In addition to raising money through a tournament that bears his name, Arnold Palmer has helped an army of people via his many philanthropic endeavors
He has had his renowned Arnie's Army there to support him for much of his legendary career, his legions drawn to him because of his talent, charisma and go-for-broke style of golf. Arnold Palmer always has appreciated the support and the opportunities that the game has provided, and, therefore, whenever he has had a chance to give back, golf's "King" has constantly and consistently answered the call, helping a virtual army of people through his various charitable endeavors.
When the 36th Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard is held March 17-23 at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, there will be 120 players vying for victory, including eight-time champion Tiger Woods, but there will be thousands of winners afterwards with the proceeds benefitting Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. The tournament that bears his name is the most public charity initiative Palmer undertakes, but it's merely part of his personal journey of commitment that dates back to the beginning of his professional career that began in 1955.
"Arnold Palmer is most known for his competitive playing career and his popularity as a spokesperson, and he certainly excelled doing those things," said Scott Wellington, tournament director of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. "Outside of Orlando most people probably don't know that for over 50 years Arnold has been one of the most philanthropic individuals - not just in golf but in all of sports. It's really just a natural part of who he is."
For nearly two decades starting in the 1960s, Palmer served as the Honorary National Chairman of the March of Dimes, a role in which he spent countless hours making appearances and filming promotional television spots. In more recent years, he established a foundation to support Latrobe Area (now Excela Latrobe) Hospital in the town where he was born Sept. 10, 1929. He remains the foundation chairman.
In tribute to his late wife, a lover of nature and the beauty of the Latrobe area, Palmer and a small circle of associates and friends established in the early 2000s the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, a community park on land adjacent to St. Vincent College at Latrobe. He is president of its Board of Directors. He also has been heavily involved in raising money for cancer research, including the Prostate Cancer Foundation, following surgery for that disease in 1997.
Of course, Palmer has given of his time on the golf course and off by linking charity and golf. Through the years he has made countless speeches and participated in thousands of golf outings that have helped raise money and awareness for countless non-profit causes. More quietly, he has committed himself to almost-daily contributions to charitable causes around the world in the forms of autographed memorabilia and art, a benevolent practice that keeps personnel in his personal offices in Latrobe and Orlando busy year-round.
Palmer's humanitarian and philanthropic efforts have been recognized with numerous local, regional and national awards. Just to name a few, there is the Humanitarian Award of Variety Club International, Lowman Humanitarian Award in Los Angeles, Community Service Award of the Latrobe Chamber of Commerce, Spirit of Hope Award of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and Outstanding American Award of the Los Angeles Philanthropic Foundation.
Perhaps the most significant honors of all came in 2004 and 2012. President George W. Bush awarded Palmer the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, and in '12 the "King" was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. At the time, Palmer was just the sixth athlete to receive the Gold Medal and just the second golfer after the late Byron Nelson. Other athletes to receive the honor include track Olympian Jesse Owens, baseball hall of famers Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson and boxer Joe Louis.
"It's humbling to realize that just six athletes have been [given] this gold medal award," Palmer said during the awards ceremony on Capitol Hill. "I like to think and truly believe that golf and golfers promote some sort of human values that symbolize such characteristics as honesty, hard work, dedication, responsibility, respect for the other guy, playing by the rules. It's just something we do in the game in golf."
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, an avid golfer, commended Palmer as a "model of integrity, passion and commitment." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added that Palmer has "left his mark off the links" through his philanthropic outreach. "Golf made you famous, but your tireless efforts to save lives, not your short game, will make you immortal," Reid added.