When I was scheduled to cover the opening of Arnold Palmers restaurant in La Quinta, California it gave me a pleasant familiar feeling. As a kid growing up around tour stops in the early 60s Arnold was more than just the most popular golfer of all time. He was like a favorite uncle, always giving that warm smile, never forgetting your name and sharing a few moments genuinely interested in your life. While our interaction has lessened over the years, its still the same easy connection.
I was assigned to put together a feature about the restaurant opening for Golf Central, including a quick talk with Arnold. When I got to the restaurant, I met Arnolds business partner, David Chapman. David is the sweat and the passion behind the restaurant. Hes also its heart. He told me a story about his first trip to Augusta as a preteen. The youngster immediately set out to find his hero and has followed every move since. Over the years hes become a virtual warehouse of all things Arnold. I have a sneaking suspicion that he opened the restaurant because he ran out of room for Palmerobilia, but thats a different story.
David gave me a tour of the restaurant, from the short par-3 hole out front to the 10,000 square foot putting green off of the main bar to the three rooms named after the Major Championships which Arnold captured. I knew my feature would have to be longer than the assigned three minutes. When Arnold arrived we chatted about The Golf Channel, each of our families and a number of different topics. Eventually we got to the business at hand. I had seen so many of the pictures in the restaurant before and heard all of the stories, but I wanted to have Arnold tell me a little about these artifacts which had become so familiar to me. He agreed to take me on a tour so we fired up the camera and got underway.
We began in the Open Championship room and talked about the origin of the term Grand Slam in relation to golf. He and Bob Drum used it on the way to the Open in 1960 after Arnold had won the Masters and U.S. Open that year. In bridge a Grand Slam is when a team wins all 13 tricks in a hand. Arnold was looking for all 4 professional majors and Grand Slam was far catchier than Impregnable Quadrilateral which is how sportswriters referred to Bobby Jones amateur sweep in 1930. He also chatted about his caddied Tip Anderson, his two victories in 1961 and 1962, and his final appearance in 1995. The Scots have always honored those who furthered their game, and no one did so more than Arnold. The admiration and respect was mutual.
After the Open Championship we stepped into the Masters room. There were two large pictures of the 1964 Masters, and since my dad played with him in the final round that year, we chatted about Arnolds final major championship victory. For the first time I heard him tell the story about his offer to help my father on the 72nd hole that year. Not that there was anything he could have done, but dad was battling Nicklaus for second and Arnolds offer must have certainly helped.
I wont ruin the story by telling you my fathers response, but it was priceless. We also talked about Arnolds win in 1958, his relationship with Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and the fun they all had at the Masters Club dinner. We glossed over his two memorable victories in 1960 and 1962, but since I had already shot 20 minutes of tape for a three minute feature, I figured it was time to get economical.
That lasted until we got to the U.S. Open room. Arnolds lone victory came in 1960 at Cherry Hills. He told the famous story about playing well but finding himself seven back on Saturday between the final two rounds. At lunch he was looking to Bob Drum for some sympathy, which would have been a first for the Drummer. Bob threw a typical line at him and Arnold stormed off, hit some practice balls and drove the first green on the way to a record tying 30 on the front nine.
After that story he began talking about U.S. Open losses. His take on the three Opens he lost in playoffs was very interesting, and something I hadnt heard him say before. He also told a story about making a late charge in 1973 at Oakmont. He was close to home, with the gallery on his side, looking to make up for the 1962 playoff loss to Jack Nicklaus when he came to the 12th green, looked at the leader board and saw that Johnny Miller had posted perhaps the greatest round in golf history. Millers 63 took the wind out of Arnolds sails in his last good chance at a U.S. Open title.
After the U.S. Open room we wandered around the restaurants other chambers. Arnold told me his thoughts about the U.S. Amateur, and whether it should still be considered a major. He chatted about the Ryder Cup and its importance to the game, his mothers influence on his career and his fear of flying, which led to his pursuit of a pilots license and aviation records.
In the end, my small Golf Central feature was turned into a thirty minute show thanks to Arnold sharing his time. About twenty more minutes ended up on the cutting room floor. It was a walk down memory lane for me, with a few insights Id never heard before. Im hoping it will be an interesting half hour for our viewers, spending time with one of the games true icons.