As Arnold Palmer steps back, Arnie’s Army is stepping up to the tee.
Arnold Palmer is stepping back this week. First he announced his retirement from the Big Three Honorary Starters at the Masters. Now he has reduced his role at his tournament at Bay Hill this year. Palmer is 86 and his health is deteriorating.
While The King is still engaged in some of the day-to-day event and business activities, he doesn’t work a 40 or 50 or 60 hour week the way he did 15 or 20 years ago, jetting from event to event or business deal to business deal.
With that in mind, Palmer and the PGA TOUR have taken steps to assure that while Palmer’s physical abilities may not be what they once were, his namesake tournament and his charitable contributions will continue for decades to come. It is a generous legacy befitting the man that many golfers call The King.
This week PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, Alastair Johnston (CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises) Raja Rajamannar (MasterCard Chief Marketing Officer) and David Barger, former CEO of Jet Blue made a joint announcement at the Arnold Palmer Invitational about a new organization that will run the tournament in the future on behalf of Palmer and his family. It is called Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation.
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In addition, Finchem announced increased prize money, an additional year of PGA TOUR exemption for winners of the tournament and special donations that Palmer will make to up and coming PGA TOUR players who have charities of their own that are focused on health and children’s needs.
“From my own perspective, without question, Arnold Palmer has been the most dynamic, impactful player in the history of the game on a lot of different levels,” said Finchem. “In 1987, I began working with the PGA TOUR, first in Washington and then in Florida, and I got to know Arnold and it wasn’t until two, three years into that period that I fully understood the impact that this man has had on so much of what is the game of golf, building hundreds of golf courses, leading the way with the marketing platform that players today pretty much take for granted, but use to their great benefit. That was all Arnold Palmer.”
According to Finchem, the PGA TOUR has been working on a plan to elevate the status of the tournament, and they have been working on it for some time.
“In doing so, (we will) have a week that can really speak to Arnold’s accomplishments and his impact on the game,” Finchem added.
Part of that will be inclusion of historic clips during the tournament telecast, which, according to Finchem, will show how Palmer established his reputation as the most exciting player in golf when he made his pro debut in 1956.
Mastercard has been a long-time sponsor of the event, and their CEO added his thoughts on the expanded direction that the tournament will take.
“First and foremost, we love Mr. Arnold Palmer, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and we love the kind of philanthropic work that’s being done by Arnold’s Army and his foundation, which has really been a privilege and an honor to get associated with over the last 13 years,” said Rajamannar.
“At this stage in Arnold’s career, one of the things we talked about very much was a long-term strategy for Arnold Palmer for his legacy, for Arnie’s Army continuing to march,” said Johnston, noting in addition that Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were instrumental in founding the PGA TOUR in the late ’60s.
“Arnold basically is going to, for the foreseeable future, every year, we’re going to select several young players whose foundations, charity and philanthropy supports, is aligned with Arnie’s Army, and Arnie’s Army is going to be a benefactor of these players’ charities every year,” Johnston added. “We’re going to select two-three players and provide support to them. In other words, as Arnold and I said, 20 years from now there are PGA TOUR players who haven’t yet been born are going to get the benefit of Arnold’s largess and philanthropy.”
According to Johnston, Palmer has funded that part of the charity initiative with a sum in eight figures.
“Obviously this Foundation is going to be a fund-raising ( organization),” Johnston continued. “But, in addition, a part of the strategy is going to be actually passing on the spirit of philanthropy and the process of how younger players can follow in the spirit, and so many young players are actually doing that today.”
During the tournament telecasts in the future, there will be video about the charitable work of Palmer throughout the years, including the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando.
While those have been the central beneficiaries of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, other organizations have also benefited from Palmer’s presence.
Many people on the east coast do not know that Palmer was quite involved with Bob Hope and President Eisenhower in raising funds for the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, which was originally one of the largest charities of the Bob Hope tournament. The Eisenhower Medical Center now has an Arnold Palmer Prostate Center. Across the country, in Greenville, PA, there is an Arnold Palmer Cancer Center. And only those who are baby boomers and older will recall that in his early years on tour, Palmer was the national spokesperson for the March of Dimes.
“This tournament and Arnold, personally, have done unbelievable things for charity over the years,” Finchem noted, “but now, to structure that charitable involvement this way gives it more leverage, more impact in the community and the ability to do even more.”
In addition to the hospitals and medical facilities in Orlando that benefit from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the new foundation will have initiatives that carry on what Finchem called Palmer’s interest in giving back to organizations that support health initiatives, help for children and youth.
“We are absolutely committed and we’re right up the road to doing everything we can to work with the Arnie’s Army Foundation going forward,” Finchem concluded.
New purse: Next year, the purse here will be $8.7 million, positioning the tournament as an elite one.
New exemption: Next year, the winner’s exemption will be three years. Other PGA Tour events, except The Players, are two years.
New organization: Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation. Amy Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s daughter, is the president.
Arnie’s Army promotion: On Saturday of this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, many of the 1400 volunteers will wear “I Am Arnie’s Army” T-shirts.