Palmer, The People's Champion, Breaks Ground For New Center

November 17, 2005

By David Shefter, USGA

Far Hills, N.J. - Ever since he burst onto the national scene by winning the 1954 U.S. Amateur, Arnold Palmer has been the people's champion. His charisma, style of play and ability to connect to the public, made Palmer an icon, not just to those in the golf world, but to everyone in society.

The prospects of the new center could be found in a shovel -- grasped by Arnold Palmer -- full of dirt. (John Mummert/USGA)

Those endearing qualities made him the ideal choice for the USGA when it looked for a national chairman of its Members Program upon its creation in 1975. And it made him the perfect individual to attach a name for the renovation of the at Golf House.

On Thursday, the USGA held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Arnold Palmer Center For Golf History, a 20,000 square-foot addition to the existing building that is scheduled to open in early 2008. On hand for the festivities were Palmer, along with other dignitaries from the USGA that included current president Fred Ridley, executive director David Fay and Executive Committee member Jay Rains.

Each talked about the past and future of the USGA Museum, which is the oldest in the country dedicated to sports.

"It's like winning the [ ] Amateur, Open and the Senior Open all at once," said Palmer, describing his emotions of having his name attached to this project. "It's like I said to when he asked if I would consent to this I said, 'That's it. It's like winning another Open.'

"I'm very flattered. I don't think you can put words to how important it is to me as an individual. When I was a kid, it was my family and God and the USGA. That was kind of the way I was raised."

Shortly after the speeches were made to an assembled group of invited guests, USGA volunteers and staff, Palmer, Ridley, Fay and Rains simultaneously took shovels to a clump of dirt in front of the existing museum to conclude the ceremony.

The project itself has already received approval from local, county and state officials, and has completed the design development phase. The next step is construction documentation during which the detailed drawings necessary to construct the new center will be produced. Actual construction is slated to begin in 2006.

Related Information
  • Palmer Center Fact Sheet
  • Impetus For Palmer Center
  • Palmer Biography
  • Palmer Transcript
  • USGA To Expand Museum
  • The Arnold Palmer Center For Golf History will include a rotunda with skylight and clerestory to showcase the 13 original USGA National Championship trophies, approximately 5,000 square feet of gallery space to tell the history of the USGA championships and champions from 1895 to the present, a 1,000-square-foot research room, 5,000 square feet of collection storage rooms and offices for curatorial staff.

    "Mindful of Arnold Palmer's popularity throughout the world and to all of golf's greatest qualities, we are here today to honor him," said Ridley. "The will be the world's premier repository for significant historical artifacts, photographs, film and videos that will be used to create a dynamic atmosphere to celebrate the game's greatest champions and greatest moments in USGA history. The Center will also be a leading research facility for a study of the game's history. We also anticipate that this facility will be a key communications tool in its mission to promote and conserve the best interests of the game."

    While Palmer created so much history himself within the game, including a memorable comeback to win the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills with a final-round 65, he also was very acutely aware of golf's past. As a youngster growing up in Latrobe, Pa., he idolized and read about players such as Walter Hagen, Bob Jones and Ben Hogan.

    Palmer recalled a poignant moment after he won his first British Open title in 1961 at Royal Birkdale. One of the first phone calls he received was from Hagen, who had won four British Open titles between 1922 and '29. Palmer later would be a pallbearer at Hagen's funeral.

    "The future of golf is extreme," said Palmer, "and I can't emphasize it enough how important the USGA is to keep the integrity of the game as we have known it and how I have known it.

    After the ceremony, Arnold Palmer addresses media in the Museum's old merchandise room. The space will be implemented in the new Palmer Center. (John Mummert/USGA)

    "I just hope that we can convince all the young people who are coming into the game to have the respect for the game and this Association that they should have. The future of the game is something that we all have a great responsibility to protect."

    Toward the end of his speech, Fay recalled a Palmer story from a December evening 24 years ago. That year (1981) at Golf House, the USGA invited each of its champions from its past championship season to a dinner at the Museum. On a snowy night, Palmer, known for his punctuality, arrived at , an hour before the scheduled start of cocktails. It gave the USGA staff a rare opportunity to spend some quality one-on-one time chatting with that year's Senior Open champion.

    As he departed the premises around with a box of cheesecake in one arm and a bottle of "bubbly" in the other, he left one lasting impression on Fay.

    "He turned around and put on that smile and said, 'This has been great. I had a terrific time.' I'm sure once the Museum is completed that the visitors to it - without the cheesecake and champagne - will be saying much the same thing. This has been great. I had a terrific time."

     David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions and comments at

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