To know Arnold Palmer the man, you only need to know a story regarding the death of Billy Glisson of Pawleys Island.
Glisson died at the age of 61 from injuries sustained in an accident while riding a mo-ped in Georgetown County in March 2008.
Chances are you didn’t know Glisson. I’m not sure Palmer really knew Glisson.
But he made it a point to know of Glisson’s passing.
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Glisson had a cup of coffee on the PGA Tour. The Andrews native only played in 30 tour events, most during his one full season in 1982, when he made just five cuts in 22 tournaments. Palmer was 53 in ’82 and played in just 11 events that year, making four cuts.
We can only assume their paths crossed at a tournament 26 years or so before Glisson’s death. Glisson’s widow, Paulette, said at the time of his death that she believed they were paired together in the 1999 U.S. Senior Open at Des Moines Golf & Country Club in Iowa, when Palmer was 69.
Glisson was an enigmatic player. He was John Daly before John Daly, i.e. a heavy-set man playing with a disheveled appearance with a lit cigarette often hanging from his lips.
Glisson’s career was derailed in '82 when he suffered a stroke while playing in a mini-tour event, and it took him three years to return to the course.
Glisson died on a Friday. That next Monday, Paulette received a call from Palmer to offer his condolences to her and the couple’s son, Kent, then 17, and Palmer also faxed a letter that was read at the funeral.
It read, in part: “It was a pleasure to have known him and I certainly enjoyed playing with him in the Senior Open a few years ago in Des Moines. He was a fine player. I extend my deepest sympathy to you at this sad time. Sincerely, Arnold Palmer.”
It was a pleasure to have known him and I certainly enjoyed playing with him in the Senior Open a few years ago in Des Moines. He was a fine player. I extend my deepest sympathy to you at this sad time. Sincerely, Arnold Palmer.
Except from a letter Palmer sent to the widow of Billy Glisson
That Monday began the week of the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Golf & Lodge in Orlando – a tournament he hosted on a course he owned, so he had other things on his mind and other responsibilities.
But he made contacting Glisson’s family a priority, knowing hearing from him might offer some measure of comfort.
Glisson was just one of Palmer’s several ties to the Grand Strand golf market, which date at least 45 years.
The Arnold Palmer Golf Management company operates five courses in the area – the three courses at Legends Golf Resort as well as Heritage Club in Pawleys Island and Oyster Bay Golf Links in Sunset Beach, N.C.
His course architecture company designed four courses in the area – the three courses at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club off U.S. 501 in Myrtle Beach, which opened between 1973-75, and Rivers Edge Golf Links in Shallotte, N.C., which opened in 1999. The King’s North Course at Myrtle Beach National and Rivers Edge are highly acclaimed layouts.
Palmer spent a lot of time in Myrtle Beach during the development of MB National, and returned in the 1990s for a renovation project and rebranding of the North Course to the King’s North Course, which features the well known “Gambler” hole, a par-5 with an island fairway.
He played the course for its reopening and the club used his appearance to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Cecil Brandon, a Myrtle Beach National stockholder since its founding in 1971 and volunteer executive director of the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday marketing cooperative for more than three decades until 1999, recalls Palmer signing autographs for three hours or more following the outing.
“He played 18 holes and signed more than 2,000 autographs,” said Brandon, who played against Palmer in college and last played with him during his Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters appearance at Barefoot Resort in 2006. “He wouldn’t stop. He wouldn’t quit until the last person had their autograph.
“He was the essence of humility. Nobody on this earth came close to being as perfect as him, caring about everybody.”
He was great to everybody. If he met you he’d remember you. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody.
When he took part in an outing at Rivers Edge in 2000, Palmer acknowledged the difficulty of the risk-reward par-5 ninth hole, which features a narrow peninsula green.
He fired several unsuccessful shots over marsh at the green before proclaiming – somewhat jokingly – that the way he’d play the hole would be to intentionally fly the green, take a drop and penalty stroke and try to get up and down for par.
He arrived via helicopter, and while being whisked away to the chopper ready for takeoff, he saw that I was lobbying for an interview and waved me over. I don’t know how much of our chat for a few minutes I could decipher on the recorder with the circling blades overhead, but it was indicative of how gracious Palmer always was with the media.
Palmer traveled to Myrtle Beach in 2003 to be the guest speaker at the 50th annual Golf Writers Association of America championship awards banquet, during which he accepted the ASAP Jim Murray Award for his cooperation and positive relationship with the media during his historic career.
North Myrtle Beach native Kelly Tilghman has worked at Golf Channel, which Palmer founded, for two decades and had a special bond with him. She caddied for him on multiple occasions during the Masters Tournament’s Wednesday Par-3 Contest.
“He was such an incredible person,” Tilghman said. “I was able to spend some quality time with him before he died to express my gratitude for everything he did for us. We’re all gonna miss him.”
Palmer died Sunday at the age of 87, and the condolences have poured in from influential figures around the globe.
None were likely as impactful as the countless condolences The King took the time to offer others, even those he didn’t truly know.