The hardest thing about an audience with The King was finding his throne room.
You had to hang a left just before the pro shop at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. After entering through the nondescript glass door, you’d head up a flight of stairs into a small lobby.
Through a door, you’d spot the court guardian, a.k.a. executive assistant Janet Hulcher. Her quick smile would relieve some nerves as she ushered you in.
An office tells a lot about its occupant. Arnold Palmer’s was nice, but it wasn’t exactly fit for a king.
Palmer could have done it up like Louis XIV did Versailles and built a castle overlooking Lake Tibet. But his throne room was relatively small and offered only a nice view of the parking lot.
It was a handy metaphor for the man behind the desk.
As the golf world returned to Bay Hill this week, I wondered what had become of the office. Death can be awkward when it comes to rooms and belongings.
Do you keep everything? When is it OK to turn the deceased’s room into a functional space?
The members of Arnie’s court didn’t wrestle with the usual questions.
“It’s just as it was,” Cori Britt said.
Officially, he’s a vice president at Arnold Palmer Enterprises. Unofficially, he was Palmer’s caddie, confidant and body man.
He kept Palmer on schedule, though the daily routine was pretty set. Get up early, handle business, grab a hotdog for lunch and play the afternoon “Shootout” with buddies.
It’s as if nothing’s changed. The glass candy jar on the desk is no longer stocked with York Peppermint Patties, but the brown bottle of Monsieur Musk sits ready to be splashed on.
There are three pairs of reading glasses on the desk. Palmer loved Westerns, and the Louis L’Amour paperback he was reading still rests behind the big leather chair, next to his loafers and golf shoes.
The funniest thing is front and center on the desk. It’s a stack of business cards.
As if Arnold Palmer needed a card.
Everybody knew Arnie, or at least felt as if they did. Lodge guests would sometimes wander up, wondering if they could dare meet The King. If he wasn’t tied up, they would be showed in.
“He was always very accommodating,” Britt said.
Visitors could glance around and see a Claret Jug, a Ryder Cup trophy, silver Masters cigar boxes, a U.S. Amateur trophy and a 1954 ACC championship cup lined up on a shelf. But considering the museum’s worth of metal Palmer won, the golf display was minuscule.
The King played countless rounds with presidents, but he had a framed picture of himself riding in a cart and his golden retriever Mulligan. There were family photos galore, and the most prominent book on the big shelf was a biography of John Wayne.
One long shelf seems strangely empty now. It was where the fan letters and autograph requests were kept.
Fifty years after his last major title, they kept coming. Palmer would sign them all.
Not only was his autograph legible, it was free.
This would have been the craziest week of the year in the office. The procession of players, friends and celebrities would have rolled through. PGA Tour officials would have piled in to discuss whatever tournament issues had popped up and how they wanted to handle them.
“Mr. Palmer would give his blessing,” Britt said, “and off they went.”
Now there will be plenty of buzz on the second floor. The corner office, however, will be a silent testament to what made Arnold Palmer The King.
Mainly, he didn’t act like one.
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