was also an entrepreneur with his own multimillion-dollar company and the author of numerous golf books. Palmer grew up in Westmoreland County and owned land there later in life, including the golf course on which he learned to play. On September 25, 2016, Arnold Palmer died at the age of 87 due to heart complications.
Arnold Palmer was born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania to Doris and Milfred Deacon Palmer. His father was the local golf course's superintendent and club pro, and Palmer soon picked up his love of the game. By age four, he was using a set of clubs his father had shortened for him and playing rounds on his father's course. Palmer attended Latrobe High School and then Wake Forest University, where he was a three time Atlantic Coast Conference Golf Champion. During his senior year, Palmer left Wake Forest because of the death of a close friend and joined the Coast Guard for three years. In 1954, after his discharge from the service and a brief return to Wake Forest, Palmer won the US Amateur Championship while working as a salesman in Ohio (where he had been stationed while in the Coast Guard). That same year, he married Winifred Walzer, a woman he met at a local tournament. A year later he joined the professional tour and by 1958, he had won his first major tour, the Masters. Palmer soon became a popular sports figure.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, he gained an enormous following, nicknamed Arnie's Army. Through the years of 1954 and 1987 Palmer won 86 golf championships and was inducted into the Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) Hall of Fame, as well as the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was credited with bringing the game of golf to mainstream audiences.
Besides his successful golf career, Palmer was also successfull in both the writing and business worlds. Palmer wrote and co-authored numerous books on golf and golf strategy. His most successful book is his autobiography, A Golfer's Life, which provides readers with anecdotes from his personal and professional life, including stories about his adolescence and retirement. Published in 1999, the book was a New York Times best-seller and received critical acclaim from many sources, including Publisher's Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Palmer's first book, Arnold Palmer's Golf Book: Hit It Hard! (published in 1961), uses anecdotes from his own career to teach readers golf essentials. Like this book, most of Palmer's subsequent books were written to teach golfers about different aspects of the game. In Arnold Palmer's Complete Book of Putting, Palmer provides tips on putting (a basic golf technique), and in Playing by the Rules: The Rules of Golf Explained and Illustrated from a Lifetime in the Game, Palmer provides insight into the rules of golf.
Palmer was also a successful entrepreneur. With the help of business manager Mark McCormack, he started his own multimillion-dollar company in the 1960s called Arnold Palmer Enterprises, which provides golf products and licensing and endorsement agreements to over 30 countries worldwide.
Throughout his later years, Palmer continued to write and co-write books on golf. He also kept busy with many of his own organizations, including the Arnold Palmer Golf Management Company, Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, Palmer Golf Course Design Company, and the Arnold Palmer Golf Company. He was the president and owner of two golf courses: Latrobe County Country Club, at which his father worked and where Palmer learned to play, and Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida, an important stop on the PGA tour each year. Palmer was also a licensed pilot who flew his own jet.
Palmer's brother Jerry succeeded their father as superintendent of the Latrobe County Country Club and his two sisters also reside in the Latrobe area with their husbands. Although Palmer spent most of his winters in Orlando, he spent summer months in Latrobe and for many years filmed television commercials for Pennzoil there.
On June 23, 2004, Palmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from George W. Bush who said that Palmer had given his all, playing with style and a daring that changed the game of golf. Arnold Palmer died at the age of 87 due to heart complications on September 25, 2016, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was succeeded in death by his first wife, Winnie Palmer, who succumbed to cancer in 1999. Palmer is survived by their two daughters, Peggy Wears and Amy Saunders; two sisters, Lois Jean Tilley and Sandra Sarni; a brother, Jerry; six grandchildren; several great-grandchildren; and his second wife, Kathleen Gawthorp, who he had married in 2005.
(With James Dodson). A Golfer's Life.New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.
Arnold Palmer's Golf Book: Hit It Hard! New York: Ronald Press Company, 1961.
Portrait of a Professional Golfer. South Norwalk, CT: Golf Digest, 1964.
Situation Golf. New York: McCall Publishing Company, 1970.
(With William Barry Furlong). Go for Broke; My Philosophy of Winning Golf. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.
Photo Credit: Samantha Appleton. "Arnold Palmer." 30 Sep 2009. Photograph. Licensed under Public Domain. Cropped to 4x3. Source: Executive Office of the President of the United States. Source: Wikimedia.
Written by Sarah Sodrick, Spring 2004; updated 2016