News that legendary US golfer Arnold Palmer had died aged 87 was met with sadness at St Andrews the Home of Golf on Monday.
Palmer, regarded as one of the greatest and most influential players in the sport’s history, died at the UPMC Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was undergoing heart tests.
During a long career he won more than 90 tournaments worldwide, including seven majors.
Special tribute was paid at the Dunvegan Hotel where Palmer, nicknamed ‘The King’, paid numerous visits over the years and used to socialise with his late St Andrews-based caddie Tip Anderson.
A chalk board outside on Monday read: “Farewell Mr Palmer. We will all miss you. Fly high sir, Fly high” – a tribute to Palmer’s love of flying his plane.
Dunvegan proprietor Sheena Willoughby was “in tears” when she heard of his death.
She told The Courier: “He was a charming man. Very gracious. Just a lovely man to be around. Very friendly. He had all the right attributes really.
“He’s been in here half a dozen times. Tip Anderson his caddie for 30 years would always hang out here, so Arnie would come in.
“When Tip passed away Arnie couldn’t make the funeral but he sent flowers and a card. On the card it said ‘Good bye ‘ole friend’. We have the plaque up on Tip’s seat there from the card that Arnie sent.”
A chip shot away at the St Andrews links, Canadian John Nash, 75, from London, Ontario, was at the Old Course with his sons Jay, Bryan, Jordan, David and Colin who have brought him to St Andrews on a special golfing trip.
A sixth son Adam is due to arrive on Friday. John played the Old Course in 1980 and was delighted to be back. Yet the trip was tinged with sadness at news of Palmer’s passing.
He said: “Arnold Palmer was the legend of golf – particularly in North America. He really was the birth of television for golf.
“Our sixth son Adam was at Arnie’s golf course at Bayhill the day he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and yet Arnie took our son and another boy that night, put his arms around them and had his picture taken. He was very gracious under those circumstances.”
Waiting to tee-off on the Old Course with her husband, Clare Bowe, of Gullane, East Lothian, said: “I was listening in bed about 6am and it came on that Arnie Palmer had sadly passed away in the night – something to do with his heart. He was someone who was so iconic in the game of golf.”
Flags were also flying at half-mast next to the R&A club house, as was the Stars and Stripes next to the Old Course Hotel.
Arnold Palmer didn’t win The Open Championship when he first played in the tournament at a rain-swept St Andrews in 1960. That honour went to Australian Kel Nagle.
But – like wearing cardigans and mixing iced tea with your lemonade – he is credited with making it something “cool” for Americans to do.
Just a year earlier not one American pro played in the Open at Muirfield.
It was seen as too far away and not that profitable.
Palmer changed that attitude and, at a time when television was taking off, opened up golf to a whole new American audience – going on to win the Open in 1961 and 1962.
Fast forward a staggering 55 years to July 15, 2015, and perhaps it wasn’t a surprise there were more than a few tears as Palmer said an emotional final farewell to St Andrews, aged 85, on the eve of that year’s Open Championship. He last played competitively in the Open at St Andrews in 1995.
The traditional Champions Golfers’ Challenge is a four-hole exhibition that pits former Open champions against each other in four-person teams on the eve of the Open proper.
And it was a special moment in 2015 as Palmer – who struggled to walk – took time out from his buggy to take applause from the galleries.
Palmer stepped on the first tee and declared: “I’m going to hit this and it will be my second shot this year.”
His first came at the Masters three months earlier alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Although Palmer didn’t hit another shot, his team of Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie and Bill Rogers took home the victory.
Thomas Cullen, 51, from Kennoway, who was on a day out with his mum Helen at St Andrews on Monday, remembers that day well.
The Leven Thistle Golf Club member, who has been to watch Arnold Palmer’s Invitational Tournament in the USA several times, said: “The memory I’ll have of Arnold Palmer was last year when they had the Champion’s Challenge at the Open. The place was mobbed. He was bad on his legs.
“Then Darren Clarke encouraged Palmer to come out the buggy and walk up. It was absolutely tremendous. He was a legend and will be sadly missed.”
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A said: “It is with great sadness that we have awoken to hear the news of Arnold Palmer’s passing. He was a true gentleman, one of the greatest ever to play the game and a truly iconic figure in sport.
“His contribution to The Open Championship was, and remains, immeasurable. He will be missed and forever remembered by all at The R&A and throughout the world of golf as a charismatic and global champion of our game.”
The US Golf Association called Palmer “golf’s greatest ambassador”.
As tributes flooded in from across the world of golf, Tiger Woods tweeted: “Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend.”
Palmer attracted thousands of die hard fans known as “Arnie’s army” and helped to promote the game into the television age.
The golfer was loved as an every man superstar, and even had a drink named after him – the Arnold Palmer cocktail, made from one part iced tea and one part lemonade.
He also gave his name to a professional tournament – The Arnold Palmer Invitational, held each March at his private golf resort in Bay Hill, Florida.
Arnold Palmer was the most important golfer to play the game, said the BBC’s golf correspondent Iain Carter.
“His force of charisma put the game on the map and it never dimmed”, he added.
Fellow golfing great and a close friend of Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, said he would “miss him greatly”.
“We just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports,” he tweeted.
“Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend.”