Arnold Palmer’s enduring impact on the game has been well chronicled, and will continue to be felt for generations.
And as it joins the rest of the world in mourning Sunday’s passing of “The King,” the Myrtle Beach golf industry also remembers Mr. Palmer with heartfelt gratitude for the significant role he played in the growth of “The Golf Capital of the World.”
Its roots trace back to Palmer’s college playing days in the early 1950s, when as a Wake Forest University standout he competed against Davidson College’s Cecil Brandon. The two men became good friends, and stayed in frequent touch as Palmer launched his professional career and Brandon moved to Myrtle Beach in 1959.
Twelve years later, Brandon became a founding stockholder in the newly formed Myrtle Beach National Company, which was poised to help catapult a sleepy beach town with 10 courses into a national golfing mecca. When it came time to launch that effort by building three new courses in the company’s name along Highway 501, Brandon presented Palmer with an opportunity.
The old college rivals were now teammates. The rest quickly became history.
In one of his first efforts as a course designer, Arnold Palmer joined architect Francis Duane in opening Myrtle Beach National’s North Course in 1973, followed in successive years by the property’s West Course and SouthCreek tracks. By this time, the Grand Strand golfing landscape had doubled its offerings – and was well on its way to a growth boom in ensuing decades that would peak with nearly 100 designs.
Two decades after its opening, the North Course was in need of a facelift to match the appeal of the dramatic new layouts now popping up around it. Leave it to none other than Arnold Palmer to put his one-of-a-kind stamp on the renovation.
In the 21 years since its reopening, King’s North at Myrtle Beach National has endured as one of the Grand Strand’s premier designs that features some of Myrtle Beach golf’s most iconic holes, most notable among them “The Gambler” – the par-5 6th hole, featuring an island fairway that famously presents its challengers with the ultimate “know when to hold ‘em … know when to fold ‘em” proposition.
In typical Palmer style, it was the dedication of his last effort at Myrtle Beach National where his trademark graciousness and electric smile were on full display. “He didn’t come just to shake a few hands, cut a ribbon and leave. Mr. Palmer was fully engaged in making it a special experience for everyone in attendance,” remembers Nate DeWitt, a longtime Myrtle Beach National Company golf professional in attendance that day.
Palmer played all 18 holes of his latest creation, giving the several hundred fans in attendance a first-hand preview of what they could look forward to experiencing themselves. Even the summer heat of that afternoon couldn’t wilt Palmer’s enthusiasm for the moment.
As DeWitt vividly recalls, “There wasn’t an autograph he didn’t sign, there wasn’t a picture he didn’t take, and there wasn’t a hand he wouldn’t shake.”
It’s just one of the countless ways Arnold Palmer left an indelible mark on the game and its fans over the course of more than six decades. We join the rest of the golf world in expressing our condolences to his family and loved ones, and our appreciation for all he’s meant to our industry – and beyond.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Palmer. We can’t thank you enough.