Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arnold Palmer at Pine Valley 1954

Arnie Plays Pine Valley for the first time and earns Winnie's wing with 67-69-68

In 1954 Arnold Palmer took all bets going in and cleaned up. "I was about to be married. So I collected all the bets I could find. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost – it was far more money than I could afford.”


“Winnie assured me all would be well in time.”

“What was really missing, I quickly realized, was some material sign of my intentions – namely, an engagement ring.”

“Back in Cleveland, my old golf gang from Pine Ridge helped solve that problem. Art Brooks, Bill Wehnes, and Ed Preisler all chipped in a couple grand each to help me purchase a decent ring, and Bill even managed to get a good deal from a local jeweler. My salary didn’t pay me enough to afford even the payments on the ring, and I now had an $8,000 debt on top of everything else.”

“It was about this time that one of them proposed a weekend golf trip to Pine Valley. It would be a way, I realized, to maybe pay off my borrowings – or go even deeper into debt. Pine Valley, the famous George Crump layout that meandered through the scrub and sandy hills in the New Jersey pine barrens, was a place I’d always heard about and dearly wanted to play but had never had an opportunity to. Before I knew it, two foursomes were headed that way. On the drive down, the guys started telling me how ruthless Pine Valley was and how even I probably wouldn’t break 90 on it.”

“‘Ninety?’ I looked at Bill Wehnes incredulously.”

“’That’s right.’”

“Well, one thing led to another and I soon had half dozen wagers going, $20 nassaus with automatic presses and an intriguing side bet with Bill: for every stroke I was 70 or under, he’d pay me $100, and for every stroke I was 80 or over I’d pay him the same.”

“In retrospect it was pretty foolish. I could have really lost my shirt and been so indebted to the gang that I would never get out of Cleveland. But you’re only young and cocky and in love once, I suppose, and I had no doubt I could bring celebrated Pine Valley to heel.”

“Foolish thought number two, or so it appeared from the outset.”

“Day one, hole number one: I pull-hooked a 5-iron approach over the green into the bush, chipped over the green, and was forced to make a thirty-footer for bogey five.”

“Pine Valley certainly had my respect and full attention. I think Bill and the guys must have been mentally spending all of my money, and for a while I thought I was in big trouble.”

“Frankly, I’d never seen anything like the place, the way holes were integrated so beautifully into the rolling scrubby sand landscape. It looked wild and manicured. The greens were immaculate, with slopes so subtle or murderous I could see why so many famous pros had come there only to be reduced to screaming fits of despair. At nine, I made a bogey and shot 36 out, thanks to a flurry of much-needed birdies. Not bad – but still a long way to go.”

“The back nine treated me a little better. I holed a fifteen-footer for birdie on the tough finishing hole to card 67. That was four hundred Ben Franklins in my pocket. I cleaned up on all the nassaus and that night even cleaned up at gin rummy. The next two rounds I went 69 and 68, and by the time the weekend was through I had pocked nearly five grand, almost enough to pay off the ring.”

“It was while we were there in that ultimate golf terrarium 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 of 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.”

Re: Leo Fraser.

“In a nutshell, when Jack and Gardner’s coup d’etat happened…., at a time when I really did have some clout with PGA members, I saw an opportunity to serve as a bridge of sorts to a better world for everybody. But I chose a role that was far more in keeping with my values and personality.”

“Loe Fraser, a lifelong club professional who had many close friends, including me, on the Tour, had just taken office as President of the PGA. Leo was far more open-minded to the idea of a compromise and accommodation, and as much as anything else, his more flexible attitude stalled the alternative APG tour before it really got rolling. I remember going to see Leo at Atlantic City in late 1968 for a lengthy meeting, during which we discussed an idea that had been steadily growing in popularity. I was a leading proponent of a proposal to create a new players organization, a separate entity formally called the PGA Tour that would operate autonomously with a board composed of four players elected by the Tour, three businessmen, and the top three PGA of America officials.”

“Months of sometimes lively debate ensued, but Leo’s essential fairness, good humor, patience, and determination to serve the best interests of the professional game eventually won the day. The rebels abandoned their cause, and the crowing touch came when Joe Dey, the longtime executive director of the United States Golf Association and a man of impeccable credentials, was named first commissioner of the new Tournament Players Division of the PGA – which would soon evolve into the PGA Tour.”

“Joe’s presence gave the fledgling tour organization the instant credibility it needed. But more important, the birth of the new organization devoted expressly to fulfilling the needs and desires of professional tournament golf brought years of bitter feelings and acrimony to an end. We could finally get back to playing the game we all loved to play – instead of bickering about it. And, despite all the bickering, no one could ever do anything to completely diminish my sheer enjoyment at playing this marvelous game. I’d do it even if there was no money involved, and a lot of players share that view, as participation in the Ryder Cup, the President’s Cup, and, to a lesser extent, the World Cup suggests.”

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