Like everyone else in the golf business, I became a huge Arnold Palmer fan early on. My first encounter with Arnold Palmer was in 1976 at the PGA Championship at Congressional CC where I was a PGA Rules Observer on the 16th hole. Palmer had long since been surpassed by Jack Nicklaus as the world’s greatest golfer, but Arnold still had the biggest gallery. In the second round, Arnold’s tee shot came to rest a few inches from a sprinkler head in the middle of the fairway. Even though as an Observer, I had absolutely no authority to do so, I immediately ran out and informed him that he was entitled to a free drop from that lie. After all, it was Arnold Palmer! He knew I did not have the authority to make a ruling, but rather than embarrass me in front of the crowd, he gave me a big smile, put his arm around my shoulder and said, “I think your right son, but we better call Max just to make sure.” (Max was Max Elbin, President of the PGA of America and head Rules Official for the Championship). While we waited for Max, Arnold joked with me and his fellow competitors Joe Inman and J.C. Snead and thanked me for working the event. Palmer had a natural way of making everyone feel important and I became an even bigger fan!
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Arnold Palmer had flown to Norfolk and rented a helicopter which he then flew to Bay Creek with Dick Foster as his passenger. They landed on the range tee and we all went out to the 3rd hole to shoot a promotional video. When we finished, the terror attacks were all over the news and all aircraft were grounded. Arnold left the helicopter and he and Dick climbed into my car and we drove back to the airport where Dick had left his car. The following story was told to me by Dick Foster. Since the airport was closed, the always thoughtful Arnold suggested since it was Dick’s birthday that they go somewhere to celebrate. As Dick drove, passing cars noticed Arnold in the passenger seat and by the time they arrived at Dockside Restaurant, an entourage of about 20 cars had pulled in behind them. Arnold was quickly recognized as soon as he entered and created quite a stir. When he came out of the Men’s Room, an old fellow sitting at the bar stopped him and asked for an autograph, telling Arnold, “You’re my favorite golfer of all time, Mr. Nicklaus!” Arnold didn’t correct the man, he simply signed the autograph and said, “Thank you very much, sir,” with a wink and a smile.