Posted: July 5, 2014 5:09 pm
There are few absolute, bedrock, no-exception rules of business.
Here’s one: Partnering with Arnold Palmer is a good idea.
Officials of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club made that partnership happen in February by asking Palmer to be the event’s honorary chairman. They celebrated their good judgment with Lancaster’s First Swing, a free public event in downtown Lancaster Saturday.
It is the first of what organizers promise will be a series of events leading to the Women’s Open, to be held July 6-12 of next year at L.C.C.
“When it’s over, and don’t say I didn’t tell you, you’re gonna be bragging about having this Open in Lancaster,” Palmer told a crowd of several hundred gathered in front of the downtown Lancaster Visitor’s Center at 5 W. King St.
The crowd was there to greet Gov. Tom Corbett and other dignitaries, but mostly to see Palmer, 84, a seven-time major champion, global brand and icon, native Pennsylvanian and arguably the most important figure in golf history.
Rory Connaughton, a member of the local tournament committee, warmed up the crowd, referring to it as a unit of “Arnie’s Army,” to a round of applause.
Corbett spoke briefly and predicted the event would provide a $15 million economic boost to the area.
Open general chairman Jerry Hostetter followed and introduced Palmer, referring to him as one of those rare individuals, “like Oprah, Sting and Pele,” known worldwide by a single name.
Palmer’s brief remarks were capped off with, “Give ’em hell, vote for the governor (cue sheepish grin from Corbett) and have a great golf tournament.”
Hostetter, general chairman of the 2015 Open, asked Palmer to consider becoming honorary chair in February at the Tradition, a golf club in La Quinta, California, of which both men are members.
“I think I (said yes) pretty quick,” Palmer said during a press conference after the event.
“Jerry twisted my arm.”
Palmer said his role, as honorary chair, has been defined only broadly.
“I’ll do as much as I can to promote it as much as I can, not only here but internationally.”
Palmer also suggested the event might not need much help. Women’s golf is enjoying a surge of popularity, fueled by American players like current Women’s Open champ Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis, currently the world’s No. 1-ranked player.
“It’s getting better and better all the time, and I think you’ll see that,” he said.
“I have a granddaughter, and I can’t wait until she gets on the LPGA tour.”
Palmer hasn’t played even ceremonial tournament golf for a decade, although he did have his 20th lifetime hole-in-one during a friendly round last year.
He is still involved in a business empire that includes 22 licensee companies, a dozen or more product endorsements, and companies that sell clothing, design and build golf courses, and bottle and market wines.
He admitted that he is, finally, slowing down a bit. After adding a Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004) and Congressional Gold Medal (2012) to the resume, maybe you start to coast a little.
“I’m starting, gradually, to turn it over to my family,” he said.
Palmer grew up in Latrobe. He’s a two-time (1946 and 1947) PIAA state high school champion.
He has played Lancaster Country Club only once, at 19, in the 1948 Pennsylvania Amateur. He lost in the third round of match play to eventual champion Billy Haverstick, who might be, next to Jim Furyk, the best golfer Lancaster County has produced.
“I remember getting my ass handed to me,” Palmer said. “He was a great friend of mine and a great player. I was upset about losing, but I wasn’t upset he beat me.”