If you ask Arnold Palmer to name his favorite golf course, he'll likely say he has more than 300 favorites. (He's designed more than 300 courses around the world.) But clearly, there is one course that has a special place in Palmer's heart -- Latrobe Country Club.
Located an hour southeast of Pittsburgh, Latrobe is where Palmer was born and raised, and he still spends about half of the year in this small Pennsylvania town, watching over the beloved country club that his father, Deacon, helped build in 1921 when he was just 17 years old.
And now, for the first time, you can get a tee time at Palmer's home course.
Palmer and Marriott hotels have recently opened a SpringHill Suites hotel in Latrobe, and guests of the hotel can make the short trip down Arnold Palmer Drive and play Latrobe C.C.
(Related Photos: Arnold Palmer's Latrobe Country Club)
"When I bought the club many years ago, I always thought that we would have some sort of a connection to a hotel," Palmer said at the grand opening on Sept. 10, also his 83rd birthday. "In recent years the land became available. All the things kind of worked out that would suit what we wanted to do."
The grand opening also brought out Bill Marriott, the just-retired CEO of Marriott International, who now serves as executive chairman and chairman of the board.
"This is a very pretty part of America, and having Latrobe Country Club right next door to where the hotel is, and having privileges for the hotel guests to play on this wonderful course, is a great magnet," Marriott said.
So what's it like to play on the King's home turf? Well, according to Palmer, it's not much different from when he was a young kid working in the pro shop and sneaking out to hit balls. "The basic golf course is still much the same as it was in the beginning," Palmer said.
I got a chance to play Latrobe recently, and it was a treat. It's a simple, down-to-earth place that doesn't feel overbearing and stuffy, like many old-school clubs do. Latrobe doesn't try to wow you with its state-of-the-art facilities or other needless bells and whistles. There's a small pool and tennis courts nearby, but obviously the main attraction is the golf course.
It's a mere 6,517 yards from the tips, but Latrobe shows its might once you stray from the fairway. Mature trees wait to punish any wayward shots, and the recoveries are hard to pull off if your last name isn't Mickelson.
When I played the course, it was in superb shape with lush fairways, crystal white sand and smooth greens. About those greens: I hope you like them fast. Palmer told me they were running about 12 on the Stimpmeter, and I wouldn't second-guess the King. The greens were so perfect , I almost felt guilty walking on them.
The course weaves through tree-lined hills and valleys and offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains that will have you reaching for your iPhone and snapping plenty of pictures. The scene-stealer is the 226-yard, par-3 10th, which requires a short cart ride up a big hill to a tee box that serves up a "wow!" view of the mountains.
A day at Latrobe is definitely a bucket-list item for any fan of the game, and well worth the trip. And you never know, you may just run into Palmer himself.
"A very good chance," he said. "I'm there a lot."
He's not joking. After my round was over, I headed back to my car, and sure enough, there was Palmer himself, walking into the clubhouse.
The SpringHill Suites line of Marriott hotels are not your average hotel rooms, and the recently-opened hotel in Latrobe is noticeably different the moment you walk into the lobby.
"There's a lot of Arnold Palmer here, which is the way it should be," Marriott said.
Behind the front desk is a giant picture of a golf ball resting on the ground, with Arnold Palmer's autograph and umbrella logo on the ball.
Located just off the lobby is the bar and dining area, where several artifacts from Palmer's career are on display. Right as you walk in, it's impossible to miss the treasured item behind a glass case -- the Masters trophy.
Putting a Masters trophy on display wasn't easy, even for a guy with four green jackets in his closet.
"To have that here in the hotel required special permission from Augusta National. If you want a trophy like that you'll have to go win the Masters, and then you'll have to get permission to put it in a hotel, which doesn't happen very often," Palmer said with a laugh.
The Palmer theme continues through the rest of the hotel. A wall near the elevators is decorated with photos from Palmer's life on and off the course, and even inside the gym, there's a frame-by-frame swing sequence of the King's classic action.
"He is the community, and so this hotel is dedicated to his great achievements in the world of golf and as a great human being, and we're thrilled and honored to participate and be a part of it," Marriott said. All of the 109 rooms are suites, with plenty of room for an L-shaped couch, an HDTV and spacious office area. The bathrooms are straight out of a home makeover show.
If you time your stay right, you can also catch the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp at nearby St. Vincent College. (This year it was July 27-August 17). Rubbing elbows with Palmer and Polamalu in the same day? Not a bad deal.
For reservations and green fees, contact SpringHill Suites Marriott Latrobe at (724) 537-7800.