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Arnie's Army

The King's foundation and its donors are stepping up to help Oakland Hills after fire

March 09, 2022

Leon Halip

While Oakland Hills begins the process of rebuilding its iconic clubhouse that was destroyed by a fire last month, the club’s displaced employees will be receiving some much-needed restoration of their own, courtesy of the King.

The Arnold and Winnie Palmer Foundation announced an effort last week to raise money from its roll of donors to support those employees at Oakland Hills whose jobs were impacted by the fire. All funds raised would be matched by the foundation.

In less than a week, those monies now total more than $32,000. As a note from the foundation to its contributors reads, “In carrying forward the Palmers’ legacy, we are proud to support our friends in golf, as well as care for those who are integral to a place important to the history of this great game,” noting that specifically this fundraising effort was “to honor both the historic connection between Arnold Palmer and Oakland Hills by supporting the dedicated people who have helped make it a national treasure.”

Palmer won the U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills in 1981, becoming the first player to win the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open. Palmer had a lengthy golfing history with the area, winning his U.S. Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit in 1954. Of course, Palmer also had a long history with the Detroit automobile industry, most notably his endorsement deal with Cadillac that started in 1974.

The money raised by the foundation is expected to be included in the fundraising campaign set up by ClubsHelp, the charity established in 2020 to link private clubs’ efforts to support local charities. ClubsHelp, a philanthropic partner of the National Club Association, established an employee assistance fund for displaced Oakland Hills workers just days after the fire last month. Since then, it’s raised over $105,000. Both the Palmer Foundation effort and the ClubHelps fund continue to take donations.

“Our donors really wanted to help the employees of Oakland Hills,” said Jason Peevy, vice president of outreach for the Arnold and Winnie Palmer Foundation. “It came together quickly after the fire because of Mr. Palmer’s relationship with Oakland Hills and Detroit. The foundation’s leadership came up with the idea of a $10,000 match for members of Arnie’s Army and golf fans during the week of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It seems like the kind of thing Mr. Palmer would have wanted. We were blown away by the response, and when the original goal was met and surpassed, the leadership agreed to keep matching donations dollar-for-dollar until the final shot of the tournament Sunday.”

Meanwhile, at Oakland Hills, where much of the 90,000-square-foot clubhouse is surrounded by protective fencing, the decision to rebuild is already underway. Club President Rick Palmer told the Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle, “The board unanimously made an easy decision and determined that the restored, rebuilt clubhouse will be a replica of what the iconic clubhouse was before the fire,” he said, estimating that the rebuild could take two full years. “Actually, our membership and the national golf community really made that a very easy decision for us to make because of the outpouring of how special it is, even our golf course architect, Gil Hanse, who wants our clubhouse to match his beautiful restoration work.”

According to reports, Oakland Hills Country Club employs approximately 25 full-time staff during the winter months, but the club’s payroll normally jumps to around 300 people by summer.