PGA National Spa & Resort pays its respects to the legendary Arnold Palmer.
Palmer was a central figure at PGA National in the mid-1980s for his playing and course-design talents.
Arnold Palmer knew how to build courses as well as take them apart. Never was that more apparent than three decades ago at PGA National Resort & Spa. In early 1984, the King was ruling the 50-and-older circuit when he arrived at PGA National to play in the PGA Seniors Championship. Of course, Palmer didn’t just arrive anywhere. As soon as he walked out of PGA National's clubhouse, he was greeted by his legion of Arnie’s Army fans who wanted his autograph, a picture and a chance to chat with the legend. Palmer didn’t disappoint. He shot a 69 on the Champion Course to tie Bob Toski, Doug Sanders and Jack Fleck for the first-round lead. Then Palmer produced the kind of magic his fans came to see. He made an eagle and seven birdies in the second round to fire a nine-under 63. It wasn’t just the course record at the Champion, it was the course record by five shots! The 63 also broke the tournament record and matched Gene Littler as the best score on the PGA Champions Tour. It also was Palmer’s best score in 18 years and gave him an eight-shot lead. “Certainly, you get pumped up when you have a round like this,” Palmer said. “The conditions I felt were ideal, but I was making the shots. I can’t recollect when I had a round like this. Maybe in my dreams.” The weekend almost proved to be a nightmare, however, when a cold front dropped the temperatures into the 40s with heavy winds. Palmer struggled to a 79 in the third round – almost a shot per hole higher – but he maintained a two-shot lead over defending champion Don January. Palmer worked out his swing issues and made four early birdies in the final round to jump to a six-shot lead. That gave him breathing room to make three late bogeys and still win by two shots over January and earn the $35,000 first prize. “I was glad to come out strong,” Palmer said. “Nobody wants to shoot a course record and not win.” Palmer wasn’t just making birdies that week; he also was finalizing plans for his new course – The General – that would open in a few months at PGA National. The General was known for its risk-reward strategies – no surprise there, considering Palmer’s gambling style – and also being fair enough to accommodate high-handicappers. In 2006, Palmer did a total renovation and PGA National officials honored him by re-naming the course The Palmer. The course continued to allow golfers to take chances, just as his namesake did throughout his career. “It’s an emotional experience for many of our members and our resort guests to play on a course that’s named after Mr. Palmer,” PGA National Members Club general manager James Gelfand said. “I had the pleasure of spending some time with him during the renovation. And last year, 14 of us went to Latrobe (PA) in September and spent two days with him in his office, in his warehouse, playing, dining. Such an amazing experience.” In addition to his victory in 1984, Palmer also finished third at PGA National in the 1982 Senior PGA Championship, fifth in 1988 and had three other top-20 finishes. By Golf Writer Craig Dolch for PGA National Resort & Spa
The Palmer course
Named after its designer, Arnold Palmer, this course is one of the more forgiving at PGA National Resort from tee to fairway, known as a risk/reward game. The open fairways and larger “Champion Bermuda” greens can be quite accommodating and invite players to take a chance if they dare – as golfers are not overly penalized for missing the fairway or primary rough on most holes here. There is a considerable amount of undulation through the fairway, presenting the opportunity for uneven lies and creative shot-making. The Palmer has a great series of finishing holes, with the 18th being one of the most scenic par 5s on the property.