Arnold Palmer, the Ultimate Tinkerer, Shares the Secrets of His Garage
"I'm Arnold Palmer," he says. "Welcome to my garage."
This is the most famous garage in golf. To know Arnold Palmer -- and who in golf doesn't want to? -- you acknowledge he is the game's all-time leader in DIY (do-it-yourself) club repair. The game's icon turned 80 earlier this year, but he has always been old school. Palmer never just swung a golf club, he became one with it.
By Palmer's thinking, before you hit a golf club you should know how it was put together.
"It's very important," he says. "It's almost like playing the game. Of course, today most of the players take a set of clubs and dump them off at the company they play for and say, 'Here, fix these.' I don't think players, with very few exceptions, work on their clubs very much any more."
Palmer, of course, has always been golf's exception to the rule. That's why the game may never again see a personality quite like the King. It's also why Golf Channel asked Palmer to open his garage door to tape a segment for an upcoming series called "12 Nights at the Academy."
So here is the tinker master in his element, doors open and a club locked in a vice.
It's a crisp November morning in central Florida. Palmer, dressed in a blue oxford dress shirt open at the neck, tan khaki slacks and handsome leather loafers (no socks), is a man in his element, a proud host showing off his comfort zone.
"I spend a lot of time here," he says. "And I enjoy it. It's just nice to get out here. It's very quiet. When I want to be alone and do my thing, this is where I go."
Palmer has lived at this address for some 20 years and the garage, although neat and orderly, reflects the time spent. An opened case of Arizona Iced Tea -- the lemonade/tea combination known as an "Arnold Palmer" -- sits just inside the right door. Next to it is a built-in shoe rack -- six bins to a row -- designed to hold 54 pairs. It is jammed full with a few more sets piled on the top.
A large cream-colored ceramic dog bowl, only one-third full but with clean water, rests on the floor, waiting for Mulligan, Palmer's nine-year old yellow lab. Another nearby cabinet is home to a pile of caps -- most of them carrying either logos from Bay Hill, Callaway Golf or Augusta National. One celebrates the Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl Champs.
On the opposite side, a blue Schwinn bicycle leans against the wall. A small refrigerator is built into a cabinet, on which a yellow Black & Decker electric lawn blower sits. Nearby there are three empty flower pots, a small Shop-Vac and a couple of boxes.
A street sign, "Arnie's Place," hangs on a pegboard wall that stretches behind two separate work benches. Bolted to the work surfaces are various vices, grinders and a belt sander.
Everywhere else there are golf clubs, golf bags, golf gloves, golf balls and more golf clubs.
Many of the clubs are slid into hanging racks attached to the ceiling. Others are in bins built onto the wall. More are propped in corners.
You can take a pretty good guess at the answer, but can't help but ask anyway: When was the last time a car was in this garage?
"Never," Palmer answers without a second of hesitation. "Only golf carts."
Palmer's Cadillac Escalade is parked outside, against the curb.
"It's fine right where it is," Palmer shrugs.
Sitting beside the black SUV, pulled out of the garage to make room for the day's visitors, is Bay Hill Club and Lodge golf cart No. 88. With chrome wheels, headlights and a sparkling-new green canvas enclosure, the ride is distinctive enough in its own right, but the tour bag with "Arnold Palmer" and Bay Hill's umbrella logo stitched to its side leaves no doubt.
It's also hard not to notice that the big bag holds six different drivers, three putters and a total of 25 clubs.
Being the King means never having to apologize for a couple extra weapons.
"Actually, this is nothing," Palmer says, sweeping his hand past the numerous clubs and assorted equipment. "Most of the stuff is all in Latrobe. It's huge."
A warehouse back in Palmer's Pennsylvania hometown holds more than 10,000 clubs, all cataloged on computer. Many of them Palmer admits carry sentimental value. Here at Bay Hill, however, the garage is a garage.
"Here, no one knows where I am unless I tell them," he says.
The show's taping begins. Golf Channel host Kelly Tilghman introduces Palmer and begins by asking about his golf game.
"My golf is so bad these days," Palmer tells her, "I hit it and can hear where it lands."
Nobody cares. This is Arnold Palmer and he is standing in his garage.
After answering a few more questions, offering advice on footwear -- "I'm a firm believer of having a firm shoe that makes you feel close to the ground." -- and marveling about how the game has changed, Palmer finally demonstrates the way he likes to re-grip a club.
Within a minute, he has the old grip cut and discarded, tape and glue applied to the shaft and the new one in place.
"I was so excited when they told me we were shooting here," Tilghman says later. "Seeing him put his hands on a golf club is one thing, but to see him working inside that garage. It's just cool."
Yes, it was.