Remembering the golf legend that called our community home

Longtime Bay Hill resident and principal owner Arnold Palmer, who passed away Sept. 25, left a lasting legacy on Southwest and West Orange.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. September 29, 2016
Arnold Palmer discusses plans with golf course builder David Harman. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bailey.
Arnold Palmer discusses plans with golf course builder David Harman. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bailey.
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man whose namesake is synonymous with golf, class, advocacy for children and a tasty beverage died Sunday.

All around Southwest and West Orange the past few days, residents have been sharing their memories and photos from meetings and interactions with Arnold Palmer, the legendary golfer who planted his tentpole in Bay Hill back in the early 1970s, making Southwest Orange his winter base of operations for years to come.

Although he may not have known it then, Palmer’s affinity for this community and his choice to move here put this area on the map in ways that are hard to quantify. 

Southwest Orange County and Central Florida, at large, are meccas of the golf world, and before so many of the clubs and courses we are so familiar with now were built, there was Bay Hill — and there was Arnie.

Roger Masterson, a golf coach of more than 30 years who currently teaches out of Orange County National, said the ripple effect of Arnold Palmer calling our community home is profound.

“When he got involved with Bay Hill Club and hosted his invitational there … I really think everything that he did kind of took the area to a whole new level as far as sports was concerned,” Masterson said. “He created a lot of opportunities for people. I think that was all started by Arnold — I really think he spurred a lot of that.”

Arnold and Winnie Palmer smile for the camera with Frank and Helen Chase at the Chase’s home on Lake Louise. Courtesy of Andrew Bailey.Just a few miles from Bay Hill are the offices for Golf Channel, a passion project for Palmer.

Then, of course, there is his namesake tournament — the Arnold Palmer Invitational — played annually at Bay Hill. Each spring, thanks to Arnold, Southwest Orange gets to be atop the sports world for a weekend.

Palmer’s local legacy goes beyond golf, though. It’s hard to quantify, precisely, but his role as a trendsetter for athletes and other wealthy folks to move to this area cannot be overlooked in its role in our community’s growth.

Further, anyone with a child who has received treatment at Palmer’s namesake children’s hospital in downtown Orlando knows that the man was bigger than golf — people such as Mark and Rena Cross, of Winter Garden, whose daughter Jenna was treated for leukemia at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in 1995.

Unlike some of the other famous personalities who have called our community home, Palmer was less a recluse and someone who cared about and interacted with his neighbors. The archives of our sister newspaper, the West Orange Times & Observer, are filled with photos of Palmer out and about in the community.

Masterson, who grew up watching Palmer play on the fairways of Bay Hill, recalled an instance where he ran into Palmer at the pro shop of Bay Hill. Whether the King of Golf actually remembered him, Masterson can’t be sure — and doesn’t particularly care. Palmer asked him how his business teaching golf lessons was going and then, more pointedly, asked Masterson if he was enjoying it, to which Masterson said yes.

“(Palmer) said, ‘Good — well make sure you stay with your passion,’” Masterson recalled. “That meant a lot to me. … He was that kind of person that walked up to everybody, shook your hand and looked you right in the eye.”

The most famous, beloved golfer of all-time called our beautiful community home for more than 40 years — and we were lucky to have him.


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