Pinehurst Heritage Archive

My letter from Arnold Palmer



Thanks to The Tufts Archives, Pinehurst was able to send this image to Arnold Palmer in April. (Photo copyright Tufts Archives)


You would hear the stories. “He writes everyone back. You’ll get a letter.”

But you don’t believe it. Not at all. Why would Arnold Palmer write a return letter to me?

And that was a prevailing thought even in the good times. It’s no secret over the last few years that Palmer was in declining health. And at the time of my letter, Palmer was 86 years old.

But it’s also why I rushed to write the letter.

The letter accompanied a large framed photograph of Arnold Palmer and his father, Deacon. As part of a project at Pinehurst, I found the photo – a beautiful black and white image of a youthful Arnold standing with his father near the 9th tee of Pinehurst No. 2. The timestamp from the Tufts Archives marked the photo from 1954, making Arnold around 25 years old.

It’s a pure golf image. They stand together, father and son in sweaters over collared shirts, with Deacon looking off and to the left and Arnold staring straight at the camera. Both hold golf clubs. Arnold isn’t smiling, but he isn’t necessarily not smiling, either. It appears, if you gaze at the image long enough, that he may simply be mere moments from breaking into the smile that greeted so many a nervous fan or sportswriter.

In fact, there is another image, near the same spot on the same day, where Palmer and his father are both grinning, Arnold in mid-strut.


When Pinehurst embarked on a year-long project to restore the vintage photos hanging in the historic clubhouse in 2015, I found the father and son photo. It had not been framed and hung in the clubhouse before, but in an instant, I knew it needed to have its home there. It should live in Pinehurst’s clubhouse forever, and it should be next to the famed image of Harvie Ward and Arnold from the 1948 North & South Amateur.

But it was an image I believed Palmer should have as well. Deacon visited Pinehurst regularly in the 1930s and 1940s with a group of golf buddies from their home in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and their hotel of choice was the Manor Inn. Arnold came on occasion and then attended Wake Forest College in the late 1940s when it was located in the town of Wake Forest, just north of Raleigh. His love of Pinehurst never wavered.

Standing in as a representative of Pinehurst, I sent a copy of the image, enlarged and framed beautifully by Tony Hill, to Palmer. In the letter with it, I wrote:

There were one or two photos, though, that we replaced, and that includes the one we present to you today. In my research at the Archives, I came across this photo of you and your father at the ninth hole of Pinehurst No. 2. It immediately became the highlight of our project, and we’ve positioned it in the hallway adjacent to a vintage photo of you and Harvie Ward at the 1948 North & South Amateur.

Our project has been well received, but no photo has drawn more interest from our guests than this one. Nearly every day, we are fortunate to witness the reactions of our guests to this photo. These moments are what make Pinehurst so special.

Thank you, Mr. Palmer, from all of us at Pinehurst, for your lifelong affection for our home. Few people have meant more to Pinehurst in our storied history than yourself, and your father. It is a story we are blessed to tell, and one we will continue to tell for decades to come.

To say I didn’t hope for a response would be unfaithful. But I didn’t expect one. Those are two very different things, and Mr. Palmer had been ill.

But, dated April 28, 2016, and postmarked May 2 – less than two weeks after I had sent my letter and his photo – came the response.

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My letter from Arnold Palmer. (Click to enlarge)

It reads:

What great memories that photograph of my father and me at Pinehurst brings to me.

We had some wonderful times playing golf and just enjoying life on the trips we made to Pinehurst with a number of Pap’s friends from Latrobe.

Of course, I have been back to Pinehurst countless times since those early days and have many treasured memories of those visits.

I’m pleased to know that the framed photograph is hanging in a prominent place in the clubhouse and thank you very much for sending me the framed copy. It will find a prominent place here in Latrobe.


Arnold Palmer

Whether Palmer himself dictated, typed or even thought about that response is of no concern to me. He signed it, and while the signature he crafted for so many years to be legible for his legions is written with a shaky hand, it only means that much more.

Pinehurst will never be the same without Arnold Palmer.

Thank God for memories – and photography.


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Legendary Pinehurst caddie Willie McRae to be enshrined in CGA Hall of Fame

With McRae’s fellow caddies and family looking on, Carolinas Golf Association officials make announcement at Pinehurst No. 2

Willie McRae has caddied among the towering longleaf pines of Pinehurst for more than seven decades. On his 10th birthday, his father, also a caddie at Pinehurst, brought Willie to the golf course to work. It spawned a career few could ever hope to replicate.

On Thursday, the Carolinas Golf Association announced McRae, 83, will be enshrined in the CGA Hall of Fame in February. Joining McRae behind the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 2 as fellow caddies and family members surrounded him, the CGA celebrated one of golf’s greatest careers.

“It’s a very proud moment for the Carolinas Golf Association to make this announcement at Pinehurst,” said G. Jackson Hughes Jr., the chairman of the CGA Hall of Fame selection committee. “Willie McRae has meant so much to so many people for so many years here at Pinehurst. It’s a well-deserved award.”

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Legendary Pinehurst caddie Willie McRae sits in the locker room of the Pinehurst clubhouse.

McRae’s legendary time at Pinehurst traces much of the area’s rise in the annals of American golf. He has caddied for five presidents, for celebrities from Mickey Mantle to Michael Jordan and many of golf’s greatest figures, including Donald Ross, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead.

“Willie McRae has meant so much to so many people for so many years here at Pinehurst. It’s a well-deserved award.” -G. Jackson Hughes Jr., CGA official

“I’ve always been thankful to be able to work at a place like Pinehurst,” McRae said. “Everybody’s always been so nice to me. They’ve always made me think I was the important person.”

McRae is one of just two living participants of the 1951 Ryder Cup, which was contested at Pinehurst. He has caddied in several of golf’s greatest championships, ranging from the Ryder Cup to multiple U.S. Opens and U.S Women’s Opens. A great player in his own time, in the 1950s the U.S. Army stationed McRae at Fort Dix instead of shipping him overseas, installing him instead as the captain of the golf team.

“Willie always says that everybody is somebody, that everyone has a right to be treated well,” said Pinehurst President Tom Pashley. “But what we all know is that Willie has always been one of the most important people at Pinehurst.

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“It’s nice to know that with his enshrinement into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, Willie’s picture will be on the Hall of Fame wall in The Carolina Hotel forever. To know that his family will always be able to walk by that photo and see how much Willie has meant to the game of golf is really special.”

McRae’s legacy continues at Pinehurst. McRae’s son, Paul, has been one of the leading instructors of the Pinehurst Golf Academy for more than 20 years, and his grandson, Darick, also caddies on No. 2. Willie McRae’s philosophy is the embodiment of the Pinehurst spirit: “To me,” McRae says, “everybody’s a celebrity. Everybody is special in their unique way.”

The Hall of Fame announcement was a wonderful moment for the McRae family, Darick said.


Willie McRae, center, is joined by (l-r) the CGA’s Walter Todd Sr., CGA Executive Director Jack Nance, Pinehurst Resort President Tom Pashley and CGA Hall of Fame Selection Committee Chairman G. Jackson Hughes Jr. on the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 2. The CGA announced on Thursday that McRae would be enshrined in the Carolinas Golf Association Hall of Fame in February. (Photo by John Gessner)

“It just shows the value of hard work and what it can do for you,” Darick said. “He’s 83 years old and has been caddying for 73 years, and today shows how that hard work pays off.

“It’s his inspiration that keeps me going. Now, I may not be doing it for 73 years, but today was awesome.”

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Steve Elkington’s Secret Golf recalls the 1951 Ryder Cup at Pinehurst


A year ago, Steve Elkington’s golf show, Secret Golf, profiled legendary Pinehurst caddie Willie McRae. During the filming, Elkington called his longtime mentor Jack Burke, and McRae and Burke reconnected…for the first time since the 1951 Ryder Cup.

McRae and Burke are the last two living participants from the 1951 Ryder Cup. McRae, now 83, has been caddying at Pinehurst since he was 10 years old, and at 18, caddied for Fred Daly during the matches on No. 2. (Ben Hogan was in the same group.) Burke, now 93, was the youngest player in the victorious United States team, at 28.

A month ago, Elkington saw to it that McRae and Burke would meet one more time, and this week, released his show recalling the 1951 Ryder Cup online. There’s so much here, including a match between Elkington and the great broadcaster Peter Oosterhuis, played on Pinehurst No. 2. Elkington, to his great credit, has allowed us to post the show for you to watch free of charge for the next few days. We hope you enjoy it.

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No. 2 and The Old Course – The Ryder Cup Wager


In 1951, Pinehurst No. 2 was the site of the Ryder Cup, very much a different event then than it is today. The Americans, led by Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, had little trouble dispatching the British team 9 ½-2 ½.

Obviously, things have changed.

While it has been 65 years since Pinehurst hosted the Ryder Cup, we still feel a lasting attachment to one of golf’s greatest events. It’s a proud moment in the storied history of Pinehurst.

Now, though, comes a chance at another Ryder Cup moment for Pinehurst – and for The Old Course at St Andrews.


Here are the particulars, and St. Andrews has accepted:

  • If Team USA wins, The Old Course at St. Andrews will fly a Pinehurst No. 2 pin flag on the 18th hole on Monday after the Ryder Cup is decided.
  • If Team Europe wins, Pinehurst No. 2 will fly an Old Course 18th hole flag on its 18th for that Monday.

Two years ago, we admit, we watched with pride as 2014 U.S. Open Champion Martin Kaymer was one of Europe’s best players.

Now though? Well, let’s just say there’s a little more on the line.

We’d love to see the Pinehurst No. 2 pin flag fly on the 18th hole of The Old Course for a day. Imagine the photos.

And of course, we’ll happily oblige in honoring our end of the bet should the Americans fall short, and fly The Old Course flag on 18 of No. 2.

But we all know that won’t happen, right?


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Remembering Arnold Palmer at Pinehurst

The great Arnold Palmer has passed away at 87. We take a moment to reflect on The King’s grand legacy at Pinehurst


Doris Palmer was fraught with anxiety. It was the 1954 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit, and her 25-year-old-son, Arnold, was about to make a serious mistake. She approached Richard Tufts, the president of Pinehurst Inc. and USGA secretary, with her concerns.

“Oh, Mr. Tufts, I’m worried to death,” Mrs. Palmer said. “I’m afraid Arnold’s going to turn pro after this.”

“With that swing of his, he’ll never make it on tour.” Richard Tufts

Tufts’ primary frame of reference for young Palmer’s golf ability was the North and South Amateur, the tournament the Tufts family ran each spring on Pinehurst No. 2. Palmer never played particularly well in that event, losing by a monster score like 12-and-11 to Frank Stranahan in 1949.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mrs. Palmer,” Tufts replied. “With that swing of his, he’ll never make it on tour.”

Palmer won the Amateur that week, did in fact turn professional and proceeded to make hash of his critics. Palmer and Tufts were reunited 14 years later in Charlotte, when Palmer spoke on Tufts’ behalf at the latter’s induction ceremony into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. They shared a laugh over Tufts’ gaffe.

… Continue Reading

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