Arnold Palmer’s legacy will be fresh in people’s minds this weekend at Bay Hill as the best players in the world head to Florida for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
It’s almost six years since the passing of the seven-time major champion and there will be several tributes paid to him on the PGA Tour with many hoping they can play boldly enough to slip into a red cardigan tomorrow night.
Palmer also designed numerous world-class golf courses and Ireland is proud to boast one of his finest masterpieces at Tralee Golf Club.
Although, Arnie can’t take all the credit for the Barrow golf course because God designed the back nine.
Palmer visited Tralee during his time and had a great relationship with everyone there including head professional, David Power whose finest memory is playing a round of golf with The King.
“It’s very easy to pick a highlight. Playing 18-holes with Arnold Palmer,” he smiled.
“He was amazing, just the most down-to-earth man in the world. He arrived on a beautiful day and we took him over to the old practice ground to hit a few balls before he played. He said ‘I need a Tralee shirt’ so I went back and got him one.
“There were a good few people watching him warm-up, maybe 30 or so. I said, ‘there you go Mr. Palmer’ and handed him the shirt. Delighted with himself he whips his top off and puts the shirt on in front of everybody. He was just very good and easy company.
“The highlight for our kids was that it was the first year they won the Kerry Junior League for a long time so he made sure once he found out to present their medals to them. So, they all have photos of Arnold Palmer presenting them with their medals.
“Three of those boys from that team have gone on to become plus three or four golfers so it shows how he inspired them. It was great for them.
“I’ve met Mr. Palmer a number of times in Bay Hill. I remember for a charity auction I wanted a Tralee picture signed and I put fifty dollars into it and sent it to him. The print arrived back and the fifty dollars in it too. He didn’t take it.
“I asked would he not donate it to his charity and he said no,” he added.
Power who has been working in Tralee for twenty-two years told a wonderful story about legendary local caddie Chuckie O’Connell and his unique bond with Palmer after he caddied for the American.
“The great story of Arnold Palmer here is our old caddy Chuckie caddied for him on that day and they came out of the showers and Chuckie was in his y-fronts and he sang the Rose of Tralee to Palmer while he was drying himself.
“Palmer loved it. When he found out Chuckie got sick he wrote a letter asking how his old friend Chuckie was and hoped he was doing OK which was a classy touch.
“Those are the stories you never forget.”
Power is originally from London and his first venture into the PGA profession was as an assistant pro at Staunton Golf Club in North Devon before moving to Ireland to take up the role of PGA pro at Killarney where he spent three years.
Despite being an Englishman, Irish blood courses through his veins with his father a Cork man, and his 91-year-old mother hailing from Ballybunion but now living in London.
“Everybody says London got the better deal,” he laughed.
Tralee has state-of-the-art practice facilities with indoor and outdoor bays while Power also has his own indoor technology teaching studio which I had the privilege of visiting. Surrounded by SAM Putt Lab, SAM Balance Lab, V1 Video Recording and Trackman it is hard to believe how one wouldn’t improve after one lesson!
“When I bring people in here we do a five-ball test to generate a report that we can look at and find out what’s going on,” he said pointing to the putting technology.
For obvious reasons, wind plays a huge role in what causes players to develop bad habits in their golf swing.
“There is nowhere to hide with this technology.
“We have the Balance lab which helps with weight distribution. This is actually very handy for where we are, we get a lot of players coming in who have been playing in the wind for a week and are now leaned over slightly trying to hit their drivers down. So this highlights it very quickly.
“The wind is a big factor in my lessons, it seems to cause a lot of problems for people in how they distribute their weight. I am giving the same lessons I gave here 15 years ago but now they are being backed up with data.
“We have trackman and three cameras: behind the line, face on and overhead. I’ll get them to hit ten shots with different clubs and then we will review the numbers.
“I also use trackman for course management lessons which is great.
Power likes to keep his lessons simple, yet he is a serious technician and will let the data do the talking. He and John Casey have been inundated with bookings during Covid and have noticed a sharp increase in participation and investment from people in their golf games. He has also been pleasantly surprised with the appetite the older members have shown for using the technology he has in his studio.
“The technology has become very popular with older members. At the start, they were reluctant because it all sounded too technical but now the word is out and they are all very open to it really,” he added.
After a lean period for the sport in Ireland, he envisages the current boom to continue for a few years at least.
“Like every club pro, people have invested more money on their golf games rather than go on holiday. The knock-on effect is people realize they enjoy golf and are more committed to it.
“I imagine golf will be in a great place for three years after Covid.
“I prefer to do any big changes in the winter. When people have competitions in the summer I like to make sure whatever changes we make won’t hamper their playing time. For example, I like to make sure if I change people’s grips that it happens in the wintertime so they have four or five months to work on it.
“We bought 20,000 balls this year for the driving range and after one members day the machine was empty. The number of golf balls being hit because of the lovely turf out there and our members are very active. The turf is heavenly out there.”
Power is the coach to as many as 200 juniors and he is contemplating hiring a junior coach. The juvenile club in Tralee is going from strength to strength and he has seen a marked increase in female participation following the exploits of Leona Maguire. The par-3 course in Tralee is the ideal place for children to learn the game. It is a safe and calm environment away from the knee-high fescue and gale-force winds that would demoralise even the most experienced golfer nevermind a child.
The children start on the par-3 course from the three different tee markers before progressing to nine-holes on the main course and they progress all the way to the full 18 when they get better and stronger.
“The great thing about the par-3 course is that they can have a laugh, drive the trolley over the corner of a green and nobody is standing on a tee box yelling at them.
“They can develop in a calmer environment.
“We have a family that won an All-Ireland pitch and putt and they are big Leona fans. The girls won the first four ladies major competitions in the club. Now we are starting to see six to eight of them playing consistently on Sundays in ladies competitions.”
After 22 years in Tralee Power feels right at home and can be considered an adopted Kerryman. He has no intentions of stopping and regularly attends PGA shows to keep up with the latest technology and trends in the world of golf.
“I just think from the minute I walked in here this golf club has been the most progressive club. They have never stopped trying to get better, improving facilities, making changes to holes, new pro shop, doing clubhouses.
“If I want to do extra courses they will pay to send me to courses to learn more stuff to use with our members.
“Everybody has fun here. The members are very proud of their club.
“A lot of them still remember the old nine-hole course.
“There is an amazing atmosphere here from the youngsters caddying to the bar staff, there is a feel-good factor around here.”
Arnold Palmer will certainly be in David Power’s thoughts having left such a mark on him and had a profound impact on everyone he met in Tralee Golf Club.
Tokens to mark Palmer’s presence around Tralee can be seen everywhere including at the nearby Meadowlands Hotel where the Arnold Palmer room is located.
Hopefully, Power teaches his players to play boldly!