Arnold Palmer at 90: With thousands of clubs, finding way to honor The King still in works

(Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek)

Arnold Palmer at 90: With thousands of clubs, finding way to honor The King still in works

Golf

Arnold Palmer at 90: With thousands of clubs, finding way to honor The King still in works

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With 19,000 pieces of memorabilia from Arnold Palmer’s career in addition to thousands of his clubs sitting in storage, it’s only natural to wonder what will become of Arnie’s prized possessions on what would have been his 90th birthday.

That’s a lingering question as his family, friends and those who run his businesses and foundation gather at Bay Hill in Orlando and in Palmer’s hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to celebrate his life Tuesday. Palmer died Sept. 25, 2016, at the age of 87.

“It’s definitely part of our strategy to find the best ways to showcase his memorabilia and to tell his story and continue to inspire people and to keep the legacy strong,” said Jon Podany, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises and president of the Arnold and Winnie Palmer Foundation.

There are a few options Podany and his team are considering. The obvious one would be to create an archive or museum to learn more about Palmer’s life either in Latrobe or at Bay Hill. During this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, fans could see some of his trophies, clubs and other curated memorabilia that told stories of his days playing at Wake Forest, serving in the Coast Guard and winning seven major championships. The experience, which included a short film about Arnie’s career, reached thousands of fans during tournament week, said Cory Britt, vice president of strategic affairs for Arnold Palmer Enterprises and the Palmers’ foundation.

The walls of Arnold Palmer’s warehouse in Latrobe, Pa., are covered with a variety of memorabilia from pictures of events and even family photos. (Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek)

Another option would be to take the Arnold Palmer experience on the road, Podany said, bringing it to the public at various PGA Tour stops or special events such as air shows, given Palmer’s passion for aviation.

Podany said they’re also considering loaning memorabilia to places who have interest, “whether that’s the USGA museum, Augusta National during the Masters or places of significance like Cherry Hills, where he won the U.S. Open, or East Lake, where he captained the Ryder Cup.”

While there’s nothing firm yet, “those are all the things we’re looking at as we try to figure out the best way forward,” he said.

After Palmer died, an estate appraiser went through the entire collection and a team of college students spent a summer tagging, photographing and cataloging everything, Britt said.

While the Golf Channel and other media outlets have reported extensively on the treasures in the warehouse, it’s still hard to imagine a collection of 19,000 pieces. Before golf bags, shoes, clubs and cardigans were placed on shelving in the warehouse, mementos from Palmer’s career were tucked in attics and basements of houses he owned. In addition to the golf equipment you’d expect to see, there are money clips, matchbooks, bag tags, pieces of artwork that were gifts from his adoring fans and thousands of other items that were once important to Palmer.

Arnold Palmer at 90: Photos | Numbers | Memories | Courses

Although Britt was familiar with most of the memorabilia, he’s still finding pieces of Palmer’s past that inspire him. “I’m intrigued by his handwritten notes, anything that shows his thoughts going down on paper,” Britt said.

They’ve discovered scorecards from Augusta National with Palmer’s notes on how he played each hole. Britt shared a photo on Instagram of a check Palmer wrote to his caddie for $500 after winning the Masters in 1958.

While organizing Palmer’s clubs – 2,500 putters and about 11,500 other clubs – Britt and his colleagues found photos from the majors and other big events to identify specific clubs used at those tournaments.

“We were also able to determine ones that absolutely are not in the collection,” Britt said. “He was known for giving away clubs but also modifying them. He very well could have taken the putter that he won the 1958 Masters and painted it, changed the grip, bent it, put different marks on it, hitting it with a mallet.”

While they weren’t able to locate Palmer’s putter from the 1958 Masters, several other clubs from his major wins and other big tournaments were identified.

There’s not one particular item that left an impression on Podany, who joined Arnold Palmer Enterprises in October, but it’s the breadth of the collection that excites him.

“If you look at his golf career, he’s obviously one of the greatest golfers of all time,” Podany said. “If you just look at his pilot’s career, he flew over 20,000 hours. He was viewed as a very strong pilot. If you look at his businesses, he was a great businessman. He’s been, of course, a philanthropist. If you take any of those individually, you’d say that’s a pretty amazing person.

“If you add those things together, it’s just really incredible.”

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