The seven-time PGA Major champion and Hall-of-Famer was an even better businessman than a golfer. Here’s what aviation meant to him and what he meant to aviation.
At this point, every major aviation organization has weighed in with its recognition of the contributions that Arnold Palmer made to general aviation, and rightfully so. But the story of why Palmer’s flying story means so much is the part we in aviation should understand.
If you grew up being even remotely aware of sports you know who Arnold Palmer is. He was one of the greatest golfers ever to raise a stick. For those of us who watched him in his heyday—I did, toward the end of his playing career—you know that he played with a combination of go-for-broke abandon and crafty strategizing that made him both a force to be reckoned with and the most entertaining golfer on the Tour, though, admittedly, there was a handful of great golfers he shared the greens with back in the day.
But you also know Arnold Palmer if you watched TV or read newspapers or magazines, because his face and voice and brand were everywhere you looked. He endorsed motor oil—I don’t even need to say which brand, he was that good—automobiles, rental car outlets, airlines, golf course and resort planning, and much, much more. Over the course of his life, he made, according to one estimate, $875 million, with only a tiny percentage of that coming from his golf tournament winnings. He was the consummate businessman.
Decades ago he realized something that catapulted his business to new heights, literally and otherwise: the business jet. Palmer realized early on that a bizjet made the country smaller, and by flying to communities with prospective resort developments, he could be more competitive, more efficient and, heck, save enough time to get on the links himself. Over the years Palmer owned a progression of ever faster and more sophisticated jets from Cessna Aircraft (as original an American brand as his own, it should be noted). And he flew them, too. He was, as is rightfully so with a golfer, a hands-on guy.
His message of bizjet success spread, and today the business jet is widely recognized by those in the know as being the best way to get out there, shake hands, meet face to face and get the job.
But we pilots know the larger truth, that Palmer, the genuine aviator that he was, was as passionate about being at the controls as he was stalking the fairways. His genius knew few bounds, certainly no earthly ones.
He will be greatly missed.