By Herb Appenzeller
I remember the day I first saw Arnold Palmer hitting practice balls on the back nine of the old Wake Forest golf course. It was 1946, having just completed a rugged spring football practice, I picked up three clubs from the fieldhouse to play a few holes. There was this new student hitting ball after ball, but never playing a single hole at the course. I couldn’t imagine why someone would just hit balls without playing the course. After not winning an ACC golf tournament for several seasons, our athletic director, Jim Weaver, funded five scholarships for golf and found places in the Colonial Club for the golfers to live. Among those recruited were Bud Worsham and his best friend Arnold Palmer from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. As they began to win tournaments, the Wake students became excited and the Deacon golfers were on their way.
Unfortunately, Worsham was killed in an automobile accident and Palmer left soon after to join the U.S. Coast Guard for three years. When Arnie returned to Wake Forest after World War II the Deacons began to win tournaments and conference championships again just as Weaver had predicted. Wake Forest golf became a national power.
At the famed Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, a local newspaperman named the large contingency following Palmer “Arnie’s Army.” Years later I became one of “Arnie’s Army” at the Greater Greensboro Open when the PGA annually came to Greensboro. When Arnie acquired his first million-dollar jet I went to the local airport to admire it. Later on the 13th tee at Sedgefield, he looked over at me with the recognition of an old Wake Forest student-athlete. He never forgot his alma mater. He hosted a tournament each year for Wake Forest golf alums who were on the tour.
In 2000 my son Tom, a college coach, was thrilled when Arnold Palmer autographed a picture to give me, one of his last. Winnie Palmer was a designer of furniture, designing many of the pieces in their home. One of my wife Ann’s favorites was the Arnold Palmer desk, which is a tall desk used by architect’s and designers. I gave one of the last desks designed by Winnie to Ann for helping me with my writing and her decorating business. With several pictures from my son, and her desk, we have a shrine to Arnie in our office.
My sports management career was influenced by Palmer. He formed IMG, the first sports marketing company, along with Mark McCormack, and Arnie became the first professional golfer to earn $1 million. I developed the academic field of sports law and sports management at Guilford College and consulted with other colleges and universities to develop their sports law and risk management curriculums.
Several years ago, Arnold asked to meet some of his friends at Shorty’s grill on the old Campus in the town of Wake Forest. He asked that a message be sent out that he would arrive at Shorty’s at noon. True to his word, the door to Shorty’s opened at 12 noon and in walked Arnold. I was fortunate enough to have an invitation and so were those in the enthusiastic crowd.
When legendary Wake Forest football coach “Peahead” Walker retired to Charlotte, he called Dave Harris, his 1947 All-Southern team captain as well as the captain of the first Gator Bowl team in Jacksonville in 1947. He asked him over for a steak and when Dave looked around the room he realized there was only one picture on the wall — that of Arnold Palmer. Dave asked him where the pictures were of his football players and Coach Walker answered, “That is my fool’s picture. Everyday before practice I would put my shoes on as Arnold would pass by with his golf shoes and I would call over to him, ‘Why don’t you come out for football. I heard you were a top player. Why not join us and become an NFL player where you could make a fortune?’ So, that is my fool’s picture, and I know I was the fool:”
In 2006 Wake Forest was fortunate to win the Atlantic Coast Conference football title and play Louisville in the Orange Bowl. How appropriate to have the two “Kings” representing their alma maters at the coin toss, Arnold Palmer for Wake Forest and Muhammad Ali representing Louisville, both of whom passed away 10 years later in 2016.
Arnold Palmer passed away on Sept. 25, 2016 and I celebrated my 91st birthday on Sept. 28, 2016. A group of legends was honored to be asked to celebrate his life at his memorial service, and what a celebration there was of the legend— Arnie. Wake Forest University honored its most famous alumni with the only statue on campus.
The British playwright J.M. Barrie, who authored Peter Pan, wrote “God gives us memories so that we can have roses in December.” What a bouquet of roses were seen in that cathedral in Pennsylvania, where Arnold was eulogized by business and college friends and most of the golfing world.
Herb Appenzeller graduated from Wake Forest College in 1948. He earned his Master’s Degree from Wake Forest in 1951 and a Doctorate from Duke University in 1966. He has authored 28 books in the areas of sports law and sports and risk management. In addition to being inducted into eight sports halls of fame, in 2014 he received the highest order conferred by the state of North Carolina, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine.