November 27, 2008

Q&A with Arnold Palmer

Do you ever fly commercial any more?

Matt, where have you been? If you consider my airplane commercial, then I fly commercial all the time. I'm being a little ridiculous. I fly my own airplane and I have since 1960. I rarely fly anywhere other than my own airplane.

Do you still spend a lot time in the pilot seat?

I do. I'm very current. I have another man who flies with me and we fly everywhere we go. You name it -- from Europe and Hawaii. We do the whole thing.

What do you look for in a co-pilot?

A man who is qualified, number one, and my guy who flies with me has been with me for eleven years. He was an instructor pilot from the Air Force and he's qualified to fly anything, anywhere.

Do you remember any close calls as a pilot?

Well, we've had weather problems. We've flown into some bad weather but we avoid conditions that aren't suitable for safe flying.

No one close call that stands out above the rest?

No sir, I don't think so.

Is there a course, in terms of your design, where you think you got it just right?

Well, I've built over 300 golf courses around the world. To suggest one over the others wouldn't be very diplomatic of me to do. Everyone I built a course for thinks they have the best golf course in the world and I'm very pleased and proud of that.

How about Tralee (in Ireland)? That's one of my favorites. Is that not the best?

Have you played Tralee?

Yes, I have.

I think that's one of the really nice International aspects of playing golf. They're a group of people who really started out with the plan to do a nice golf course on the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland. They now have the reputation as having a very interesting and fun place to go and play golf. From time-to-time we've made some constructive changes to that golf course and we are contemplating changes now with the people who own the golf course, and we'll continue to do that. They've upgraded ever since we built it and they will continue to do so.

Can you summarize your design philosophy?

I try to deign golf courses that are individual in character and individual in their own standing. An example would be, if someone came to me and they saw a golf course for the first time, and said, 'Yes. This is an Arnold Palmer golf course.' That wouldn't please me too much because we try to design courses that are not characteristic in any way. They are each individually designed. We try to do things different in every course we design.

If you had an unlimited budget and free rein -- what would you do to Augusta National?

[Laughs.] Oh my goodness. That's a tough question because over the years I have really enjoyed and love Augusta National and I think the changes that have been made have been fitting to the golf course. I would say that, certainly, one of my favorite places to play golf in the world is Augusta. That's something that is ongoing and will continue to be as time goes on. In this day and age, of course, if I went back to the back tees where I played it all my life, it's too much golf course for me but it's still an absolutely beautiful setting and a beautiful pace to play golf.

Your favorite city in the United States?

Well. One of them would be Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I enjoy San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orlando, Charlotte and North Carolina.

How many do you want?

That's plenty. How about your favorite restaurant in Orlando?

I'd say the restaurant at the Bay Hill Club. [Laughs.] Why don't you ask me my favorite restaurant in La Quinta, California? [Laughs.]

I've been there too. I love Palmer's in La Quinta. That's not a restaurant -- that could be considered a museum of your memorabilia.

I hope you enjoy it!

When you go to a restaurant, do you ask for an Arnold Palmer or an iced tea and lemonade?

My people have got me trained now -- I ask for an Arnold Palmer.

I'm trying to figure out what a Matt Ginella would be.

Well, the next time I'm out, I'll ask for one and see what I get.

Have you ever fished with Jack?

Jack who? [Laughs.]

(In the presence of greatness and a little nervous, I actually started to explain that I meant Jack Nicklaus before I realized Mr. Palmer was just batting me around like a cat does to a mouse.) You hooked me with that one. Have you ever fished with him? No. We've been trying to get together for a fishing trip we've just never made it happen.

Have you ever fished with Tiger?

No. I've been at the same places they have fished, but not with them. I'm not a big fisherman -- let's get that straight, Matt.

Do you remember a specific moment or situation when you stopped being rivals and started being friends?

There is no such thing. We're still friends and we're still rivals.

You have a three-foot putt for your life, do you putt it yourself or do you call someone to putt it for you?

If it's for my life -- I'm going to putt it myself.