Arnold Palmer’s connection with golf course design runs deep. The year Arnold turned six years old, his family moved into a small frame house adjacent to the old sixth hole at Latrobe Country Club, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Palmer’s father, Deke, held the dual jobs of greenskeeper and golf professional.
Among the physical characteristics Arnold shared with his father were his large, strong hands, blacksmith’s hands, some said. These were hands Deke used to help shape the first nine-hole course at Latrobe in the early 1920s, and hands his son would use for pushing heavy greens mowers, steering tractors and performing other tasks while growing up there, and then eventually helping his father to build the second nine.
“Designing golf courses has been part of my life as far back as I can remember,” Mr. Palmer said.
While a student athlete at Wake Forest, Arnold and his teammates created a layout near the college campus as their practice facility. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard at Cape May, New Jersey, after leaving college. Because he was known for his amateur golf accomplishments, he was asked to build a nine-hole course on the base. With a rake, shovel and hand-push mower, Arnold was directed to a weed-choked grassy patch of ground between the base’s air runways.
“That probably was not the most challenging layout but certainly was the most exhausting to create,” Mr. Palmer said. “When I was done, it was a pretty rudimentary layout – a nine-hole chip and putt, really – but I was pleased with my efforts, and the officers who played it were delighted to have a place to hit balls.”
After leaving the Coast Guard, Arnold won the 1954 U.S. Amateur and became a professional golfer. He won his first tournament, the Canadian Open, in 1955, and won two PGA Tour events in 1956 and four in 1957. Arnold won his first Masters in 1958, opening the floodgates on a career that would produce 62 PGA Tour victories and seven professional major championships.
Despite a very active playing schedule, Mr. Palmer was the first in the modern era to be both a tournament player and golf course architect. In 1972, Arnold partnered with burgeoning golf course architect Ed Seay to form Palmer Course Design Company based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Their partnership, supported by a robust staff of professional men and women, spanned three decades and yielded hundreds of great new golf courses around the world. In 2002, Mr. Palmer, an ASGCA fellow, received the Donald Ross Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects for his contributions to the game.
By 2005, the golf course development industry had cooled off from its peak and began to see significant contraction. Ever committed to keeping his hand in golf course design, Mr. Palmer relocated the business to Orlando in 2006 and renamed it the Arnold Palmer Design Company.
For decades, Mr. Palmer mentored his two senior golf course architects Brandon Johnson and Thad Layton. The talented duo continue to grow his legacy of legendary golf course design using the philosophies he instilled in them.