Golf legend Arnold Palmer is being bestowed with NBAA’s top honor–the Meritorious Service Award.
Palmer’s name has been synonymous with golf since Aug. 20, 1955, when he won the Canadian Open, his first professional tournament. In addition to winning 92 overall tournaments in his career, including four Masters, he’s become a successful businessman and philanthropist. But he is also a pilot and is a staunch supporter of business aviation.
His fascination with aviation started as a youngster growing up in Latrobe, a small Pennsylvania industrial town east of Pittsburgh, Palmer said. Latrobe had “a nice little airport barely a mile from my home on the perimeter of Latrobe Country Club.” He noted that the airport was renamed Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in 1999 and has undergone expansion and modernization over the years.
Palmer hung out at the airport, got a ride in a Piper Cub and decided he would learn to fly one day. “Little did I realize what an important part of my life–athletic, business and family–aviation would become in the years ahead.”
Starting out on the golf circuit in the mid-1950s with “arduous trips” in a car and trailer, Palmer decided that flying would be a better way to travel. “All of that driving in those early years convinced me that flying was the only way to go,” he said. “And in my own airplanes with their short-field capabilities.”
Palmer started taking flying lessons and in 1961, he said, “I acquired my first aircraft–an Aero Commander 500–to do much of my traveling on the tour. I moved up to a 560F Commander two years later and had gotten so busy by then that I hired a part-time pilot to fly with me.”
The golf pro switched to jets in 1966, when he bought a Jet Commander, then a Learjet in 1968. He bought the first of his seven Cessna Citations, a 500 model, in 1976 and kept trading up the line. He moved into a Citation X in 1996, buying the first production model. With his 2002 model, he said, “I can fly the Latrobe-to-Orlando trip between my two main bases in little more than 90 minutes. The range and speed of the Citation X have been particularly valuable to me in my vast golf course design business in the U.S. and abroad. I log something like 25 hours a month in the air and have more than 18,000 hours in my logbook,” he told AIN
Palmer is a spokesperson for the No Plane No Gain advocacy campaign, jointly sponsored by NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. “The campaign educates policymakers and opinion leaders about the value of business aviation to citizens, companies and communities across the country,” said Palmer.
“For lending his voice to our industry’s advocacy campaign, NBAA is pleased to honor Arnold Palmer with our highest award,” said NBAA president Ed Bolen.
“I could never have accomplished even half as much as I have in my golf and business careers over the last four decades without having had my own airplanes, especially the business jets since 1966, and an excellent airport so close to home,” Palmer said.