Arnold Palmer Leaves Golf Footprint at Oglebay
‘The King’ is remembered locally
WHEELING — It seems everyone that had the opportunity to meet or interact with Arnold Palmer has a story to tell. That’s the way the golfing legend wanted it, according to Oglebay Foundation Chairman Randy Worls.
”He was exactly what you thought he was whether it was on TV or off the course,” Worls said Monday, a day after it was announced Palmer had passed away at the age of 87. ”When he announced the course at Oglebay, we took him out to show him where the first tee would be. He was walking across the putting green and there were a couple guys standing there who said ‘you are Arnold Palmer.’
”He said ‘yes’. And they asked him to sign their ball and the autograph took up the entire golf ball.”
Palmer brought the game of golf into the mainstream, making it popular during a time in which baseball and football were alone at the top of the professional sports food chain. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem told the Associated Press there would be no modern-day PGA Tour without ‘The King.’
Worls recalled the first time Palmer made an appearance in the area, which was 1960 — the year he captured the Masters for the second time. Palmer agreed to play in an exhibition for the Junior League of Wheeling.
”The deal was, he gave them the first $300 of ticket sales,” Worls said. ”Then he got the first $1,500 of what was made and they got the second $1,500.
”They split everything else.”
But it was in 1997, the same year he was diagnosed prostate cancer that was caught early, that Palmer began to cement his legacy in the Ohio Valley. It was announced then that the Arnold Palmer Design Corporation would build a course at Oglebay.
”We paid a fee for them to design the course and we wanted a ‘name’ architect,” Worls said.
After the completion of the course, which opened in 2000, Palmer played a nine-hole exhibition and then stayed for dinner.
”When he finished, he turned to us and said ‘I want you to make it an Arnold Palmer Signature Course,’ ” Worls said. ”He basically gave us an $850,000 contribution.
”He was a complete gentleman. A couple times I walked into rooms where he was. He would come in, shake my hand and say ‘good to see you.’ ”
Worls spoke at length about several instances in which Palmer showed his character. Like the time the golf great was in town to describe the course layout.
”He was going over to meet the people personally. A lady stopped him and they talked for 6-7 minutes,” Worls said. ”Two days later I got a certified check… from that lady.
”She said ‘my husband and I have watched him on TV and just love him, and he took the time to come chat.’ ”
Then there was the time Palmer stood on Worls’ back porch and had 100 pictures taken.
”I sent them to him and he personalized every one,” Worls said.
Worls said the addition of the Palmer Course has certainly benefited Oglebay during the years. It’s the linchpin for traveling golf enthusiasts.
”It became the main magnet,” Worls said. ”The Palmer Course has been the key to building our golf package.
”Bringing in golf packages is very important for us, because players come and stay overnight.
”Palmer was the guy that made golf a business, and he has made a lot of money for a lot of guys.”
For Wheeling resident Stuart Bloch, a former president of the United States Golf Association and longtime Palmer friend, just lending his name to a course has had a major impact on the area.
”When Oglebay hired him to design the course I was delighted,” he said. ”It has given Oglebay a stronger reputation in the golf world.
”His architecture business was very successful, but there has never been a personality like Arnold.”
As far as what Palmer meant to the game of golf nationally, Bloch says that is immeasurable.
”Professional golf wouldn’t be the same without him,” Bloch said. ”They just completed the Tour Championship last weekend and they were playing for a $35M purse.
”Sam Snead didn’t make that in his career, and he won 80 tournaments.”
Thad Obecny II, one of the area’s most accomplished amateur golfers, said it was a privilege to play the course growing up. Speaking from Coastal Carolina University where he attends school and is on the golf team, Obecny fondly recalled rounds at Palmer.
”That was our home course when I played for Wheeling Park. I have probably played it 40 or 50 times,” Obecny said. ”It’s one of my favorite courses in the state and it’s challenging (because of) the different lies you get and the green complexes.”
Obecny believes most his age don’t have a true appreciation for Palmer’s talent, which produced seven major titles and 62 victories overall.
”You have to trust history,” he said. ”He was one of the best — better than Tiger Woods, in my opinion.
”He was always an inspiration to me and I always wanted to be like him.
”You don’t have to watch football to know who Tom Brady is. And you don’t have to watch golf to know who Arnold Palmer is.”
Worls said Palmer’s place in the game’s history is secure.
”Talk to any pro player, even the youngest ones, they will all agree that Palmer put them in place to make these million-dollar purses,” he said. ”He changed golf.”
Especially in the Ohio Valley.