‘The King’ left an im­print on Mary­land’s golf com­mu­nity

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

Allen Wronowski’s birth­day was ap­proach­ing and his fa­ther knew ex­actly what to get the Bal­ti­more teenager who as­pired to be a golf pro­fes­sional: tick­ets to an up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion and clinic with the game’s two big­gest stars.

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nick­laus came to Pine Ridge Golf Course on a hot Au­gust day in 1972 to raise money for the Golfers’ Char­i­ta­ble As­so­ci­a­tion, a lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“The place was packed…there were over 1,000 peo­ple,” Wronowski re­called Mon­day, the day af­ter the Palmer died at age 87. “Ev­ery­body was just awed.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion it­self took more than four hours, largely due to Palmer’s con­nec­tion to his fans.

“Just like all the com­men­tary [af­ter his death], he was walk­ing, smil­ing at the crowd, sign­ing any au­to­graph any­body asked for. He was so charis­matic,” Wronowski said. “He did a lot for the game and the area.”

Wronowski said that as big a star as Nick­laus had be­come, Palmer’s long­time ri­val was mainly a wing­man at Pine Ridge that sum­mer af­ter­noon.

“Jack was OK, he was some­what per­son­able, but Arnold just lit it up. You knew that Arnold was there more than Jack,” said Wronowski, who would even­tu­ally be­come direc­tor of golf at Hil­len­dale Golf Club for more than three decades and, more re­cently, the pres­i­dent of the PGA of Amer­ica.

Palmer, “The King,” had a thing for Bal­ti­more. At 23 he notched his third pro­fes­sional win in the 1956 East­ern In­vi­ta­tional Open at Mount Pleas­ant. His last pub­lic ap­pear­ance in the city is be­lieved to be five years ago for a Mary­land Spe­cial Olympics fundraiser at Martin’s West.

“I love Bal­ti­more,” Palmer said in an in­ter­view with the Bal­ti­more Sun prior to a 2011 event called “The 19th hole: An In­ti­mate Evening with Arnold Palmer and Jim Nantz” that raised money for the Spe­cial Olympics. “I think it’s one of the great cities in Amer­ica. I’m big on the seafood.”

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal pub­lic re­la­tions ex­ec­u­tive David Nevins, Bal­ti­more was also the birth­place of one of Amer­ica’s fa­vorite soft drinks – the iced teale­mon­ade combo named af­ter the le­gendary golfer. Ver­sions of the drink’s ori­gin vary though, with Palmer say­ing on his web­site and in an ESPN doc­u­men­tary that he and his wife cre­ated the drink at home, and that he once re­quested the mix in Palm Springs, Calif., and a nearby woman asked for “an Arnold Palmer.”

Nevins, how­ever, said Palmer told him first­hand that it hap­pened dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tory lunch he had with fel­low pro Doug Ford af­ter win­ning the tour­na­ment at Mount Pleas­ant.

“When he won the tour­na­ment that morn­ing, he and Doug Ford went to a lo­cal pub and they each asked for an iced tea.” Nevins said Mon­day. “The wait­ress had two pitch­ers and she pours Doug’s first and then she pours Arnie’s, and as half his glass filled, she emp­tied the pitcher.”

Palmer, as the story goes, asked the wait­ress what was in the other pitcher.

“She said, ‘That’s le­mon­ade,’ and he said, ‘That sounds good, just fill the glass up with le­mon­ade’, which she did,” Nevins said. “The peo­ple at the next ta­ble said to him, ‘Aren’t you Arnold Palmer, didn’t you just win the golf tour­na­ment?’” Palmer in­tro­duced him­self and Ford. “She asked what he was drink­ing, and he said, ‘Half iced tea and half le­mon­ade,’ and she said ‘That sounds, great, what do you call it?’ ” Nevins said. “Arnie said, ‘It doesn’t have a name, it’s just that she ran out of iced tea when she was pour­ing it.’ The woman said, ‘I’m go­ing to or­der the same thing and call it “The Arnold Palmer.’ ” From that day on, it caught fire.”

Palmer was so pop­u­lar that even a drink named af­ter him has its own folk tales.

Though the story of the drink’s name has been mud­dled over the years, the one about Palmer’s vic­tory in Bal­ti­more has only one ver­sion. Grow­ing up in the North­wood neigh­bor­hood where Mount Pleas­ant is lo­cated, Gregg Tay­lor had heard sto­ries about Palmer win­ning there 60 years ago af­ter hit­ting his first tee shot went out of bounds onto Hillen Road.

There is a photo of Palmer ac­cept­ing the first prize check for $3,000 and a tro­phy from Mayor Thomas D’Ale­san­dro Jr. – as well as a replica of the tro­phy – in the pro shop at Mount Pleas­ant. There is also a photo of Palmer taken a decade ago, on the 50th an­niver­sary of the vic­tory.

“Though most who grew up play­ing the course are aware of Palmer’s con­nec­tion to the course,” Tay­lor, now Mount Pleas­ant’s as­sis­tant man­ager, said Mon­day, “we get out-of-town­ers, and when they see the pic­tures here, they’ll ask about it.”

Along with play­ing in the East­ern Open, Palmer played a cou­ple of times in what was then the Se­nior Tour at Hob­bit’s Glen Golf Club in Columbia and Hay­fields Coun­try Club in Cock­eysville.

Ray Dau, who served as the tour­na­ment chair­man for five years for the two se­nior events, re­called pick­ing up Palmer and his as­sis­tant, Doc Gif­fin, at a pri­vate air­port near BWI be­fore the 1998 State Farm Clas­sic.

It had been Palmer’s first tour­na­ment in Arnold Palmer, right, looks on as Jack Nick­laus holes a short putt dur­ing a char­ity ex­hi­bi­tion at Pine Ridge Golf Course in Bal­ti­more in Au­gust 1972. Bal­ti­more in 40 years.

“It was July 4th week­end and it was go­ing to be some­thing like 100 de­grees, so I picked him up in a Cadil­lac and had the tem­per­a­ture at 68,” Dau said Mon­day. “He was sit­ting in the front seat and he kept turn­ing around and say­ing, ‘Doc, do you feel a draft?’ ”

It turned out that dur­ing Palmer’s last ap­pear­ance in Bal­ti­more, he had to with­draw af­ter shoot­ing an open­ing round 69 when his back stiff­ened up driv­ing in the car of Ge­orge Bayer, an­other player. He at­trib­uted his long bout with back prob­lems to that cranked up air con­di­tioner in Bayer’s car.

“When he told that story, I turned off the air con­di­tioner for the last 15 min­utes of the ride,” Dau said. “We were all sweat­ing bul­lets.”

The day of the pro-am, Dau said a big crowd had gath­ered to watch Palmer tee off

“All the vol­un­teers were wear­ing red, white and blue,” Dau said. “Af­ter he hits his ball, there’s a sea of red, white and blue walk­ing away with him. All the vol­un­teers left their posts. We had to have a meet­ing that night telling the com­mit­tee chair­man, telling them to stay, but they said, ‘Hey I’m fol­low­ing “The King.” ”

Caves Val­ley direc­tor of golf Den­nis Satyshur re­called a visit by Palmer at the then brand-new club in Owings Mills in 1992 to play a round with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Reg Mur­phy, then the pub­lisher of the Bal­ti­more Sun and a mem­ber at the club.

“He was very, very re­spectable to Pres­i­dent Bush, he called him ‘Mr. Pres­i­dent,’” Satyshur said Mon­day. “He never hit be­fore him, the pres­i­dent would walk first. I just found that so gen­tle­manly, so thought­ful. He was Arnold Palmer, but when he was with the pres­i­dent, the pres­i­dent was ‘The Man.’ ”

Cole­man Plecker, a long­time pro at sev­eral clubs in Mary­land, had some con­ver­sa­tions with Palmer over the years.

A mem­o­rable one took place af­ter Plecker, then the pro at Ea­gle’s Nest in Bal­ti­more County, had qual­i­fied for his first PGA Tour event at the 1980 Kem­per Open. When he ar­rived in the locker room at Con­gres­sional Coun­try Club, Plecker found his locker be­tween those as­signed to Palmer and Gary Player.

“He was my whole in­spi­ra­tion for play­ing golf,” Plecker, 70, said Mon­day. “He was it.”

The day be­fore the tour­na­ment be­gan, Plecker met his idol.

“He wished me good luck,” Plecker said. “Ev­ery­thing he did seemed sin­cere. He made you feel like you were the only per­son there.”

Dau re­called Palmer’s pub­lic ap­pear­ance five years ago for the Spe­cial Olympics Mary­land din­ner in Bal­ti­more, where Palmer pre­sented Dau with an achieve­ment award for the money the long­time Hil­len­dale mem­ber had raised for the or­ga­ni­za­tion over the years.

“I spent a cou­ple of hours with him up­stairs be­fore the event,” Dau said. “He was just ev­ery­man’s man. He looked you in the eye and you thought he was your best friend.”

KITTY R CHARL­TON/ BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Ray Dau, right, poses with Arnold Palmer dur­ing a news con­fer­ence be­fore a Spe­cial Olympics event five years ago. It is be­lieved to have been Palmer’s last ap­pear­ance in Bal­ti­more.

BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHOTO

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