The Tinkerer: Arnold Palmer Was the King of Golf Clubs

December 10, 2016

Arnold Palmer loved hitting his clubs, of course, and he loved tinkering with them almost as much. His first set consisted of cut-down sticks given to him by his golf-pro dad, Deacon. They didn’t fit him very well, and Palmer found out early that if he wanted clubs that worked, he’d need to learn to alter them himself. The boy spent hours in his father’s shop wrapping grips, changing out shafts, applying carefully considered lengths of lead tape and shaping clubheads.

“I worked the face to look the way I wanted,” Palmer once said of the refashioning of some old persimmon woods. “If I looked down and it looked perfect, I felt I would play perfect. But the grip was the most important part of the golf club to me. When I grabbed a club and it was what I wanted to feel in my hands, it was satisfying.”

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Palmer owned a collection of more than 10,000 clubs (including some 2,000 putters), many of which he built, and all of which still sit in his workshop in Latrobe. The result of the obsessive retooling was often two golf bags on his cart at Latrobe Country Club, just across the street, or at his beloved Bay Hill in Florida. The bags bulged with 40, 50, 60 clubs. He was always looking for something better.

“Whatever success I had in golf was largely because I developed my own style,” said Palmer. Without a doubt, that winning style included the King’s unshakable grip on his equipment.