Arnold Palmer leaves an Eagle legacy
EAGLE — Arnold Palmer’s passing last week generated headlines worldwide. Palmer transcended the game of golf. People who know nothing about birdies and bogeys know his name. Following his death, at age 87 on Sept. 25, tributes poured in for The King from around the globe.
While he was one of the most successful golfers ever, Palmer’s charisma and generosity were as much a part of his legacy as his game. One part of that Palmer legacy lives on in Eagle.
Arnold Palmer Design Co. was the course architect for the Eagle Ranch Golf Course and many locals fondly remember the day The King came to town for a grand opening of the facility.
Nobody remembers that day — Aug. 5, 2001 — better than Jeff Boyer, Eagle Ranch director of golf. He was nervous to show off the course, nervous about the logistics of the day and nervous to meet one of his heroes.
“None of that matter once he came because he was so gracious,” said Boyer.
Boyer acted as Palmer’s caddy while he played the front nine. In addition to The King, his partner Ed Seay came out for the event. Boyer recalled he spent the day chasing the golf cart, but Palmer was always patient. “He didn’t care if he was standing there waiting for a club for five minutes.”
There was an enthusiastic gallery that followed Palmer around the course.
“If he took a step, people clapped but what I noticed was he was constantly saying, ‘thank you,’” said Boyer.“I have always been a fan of his and I became so much more of a fan when he came out here that day. He went from being one of my favorites to being my all-time favorite, for sure.”
Eagle Ranch Course Superintendent Derek Rose also fondly remembers that day, especially Palmer’s approach on the ninth hole.
“He hit his first shot into the water and said, “Ed, give me another ball,’” said Rose. “He hit three in the lake before he hit one about 3 feet from the pin.”
That was an embodiment of a popular golf philosophy — hitting until you’re happy.
Palmer made some other folks happy with that approach. After he finished out the hole, one of the maintenance staff members dived into the water to grab one of the balls from a Palmer missed shot.
“The crowd loved it,” said Rose.
Photos and autographs
Boyer said Palmer was happy to pose for photos that day and he generously shared autographs. He particularly seemed to enjoy lining up with the Eagle Ranch Golf maintenance crew.
“I think that is a testament to him that he enjoyed posing with the staff,” said Boyer.
Palmer also seemed to enjoy himself during his warm up when a crowd gathered at the driving range to watch.
“I remember him saying ‘I think I found something!’ while he was out there,” said Rose.
At that time, Palmer was in his 70s, but he could still place his shots in a tight grouping around the various distance markers.
Boyer said before he played the course, the first thing Palmer wanted to do was take a look at the layout of hole 12. The newly opened course was having issues with the playability of that hole and The King wanted to offer his thoughts.
Boyer and Rose noted that playability is often cited as the signature of Palmer-designed course. That description certainly holds true for Eagle Ranch.
“This course lends itself to the most skilled player on the planet and the novice,” said Boyer. “When you hit a good shot here you are rewarded for it .”
In a sense, Palmer’s personality is reflected in the gracious course.
Golf Tips from Palmer
Way before Eagle Ranch Golf Course, Palmer was already familiar with Eagle County. He had played other courses in the valley and he had a number of local friends. Back in 1968, he agreed to present a junior golf camp. The Arnold Palmer Junior Golf Academy was a week-long event held at a vacant field in Eagle-Vail.
Eagle Public Works Director Dusty Walls was just a young teenager at the time and he was hired to shag balls once the camp ended for the day. He had finished his work and was messing around, hitting golf balls with a baseball bat, when a gentleman came over and handed him a golf club.
“He told me to use the club instead of a baseball bat because the balls would go further,” said Walls. The fellow then showed him how to grip a club and taught him how to swing it.
“He was really nice, but I was just a young kid and I didn’t know him from anybody,” said Walls.
He later learned that the guy who had offered the impromptu golf lesson was Palmer.
Today Walls is an avid golfer, and he knows its a pretty crazy thing that he was introduced to the sport by The King.
“It took 20 or 30 years for what he showed me to really sink in,” Walls said.
And every time Walls, and hundreds of other duffers, step into the Eagle Ranch Clubhouse there’s a great reminder of Palmer. In an alcove off the pro shop, Boyer’s caddy vest — complete with Palmer’s signature — from the 2001 grand opening visit is displayed. There’s also a collection of photos and a note from Palmer.
So while he is gone, Palmer’s presence lives on at Eagle Ranch Golf Course. Long live The King.