ORLANDO, Fla. — More than a half-dozen years after his death, Arnold Palmer’s legacy remains ubiquitous at Bay Hill, and not simply because this week’s PGA Tour stop bears his name. The tournament logo is rendered with his distinctive signature, its wide, looping “A” and “P” conferring an identity that characters cut from a Linotype machine couldn’t hope to emulate.
During his life, that signature was given so often as to become valueless beyond the sentimental memories of the recipient. Palmer’s autograph is too commonplace to be priceless, in the trademark phrasing of his event’s longtime sponsor, Mastercard. His umbrella logo is no less prevalent, appended to everything from apparel to keychains. It’s been more than 60 years since the King saw a woman open a colorful umbrella on a rainy day in Pennsylvania, giving him inspiration for what remains the calling card of a commercial powerhouse, unrivaled by any golfer before or since.
Just behind the first tee at Bay Hill is a bronze statue of Palmer. It’s 13 feet tall but feels life-sized. Fans flock to it for photos, much as they did to the man it depicts. Images of the lost legend are everywhere too, some from his avuncular later years, others from his prime, eyes twinkling at some long-forgotten mischief. The Bay Hill Lodge itself is as worn and comfortable as its late owner’s cardigans, still the centerpiece of the community he built and surrounded by streets like Masters Boulevard and Harbour Town Court, on which America’s national plague of McMansions has been mostly held at bay.
That’s the ubiquity of the branding that made Palmer iconic. The personal touch that made him beloved is elsewhere, specifically in the breezeway that both connects the car park to the putting green and separates the locker room from the restaurant. On a glass-fronted notice board of the type that announces scramble results and shirt sales at courses nationwide, there are enlarged letters via which he dispatched congratulations and encouragement over the years.
There’s one from May 5, 2010, tipping a cap to Rory McIlroy on his first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow. “You are certainly living up to your promise,” he wrote, ending with a gentle nudge to consider playing at Bay Hill the following year. It wouldn’t be until 2015 that McIlroy obliged.
Kevin Kisner earned a note on his first Tour victory, too, dated Dec. 1, 2015, and the same not-so-subtle reminder about his schedule the…
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