SURREY — Flags are flying at half-mast at Surrey’s Northview Golf & Country Club this week.
The King is dead.
Professional golf legend Arnold Palmer, who designed Northview’s two 18-hole courses, died in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon at age 87 from heart problems. He’s being fondly remembered by his fans in Surrey this week.
Northview opened on a warm, sunny September morning in 1994 and would host seven PGA tournaments.
“He came out to put his stamp on it and make sure everybody was aware that he was the architect,” recalled Chris Hoy, Northview’s director of golf operations.
Hoy and Northview owner Chick Stewart played 18 holes on the Ridge course with The King. “It was a skins game,” Hoy remembered. “I opened with two birdies, one and two, and I thought that’ll make him notice me, right? There were 400 fans here, and I swear to God to this day nobody remembers that I was there. They were here to see Arnie.
“We had soft drinks and sandwiches set up at nine holes and Arnie disappeared,” said Hoy, relishing the memory. “I was waiting on the tenth tee, wondering, ‘Where did he go?’ One of my assistants comes running up to me and he says, ‘He’s behind the kiosk, he downed two beers and he said enough of that bulls–t — he’s coming after ya!’ I stood on that tenth tee, and I thought, ‘Awesome! How awesome is that?’”
In the end, Stewart won seven skins, Palmer six and Hoy five.
“For me it was the most awesome thing ever.”
Palmer came back for another game the following year, on the Canal course.
“There isn’t a bigger star in golf. Nicklaus might have been the greatest player, and Tiger might have been the greatest player of this age, but Palmer put golf on the map. He’s the reason I played golf, as an 11-year-old, I thought ‘Look at this guy; I can do that.’ Turns out that I can’t, but pretty amazing that he could draw me into the game and away from all the other sports that I loved.”
Hoy recalled Palmer making a hole-in-one during a corporate event. “Of course that made the news that night and the next day, there was a whole bunch of reporters there, and they were like, ‘Do it again, Arnie, get another hole in one.’ So he does. He gets another hole-in-one. Unbelievable.”
That was on Sept. 3, 1986. The lede in the Washington Post’s story the next day read “On Tuesday, Arnold Palmer made a hole in one. Yesterday, he returned and made a hole in a million.”
This reporter has a wee Palmer story to tell. Back in the early 1990s, I’d been covering Surrey municipal hall and was at a press conference in Vancouver where Palmer was holding court. As the Serpentine canal runs through Northview, I had the temerity to ask him about the pesticides they’d use. Oh, the “How-dare-you” looks of horror I got from the big-time sports reporters in the room.
But Palmer was all class, and afterward I walked away with an autographed photo for my dad, a big fan of his. It’s still hanging, framed, on his wall.
“He had a way of disarming you,” Hoy said of Palmer.
Indeed, he did. Let’s leave the last word to The King himself, with one of his famous quotes.
“I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s game: It’s called an eraser.”