In a year when the Algarve celebrates 50 years of golf and the Portugal Masters is set to enjoy its 10th edition the sad passing of legendary Arnold Palmer is especially poignant. The Oceanico Victoria course in Vilamoura will again host Portugal’s showpiece golfing occasion next month and when the first drive signals the start of competition thoughts will inevitably turn to Arnold Palmer, architect of what is acknowledged as one of Europe’s finest courses. The magnificent Oceanico Victoria will again be showcased across the world and while the focus will be on the golf the setting will reflect a fitting tribute to the only golfer to have been bestowed the universally accepted title of “The King”.
Palmer is arguably the single most important figure in terms of bringing golf to the people, the ordinary folk. As great efforts are being made in Portugal through encouraging junior golfers to embrace golf – and progress is being achieved due to the work of such as David Moura of the Portuguese Golf Federation – the legacy of Arnold Palmer cannot be underestimated. Palmer is recognised as someone who brought golf to the masses as his common touch and unmistakable humility marked him out as someone that we could easily identify with and even perceive as a sporting hero – although that status never sat easily with the man himself.
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 he was playing golf only a few months later. Grateful to be alive never mind having the joy of playing golf, his reactions spoke volumes about his character. “I’m not interested in being a hero. I just want to play some golf.” He wanted to focus on playing the game he loved and in doing so he set an example to us that we can love the great game of golf and appreciate what life has to offer. At a time when Portugal is producing more top golfers it’s worth reflecting on how success with raising the profile of the game can encourage the Portuguese people to experience golf and the country’s marvellous facilities. Palmer exploded the myth that golf was an exclusive activity for the elite and the privileged. The Oceanico Victoria golf course will endure as his personal monument and so too will his legacy of being determined to include everyone in the experience of golf. Portugal is a beneficiary of his drive and it is to be hoped that future generations of Portuguese can benefit from and do justice to the spirit of the great Arnold Palmer.