Arnold Palmer has a lot planned for 80th birthday

Saturday August 22nd, 2009

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — You only turn 80 once, so why not celebrate in style?

The Arnold Palmer 80th Birthday Tour is about to gear up for a busy week of festivities in which the operative slogan is expected to be, Let 'em eat cake.

Palmer, who turns 80 on Sept. 10, will kick it off in Orlando. His birthday shares the same date as the grand opening 20 years ago of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children in Orlando, which he helped found, and now boasts two hospitals and a trauma center in the Orlando Regional Hospital complex.

The hospital gang will start with a birthday breakfast with Palmer on Friday, Sept. 5. How do you want your eggs? With candles obviously. The next night, Palmer will be the guest of honor at a banquet at Orlando's Portofino Bay Hotel.

Next up on Thursday, Sept. 8, is a dinner at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, home of the Pirates, who have the second-worst record in the National League. After dinner, Palmer will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. With sufficient urging, he could get the start in the game, too. How much worse could it be? Palmer is already in training.

"He's warming up now," Palmer spokesman Doc Giffin said Friday afternoon from his office near Latrobe, Pa. "He and his pilot, Pete Luster, occasionally go out back here and play a little catch. He hasn't stretched out to 60 feet 6 inches yet, but he's building up to it."

Thanks to Palmer, there's a reason to watch the hapless Pirates square off against the Chicago Cubs. It's also Arnold Palmer Bobblehead Doll Night at PNC Park. It's the first time Arnie's ever been honored with a bobblehead. "I don't have one of him," Giffin said, "but I've got one of Bill Mazeroski."

The next day, assuming Palmer doesn't pitch all nine innings against the Cubs, is a private golf outing and another dinner at Laurel Valley Golf Club. The day after that, guess what? More golf. Palmer and some of his closest friends will tee it up at Palmer's original home track, Latrobe Country Club. There will be more cake, a tractor and certainly no friendly wagering or needling.

That's a lot of partying for one week. "He's in reasonably good shape," Giffin said with a soft chuckle. "It's quite a celebration, but I think he can handle it."

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