Arnold Palmer Is known as ‘The King’ for many reasons. He was king of the golf world for years, being the first man to reach a million dollars in earnings; and having won seven majors throughout his career, including the Masters four times fbetween 1958 to 1964); the U.S. Open in I960; and the British Open in 1961 and 1962. He is the king of charity, too, having won numerous humanitarian and golf achievement awards over the years. He is also king of the business world, as he’s an excellent entrepreneur, helping found the Golf Channel and owning successful car dealerships
Arnold’s choice in his Cadillac dealerships is a perfect fit for him because, in reality, he’s the Cadillac of golf. He has set the pace that Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have followed and driven themselves to break. Arnold was very enjoyable and informative, and very passionate about aviation throughout the course of this interview.
What was your first car that you owned?
You don’t want to go back that far.
I do if you do.
Well, the first car I had was a two-door Ford sedan, and it was a 1949.
Okay. Did you buy it with your own money or was it given to you?
I bought it with my own money, as I have with every car or every mode of transportation that I have ever had.
Let’s start off with airplanes and your fascination with flying. Then we can get into your history with cars, other modes of transportation and your car dealerships.
When I was very young I went on a golf trip to play a tournament as an amateur. It was a DC3, which was a mode of transportation in those days. I flew through a thunderstorm on my way to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It scared the life out of me. I saw things I had never heard of and I didn’t know what was happening. So, having been scared, I decided that, in my life, I was probably going to do a lot of flying and traveling. That was going to be very important to my destiny.
As soon as I got home, I decided I was going to learn more about aviation and traveling. As the years went by, I studied and worked on learning more about aviation, and the first year that I became a professional and I had enough money, I started adding to that by taking flying lessons. Time went on, and within two years, I had a private license and started flying by myself to various exhibitions and tournaments. I found that, in doing that, it afforded me the opportunity to do my work-meaning play golf-and do exhibitions. And it allowed me to spend time with my family. I would go out in the morning, for example, play an exhibition, do the things I needed to do and then fly home at night so I was with my family.
As time went on and I started playing more tournaments, I found that I could get to the tournament sites far easier flying than I could driving. The first couple years, I drove across the United States. I drove to L.A., back to the East coast, back to the West coast. That was very trying. After about five years of that, I was to where I could afford to fly more and I flew commercially. That started in about 1955, and about 1961, I bought my first airplane – a twin-engine Aero Commander. By then, my family had grown a little and, during the summer, I put my wife and children in the airplane with me and I flew to the golf tournaments.
As my schedule got more hectic, I bought another airplane in 1963, which was a 560 Aero Commander. I bought that new and, because of the heavy schedule, I hired a pilot part-time to go with me to help take care of the airplane and to fly with me to tournaments. As the years went on, I had a great interest in some of the executive travel that was going on. I was watching the executive airplanes turn into jets. In 1966,1 leased a Jet Commander and I flew that for two years. The lease ran out and I made a new deal with Lear for a Lear 24. That deal was a nine-year deal. I flew it myself with the pilot who accompanied me, took care of the airplane and did a lot of the stuff that was necessary to be professional and fly yourself around the country.
Nine years I did that, and then, in 1976,1 had a good friend who was an attorney who represented me. He became an aviation expert and became a part of Cessna. So, when the lease ran out on the Lear 24, I went to a Cessna Citation 1. That was one of the first Cessna Citations built. I got the No. 1 Citation 2. That was in 1978. Then, in 1983,1 got a Citation 3.1 had a couple of those. And then, in 1992, I got a Citation 7. In 1996,1 got a Citation 10-the No. 1 production airplane. Then, in 2002,1 got my second Citation 10 and that’s what I’m flying today. I fly these airplanes myself. I go to Flight Safety once a year to do my recurrent training for the Commander, all the Citations and the Citation 10. I’m somewhere in the area of over hours of flying. I fly my airplane everywhere I go.
Is there a favorite place that you like to fly to?
Everywhere that I fly to, I go on business. I fly for golf, for business. One of my favorite places, of course, where I do a great deal of business, is Palm Springs, California. I do like to fly there.
How old were you when you first got your pilot’s license?
I was 26 years old.
Have you ever been caught up in the air in a bad thunderstorm? Other than the first one you told me about?
I have been in thunderstorms flying on numerous occasions and, particularly, in my early days. The first airplanes that I flew did not have radar. So I flew in weather, and occasionally, I got in a thunderstorm, yes. In those days, it wasn’t quite like it is today, where you can get directions around thunderstorms. In my early days of flying, if you flew on instruments, you were inevitably going to fly in thunderstorms. That was just a part of the business of flying.
What’s been your all-time favorite plane that you’ve owned or had from the get- go?
At what year did you open up your first car dealership?
The first dealership I had was in 1981. That was Arnold Palmer Motors.
How many dealerships do you have now?
Well, we built the dealerships up to nine and I have sold all but one. I still have Arnold Palmer Motors in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
While flying yourself around on the golf circuit, did you find that you were the only player doing so, or were there other players also flying themselves around?
No, actually, there were some before me. A guy by the name of Johnny, who goes way back. He was a pilot and did some flying. Then guys like Lloyd Mangrum had a Bonanza. Jimmy Demaret had an airplane that he flew. There are others, I just can’t come up with all of them. And, of course, in the early days, not long after Jack Nicklaus came on the tour, he got an airplane. He wasn’t a pilot, but he had an airplane and he had a crew that flew him wherever he wanted to go.
What do you currently have going on,? Do you do a lot of charity work? You mentioned that you still fly to events. What current events do you have going on?
I have the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women; the Arnold Palmer Medical Center here in Orlando. It’s quite large. We have, in the medical center, we have the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Children and Women. That’s brand new and it’s huge. We have the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in that medical center, we have a trauma center in that medical center and we have a cancer research center in that center. I have an Arnold Palmer Pavilion, which is a cancer treatment center in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I have a prostate cancer center in the Lucy Curci Cancer Center at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs, California. We have a hand center that is in Baltimore – Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. And a guy by the name of Tom Grant, who is in charge of that, is doing some work with people like John Kanzius, who is working to help cure cancer with M.D. Anderson. And I’m chairman of the hospital foundation at the Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Don’t you have an annual golf tournament that you host?
I have a tournament here at Bay Hill that is an annual tournament that is called the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It goes on every March. One of the recipients is the Arnold Palmer Hospital or Medical Center here in Orlando.
If you had a dream plane that you have yet to acquire, what would that plane be?
Just the Citation 10.1 just want to keep it. I love it.
What all do you love about it? Tell me a few key things.
It’s my second Citation 10; I had the first production model. I’m now at 176 production-the fastest private executive jet in the air. It seats 11 people and it’s a wonderful vehicle to get around the world in.
Is it a common thing, in this day and time, that players fly themselves on the circuit?
There’s a few of them that have airplanes that take themselves from one course to another, such as Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus. But they do notflythe airplanes, they have crews that fly them.
Do you happen to listen to music while you’re flying?
No, I’m busy working. I can’t afford the luxury of music while I’m flying an airplane. I have to pay attention to what I’m doing.
Arnold Palmer is all about class. From major championships to Cadillacs to airplanes, he exudes elegance and style. He is one of the greatest golfers of all time and, along with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones, is one of the few professional golfers that can truly be included In the conversation as perhaps the greatest golfer of all time. It was a pleasure to interview him and it’s a true honor to have him included in this book.