WHEN ARNIE MET WINNIE
Golf has never been the same – by William Kelly
Arnold Palmer recently dedicated a park to his late wife Winnie, granting her wish that the land remain undeveloped, and epitomizing a love story that continues to enamor the game of golf. (1)
When and where they met became an historic occasion, and their adventures together on the U.S. PGA golf tour, which attracted millions of new fans to the game, added an everlasting love story to the legacy of the game.
The time and place are set in stone – September 1952 – at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, Fred Waring’s Pocono, Pennsylvania resort (2), but it was social circumstances and the state of the game of golf at the time that would create a situation that would change the nature of the game forever.
Three local players with strong ties to Jersey Shore were there at the time - Howard Everett, a great amateur, and Atlantic City / Mays Landing Country Club professionals Stan Dudas and Ron Ward, each giving a unique perspective to the situation.
Howard Everett worked at Shawnee as a publicist for Fred Waring, a big band leader whose popular radio show featured the orchestra playing live from his resort, Shawnee-on-the Delaware. Waring’s annual golf tournament was the social event of the season, and it was Everett’s job to make it a success, but nobody could have predicted what transpired.
Howard Everett is a throwback to another era when the best players were amateurs, and he knew Palmer from playing against him in match play during the 1948 Pennsylvania Amateur (Everett defeated Palmer, lost to Art Wall).
"I invited Palmer to Shawnee before he won the Amateur," Everett recalled in an interview shortly before he died. Palmer later acknowledged that he had previously declined invitations to Fred Waring’s tournament because he couldn’t afford to go, but after winning the national amateur championship, and having a steady job selling paint, he made Shawnee his first tournament as the new champion.
"And that’s when he met Winnie," said Everett, "and so I was in the thick of the beginning of that romance. But the story goes back much further than that. It all goes back to Atlantic City."
Everett was known for playing out of Manufacturers Hanover club in suburban Philadelphia, but he lived in a house next to the old practice fairway at the Atlantic City Country Club, and was close friends with club owner Leo Fraser.
In 1950 Bucky Worsham was the pro at Atlantic City, and Arnold Palmer was a seaman stationed at the Cape May Coast Guard base, not far away.
Palmer had been close friends with Bucky’s younger brother Buddy Worsham, who came from a family of fine golfers (Brother Lew won the 1947 U.S.Open). Arnie and Buddy Worsham both went to Wake Forest on golf scholarships and were roommates, but when Buddy died suddenly in a car accident, Palmer quit school and enlisted in the Coast Guard.
While stationed at Cape May, Palmer laid out his first course (3) and played at a number of Jersey Shore courses, including the Wildwood Country Club, Somers Point-Ocean City (now Greate Bay) and Atlantic City Country Club, where Bucky Worsham, the older brother of his late best friend, was the pro.
At Atlantic City Palmer played in the annual Sonny Fraser tournament, a popular mid-amateur event (won by Sonny Fraser, Dr. Cary Middlecoff, Julious Boros, et al.) that Everett had won a record six times.
As Howard Everett said, it all goes back to Atlantic City.
ATLANTIC CITY & SHAWNEE
There was always a strong affinity between the Atlantic City Country Club and Shawnee. The Shawnee amateurs played Atlantic City every year. They put up a memorial plaque and planted a tree out by the front door of the club next to the trolley bell. And at the end of the Tap Room, above the bay window that overlooks the course, there is an old, brown panoramic photo of the old Shawnee.
While Atlantic City was built in 1897, Shawnee was built a decade later in 1907, the first course designed by famed golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast, one of the players with the group that coined the term "birdie" at Atlantic City, and one of the most prolific and influential of the early American golf course designers.
Shawnee is a dramatic 27 hold course, with 24 of the holes on an island on the Delaware River. The Buckwood Inn was built a few years after the course was laid out, making it a popular resort, and in 1913 Shawnee was the host of one of the most popular golf tournaments in the country, which attracted most of the U.S. Open field.
Johnny McDermott, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion was the 20 year old Atlantic City Country Club pro, the first native born American and at 19, the youngest and still the youngest to have ever won the U.S. Open national golf championship. The tournament at Shawnee was held a week before the 1913 U.S. Open, which that year was at the Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts.
McDermott and all the top golfers played in the Buckwood tournament, which McDermott won handily, defeating Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, arguably the two greatest golfers to ever play the game, by eight strokes. McDermott then gave a speech and promised that the U.S. Open trophy would not leave the country that year. That speech, which reporters wired around the world, put golf on the front page of every newspaper in the country and English speaking world, and set up the "Greatest Game Ever Played," won by local Brookline amateur Francis Ouimet. (4)
That game sparked a letter promoting the idea of creating a professional golf association. This letter was cited by Rodman Wanamaker in his remarks at the 1938 PGA Championship at Shawnee (won by local pro Paul Runyan over Sam Snead), (5) and for whom the PGA Champion Wanamaker Trophy is named after.
In 1943 longtime Shawnee owner C.C. Worthington sold the Buckwood Inn and the golf course to big band leader Fred Waring, who renamed it the Shawnee Inn. (6)
FRED WARING AND STAN DUDAS
That’s where Stan Dudas comes in. Dudas, another witness to when Arnie met Winnie, quit school in the ninth grade and left his Simpson, Pennsylvania coal mining hometown an aimless runaway, until he was picked up hitchhiking by Fred Warring.
Warring talked Dudas into going with him to Shawnee, where Dudas started out working as a bus boy in the dining room but quickly gravitated to the pro shop. There he earned tips for cleaning clubs and learned lessons in golf and life from Harry Obitz, the pro at the time, and his assistant Spec Hannon. Spec had been a caddy for Walter Hagen and Harry and Spec taught Dudas to play golf. After a few years Fred Warring thought he was good and sent young Dudas, then only seventeen, out on the winter pro tour, paying his way.
"I was young, the first time I was on my own," recalled Dudas, who passed away in March.(7)"I was with great guys – Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, the top players on the tour at the time. Demaret was a real colorful character and we got to be buddies right away."
Of course Jimmy Demaret was the last guy you wanted your seventeen year old to pal around with. As the first three-time Masters champion with 31 PGA tour wins, Demaret was also one of the most flamboyant players to ever play the game. Although he broke the scoring record at the 1948 US Open and still lost to fellow Texan Ben Hogan, Demaret was best known as a flashy dresser and the life of the tour party for over twenty years. (8) So it’s a matter of opinion on how much Jimmy Demaret helped or hurt Stan Dudas on the tour.
Returning to Shawnee to work every summer, Stan Dudas was a young, but major player in the golf game at Shawnee when Arnold Palmer arrived to play in this special tournament.
PALMER AT THE YOUNG MASTERS - "FRED WARING’S ANNUAL SHINDIG"
As Howard Everett recalled, "At the time I was working publicity for Fred Warring at Shawnee-on-the Delaware, as they called it, and I had invited Arnie ahead of time, to participate in this tournament that Warring called the Young Masters. I had invited him before he won the U.S. Amateur, and Fred Warring kidded me and said that since he won the championship he probably wouldn’t come to our tournament. I said not only would he come, but he was bringing his boss (Cleveland paint dealer Bill Wehnes) and his boss’ wife, and I told him who they were."
After winning the national amateur Palmer said he intended to stay an amateur, like Ouimet and Everett, and looked forward to playing in the next Walker Cup in England.
In his autobiography, A Golfer's Life (9) Palmer wrote that he hadn’t decided to turn pro, even after winning the U.S. Amateur. "I like selling paint," Palmer said, "I have no intention of turning professional. I am very happy and my new title automatically puts me on the Walker Cup team."
"At the moment I said this, I really meant it. With a six-month apprenticeship required by the PGA Tour, a period during which you could take no official prize money, I simply couldn’t imagine how I could make a living on the tour. So I pointed out that the Walker Cup would be contested in England the next spring and I couldn’t wait to go there. I also note that my next golfing goal was the British Amateur crown."
"They say lightning never strikes the same spot twice, but my tale is proof that it sometimes can strike you again when you least expect it to. In this case, lighting of a very different nature struck me within days of hoisting the Amateur trophy. My words – to say nothing of the direction of my life – abruptly changed."
"Mother hadn’t been back home in Latrobe for more than a few days when she got a phone call from Fred Waring, the celebrated bandleader of the Pennsylvanians, inviting me to play in his annual golf tournament, the Waite Memorial, at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware. Fred had invited me to his annual golf shindig before, but I could never afford to go. Now that I was the new National Amateur champion I was more anxious to go, but I’d been away from my job so much of the summer I felt bad asking Bill Wehnes for yet another week off."
"Bill solved the problem by telling me, ‘…we’ll all drive down there.’"
Besides publicists Howard Everett and Stan Dudas, Ron Ward was another young golf pro at Shawnee who would later become the pro at Atlantic City and Wildwood Country Clubs, and is now at Mays Landing Country Club.
Ward recalls, "… I got to Shawnee on June 2nd of 1952, and I left there about the middle of October, 1960, and then I became the pro at Atlantic City, April 1st, 1961," so Ward was new at Shawnee when Palmer arrived.
Ward recalled that, "Howard Everett was kind of a general manager. Fred Waring liked him. I always said that Howard Everett was one of the original Arnold Palmers, because as an amateur he was really good, and he was a good looking guy, and he could really wack the hell out of that ball."
As for how Arnie met Winnie, Ward says, "Here’s what happened. Arnold Palmer was working for a guy named Bill Wehnes, who was in the paint business. And Bill used to come to Shanwnee with his beautiful wife. Palmer worked for Bill as a paint seller. So Bill came to Shawnee, and Fred Waring had this big invitational tournament that always started the day after Labor Day. So Bill Wehnes wanted to bring Arnold to play and he had him entered in the tournament, but then Arnold won the U.S. Amateur at the Detroit Country Club on that Saturday, increasing interest in the tournament at Shawnee the following week."
"So anyway, Arnie wins the national amateur out of the blue," recalls Ward. "He wasn’t expected to win it, he wasn’t favored like Tiger Woods was, but he won the national championship and then comes to play this little tournament at Shawnee."
As Ward recalls the situation, "Fred Warning, who owned the place, had a daughter named Dixie, and Dixie’s buddy was Winnie Walzer. The Walzer family liked to hang around the club but they didn’t play golf. Mr. Walzer sold food, and him and Mr. Waring became friends. So that’s what Winnie was doing there. She used to hang around the pool a lot. I never did see her on the golf course, but she was a cute little girl."
At first Palmer drifted towards the other young players, including Stan Dudas and Ronnie Ward, but as Ward recalls, "There were these cute girls around – Fred’s daughter Dixie was a cuttie pie, and her friend Winnie was as cute as a bell," and it was Winnie Walzer who caught Palmer’s eye and got his attention.
Palmer remembers the moment quite clearly. "The tournament festivities began over Labor Day weekend. We arrived on Monday and checked into the Shawnee Inn, a beautiful rustic lodge abuzz with tournament activities. I immediately went out on the golf course to play a practice round, and as I was coming back into the inn I saw a couple of pretty girls coming down the stairway that led to the main lobby. One of them was Dixie Waring, Fred’s daughter. But it was the quieter, prettier, dark-haired one that really caught my eye. She had smoky good looks, and her demeanor had a clear sheen of class."
As Stan Dudas recalled it, they played some golf and then mingled around the club until at some point Palmer just blurted out, "Who is That girl?," obviously speaking about Winnie Walzer.
"When Arnie met Winnie, it was love at first sight," said Everett, but there still had to be formal introductions.
"Fred had a secretary, Cora Ballard, who was good at things like that," said Ward, "and she probably introduced them formally."
That’s how Palmer remembers it, describing Waring’s longtime secretary, Cora Ballard as "a whisky-voiced redhead," who "paused and introduced me to the two girls she was chaperoning for the week, the tournament’s official ‘hostesses,’ and I shook hands with Winifred Walzer."
"What I guess I failed to notice, smitten as I was with her, was that almost everybody around us save (her father) Shube Walzer (who was back home in Coopersburg, by the way) was shamelessly promoting the match – and all these years later it amuses me how many people claim they had the critical hand in bringing us together."
"If you don’t have anything to do," Palmer said to her, ‘why don’t you come out and watch the golf.’"
"Perhaps I will," she replied with a smile.
"I think I learned she and Dixie Waring were old chums from Shawnee, and I must have been thinking Winnie must be a rich girl from Philadelphia’s Main Line. She was so refined and polished. Little did I know she was really from the village of Coopersburg, just outside Bethlehem, and though her father, Shube, was successful enough in the canned foods business to afford a summer cottage at Shawnee, the Walzers were by no means wealthy in the sense of Philadelphia wealth. She only hobnobbed with girls from the Main Line. Winnie was nineteen, studying interior design at Brown University’s affiliated design school at Pembroke College, aiming to be an interior decorator. Unbeknownst to me she was a veteran of Shawnee’s social swirl and had even dated some of the most eligible bachelor golfers, including my old adversary Harvie Ward."
"I don’t think I saw her at the dinner that was held that evening, but I was pleased when I glanced over the next afternoon and saw her watching from the edge of the eleventh fairway. Years later I learned that was purely an accident – she was really en route to watch her ‘Uncle Fred’ Waring play golf. Fred, who was in the foursome directly behind mine, was deeply fond of Winnie and almost jealously protective of her. Anyway, I sauntered over and asked if she ‘planned to tag along’ and made small talk with her and wondered if she would be interesting in sitting with me at the dinner dance scheduled for later that evening. She said she would, and I went on about my business with a new spring in my step."
"Winnie, I began to learn that night, was unlike any girl I ever met, not just pretty and comfortable in almost any social situation, but also smart, well traveled (she’d just come home from a big European trip), engagingly independent minded, even something of a would-be social rebel. The only girl in a close-knit Moravian family that included two brothers and a host of boy cousins, she had a grandfather who was a minister and uncles who were college professors. She had grown up absorbing the blows from baseball games and kick-the-can with her male cousins, but also kept her father’s books from an early age. She had pluck and ambition, and she didn’t suffer vain or pretentious fools easily. Her mother, Mary, was something of a sweet social butterfly who may have entertained hopes that Winifred would become a proper debutante in due course, but feisty Winnie Walzer wanted none of that…..We became inseparable for the rest of the week,…"
The electricity between Arnie and Winnie didn’t go unnoticed and even played into the odds on the tournament.
"Arnie’s walking around holding Winnie’s hand, and I’m betting against him in the tournament," recalls Ward, "because my boss the golf Harry Obits always said, ‘Don’t mix girls and golf.’ So during the tournament I bet against Arnie. But he could hold Winnie’s hand and still beat everybody, and he won it."
"Nobody had to bring us together or promote the match," notes Palmer. "By Friday night my amateur partner, Tommy Sheehan, and I were leading the tournament, but more important, I was completely taken with Winnie Walzer and a plan was forming in my brain."
Palmer: "But that first evening at the dinner dance she got a taste of the unexpected impact sudden ‘fame’ can have on a young man’s life. I happened to be dancing with an older golf professional’s wife when she suddenly seized my shoulder and whispered damply into my ear, "Take me away from all this. Let’s me and you run away together!’"
"The poor women sounded desperate – and frighteningly serious. She had four children and a swell husband, and she scared the daylights out of me. So I slunk back to the table. After a while, I told Winnie what had happened, and she laughed. That was another thing I loved about Winnie Walzer, her robust and infectious laugh. She had a no-nonsense, down-to-earth way of placing everything in perspective, I was discovering, including alcohol-fueled dance floor confessions from older women. What I didn’t know then was that, despite our wonderful week of intimate conversation about family and golf and life in general, typically held after my rounds in the club bar where underage Winnie could sip her favorite Fitzgerald Old Fashions, come Friday night my beautiful escort was watching me go through the buffet line with more than casual interest…."
"At the dinner, I reached under the table and took her hand and said, ‘What would you think if I asked you to get married.?’"
"The question appeared to startle her, though only for a second or two. ‘Well, I don’t know. This is so sudden. Can I have a day to think about it?’ she replied."
"‘Not too long,’ I said to her. ‘I have places to go.’"
"I told her my grand plan: we would get married in the spring and use the Walker Cup tournament as our honeymoon. She assured me that her mother and aunts would love that romantic plan – as they did. She told me her father would probably grumble a lot but would eventually come around because he wanted his only daughter to be happy. For such a crack judge of character, she either overestimated her father’s capacity to appreciate romance or underestimated his contempt for unconventional suitors for his daughter. As it turned out, the last thing Shube Walzer wanted was his daughter marrying a golf bum, which is pretty much what he thought of all the tournament golfers in those days."
Winnie’s brother Marty Walzer recalls that Saturday in 1954 when he noticed his parents and 19 year old sister talking in their Coopersburg, Pennsylvania home. "I was 13," he said, "old enough to know that just from the way they were talking, it was serious. The previous Tuesday night, Arnold, who had just won the United States Amateur, had met Winnie at a party for a golf tournament at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, and now she was telling my mother and father that on Friday night Arnold had proposed to her."
"I suppose it was no surprise that word quickly leaked out about the proposal." Palmer himself recalls. "Winnie quickly informed her mother, who was happy as expected, and her mother broke the news to her father – who wasn’t remotely happy to hear about it. Shube had heard such declared intentions from his headstrong daughter before and, I think, felt love would run its course in due time. At the final presentation dinner, Fred Waring startled everybody by announcing that I wasn’t only taking the tournament trophy home from Shawnee-on-the-Delawere, but a fiancée as well."
But it wasn’t that easy. Like all young love, there was a bit of uncertainty after Palmer left Shawnee for Florida, where his father accompanied him to the Miami Open.
In Florida with his father, Deacon Palmer later said Arnie couldn’t stop thinking about that girl. As Everett explained it, "In Florida, after working and living in a hotel room for a few days the Deak said, ‘Arnie, I think you got this sewed up, so why are you so downhearted and out of sorts?’"
"And I got this from the Deacon himself, he said, ‘Dad, I will never feel right until I go back to Shawnee and see whether I want to marry that girl.’"
Palmer remembers it a little bit differently, as he recalls, "…I asked Pap to accompany me to the first event, the Miami Open….I missed the cut and was boiling mad at myself, I returned to the motel only to find a message from my old girlfriend, the Cleveland model; she was in town working and wanted to get together for a few drinks. That seemed like just the remedy I needed, so I went out and returned sometime after midnight only to find Pap waiting up for me – and as mad at me as I’ve ever seen him. Through clenched teeth he asked me where the hell I’d been and I told him truthfully – out for some drinks and a few laughs with an old friend, nothing too serious, all pretty innocent."
"’You’re engaged and you’ve got an obligation to that girl back in Pennsylvania,’ he snarled at me."
" ‘Do you love her?’ he snapped,….Then you better go get her and get married and get on with your business and quit screwing around like a college boy. Do you understand me?’ I did indeed."
"I was there working when Arnie came back to Shawnee," said Everett, "and took a lot of pictures of everyone. Stan Dudas was there, and Ronnie Ward, both later became Atlantic City pros. We played a round with Fred Warring and Palmer, and of course Winnie was there and walked the whole 18 holes with us."
But things had changed in the meantime. For one, while Palmer won the money to buy Winnie an engagement ring by playing his boss and a few friends over three rounds at Pine Valley, he suddenly decided to turn pro.
While they were playing golf back at Shawnee, Stand Dudas suggested Palmer go to Bermuda and play in a tournament with him as an amateur, but Palmer said to Dudas, "No Stan, I’m going to turn pro." It was a startling announcement.
Palmer later explained that in order to earn enough money for an engagement ring for Winnie, he shot a remarkable 67, 69 and 68 in three rounds at Pine Valley, collecting enough money in bets from his boss and friends to buy a decent ring. But playing those three rounds at Pine Valley also gave him the confidence and the belief that he could make it on the pro tour, and the realization that he had to turn pro in order to support a family.
"It was while we were there in that ultimate golf terrarium (Pine Valley)," wrote Palmer, "that I had time to think about what Winnie and I were really up against. My salesman salary scarcely covered my own expenses, much less those of a married couple in need of a first house and possibly children in the near future…and as much as I liked the proposed scenario of a big church wedding in the spring and steaming off to England for the Walker Cup, in my heart I saw only one way for us to make it as man and wife. I would need to turn pro."
As Ron Ward points out, "Back in those days it was better to stay amateur because there wasn’t that much money in turning pro, so amateurs stayed amateurs, they didn’t turn pro."
But for a guy like Palmer, like Walter Hagan ahead of him, he could envision the ability to take his game to another level, and then take the game of golf to another level with him.
But how to break the news to Winnie? "…We met in the afternoon at the New Yorker Hotel," explains Palmer, " and – talk about a potentially bad omen – checked in just as some poor chap committed suicide by leaping from an upstairs window. A little later in the bar, still shaken, Winnie probably thought our plans were crashing too, when I informed her of my change in strategy – namely, that I’d decided to turn pro and that we should probably get married as soon as possible, certainly before the start of the new Tour season out west. England and the Walker Cup were out; the uncertain life of a Tour rookie’s bride was in."
"Her face fell, but she didn’t seem as upset as I thought she might be at this idea, though she needlessly pointed out that her father wasn’t going to like this news any better than the last."
''My mother was all for it,'' Marty Walzer said, ''but Dad had reservations. He came around eventually, but after Winnie and Arnold had their two daughters, Peggy and Amy, I remember Dad telling Arnold, 'You wait and see, you'll feel the same way I did.' ''
But at the time he was dead set against his only daughter getting married to a golf bum.
"My mother and Pap took an instant shine to Winnie when they met her the following week in Latrobe. Back in Coopersburg, the female family think tank already had big wedding plans well under way, but there was still no movement on the Shube Walzer front. Shube was tough customer, a successful businessman who loathed Roosevelt and the socially liberal policies of just about any other Democrat. Pap, on the other hand, was a strong Democrat and devoted Roosevelt man who thought the late president hung the moon. In some ways, the families hailed no just from different ends of Pennsylvania, but different ends of the planet."
So instead of getting married in a big church wedding with a reception with all their friends and family back at the country club, they eloped to Falls Church, Virginia, not far from the home of Arnold’s sister Cheech, where they were married.
As Palmer put it, "We spent our honeymoon night at a trucker’s motel off the Breezewood exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It wasn’t terribly romantic, and in retrospect, it makes me realize what a true gem I had found in Winifred Walzer. Here was this classy, educated, beautiful girl who risked her father’s eternal wrath and gave up her girlhood wedding dreams and goodness knows what else to follow a guy who’d never made a plugged nickel as a professional golfer."
And so they set out, hitched to a trailer, at the same time television started to broadcast tournaments. They slowly picked up Arnie’s Army, took golf to prime time and brought millions of new amateur players into the game, taking golf to another level of popularity.
And things have never been quite the same.
William Kelly is the author of Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club, and is currently writing The Flight of the Eagle on the growth of golf in America. He can be reached at Billykelly1@aol.com
1) Winnie's nature preserve. http://www.arnoldpalmer.com/allarnie/wpNature.aspx
2) Shawnee Innhttp://www.shawneeinn.com/default.aspx
3) Palmer’s First Course http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/palmers-first-course-in-cape-may.html
4) The Greatest Game, not the Greatest Movie http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/greatest-game-ever-played.html
5) Shawnee TodaySee: http://www.golfdigest.com/golfworld/2007/08/gw20070810stachura
6) Fred Waring bio http://www.parabrisas.com/d_waringf.php
7) Stan Dudas RIP http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/stan-dudas-rip.html
8) Jimmy Demarethttp://www.golfdigest.com/golfworld/special/masters/20000331billfields].
9) A Golfer’s Life (with James Dodson, Ballantine Books, NY, 1999)