A love for club tinkering, born out of necessity
Beginning at the age of 11, Arnold Palmer won Latrobe Country Club’s caddie tournament five times. With Latrobe’s fairways as his laboratory, young Arnold began experimenting with hand-me-down clubs from his mother and father. These included a Walter Hagen driver, Patty Berg brassie and Wilson Top Notch flat-backed blades. Though his favorite shot has always been a draw, he loved learning how to hit and move the ball differently to work his shot. In fact he said, "I became obsessed with the idea of practicing." Other than trying to perfect his swing and putting stroke, perhaps only one thing held as strong an obsession throughout Arnie’s golfing career—tweaking and creating clubs in his workshop.
Over 10,000 Golf Clubs
When Arnie first began working at the Latrobe course as a youngster, he didn’t always have enough money to purchase new clubs, much less the exact models he wanted. Instead he was constantly fiddling with his clubs to create the ‘feel’ he desired. When you consider the stern advice Arnie’s father, Deke, gave him about his golf swing after turning pro, this never-ending search was a bit contradictory. Says Arnie, "My dad said the quickest way to wind up back in Latrobe was by making changes to your swing."
While Arnie held fast to that admonition, he never resisted the idea of constantly trying out new types of clubs. Arnie has even won tournaments where he played with a different set of irons each day of the event. For him, it’s all about how a club feels in his hand on that particular day, not how he played the day before. Just how serious is Arnie about putting clubs to the test? Today his private collection of clubs numbers over 10,000 and is one of the world’s largest. Due to space availability, there are only about 2,000 putters and clubs in his workshop and the rest of the collection is stored in a warehouse facility on the Latrobe property. And these aren’t just any old clubs.
To meet his demanding specifications, Arnie would exclusively customize Callaway clubs in the workshop. For example, after testing a new Callaway driver model on the range, he’d go back to the workshop and experiment with different combinations, sometimes building over 20 different clubs of varying shafts, lengths, lofts and grip sizes. His tastes would change after any given round or bucket of balls at the range.
The workshop, attached to his Latrobe office, is outfitted with most of the same tools and equipment as the Callaway manufacturing facility. It’s here you’d often find Arnie and his long-time employee, Cori, adjusting a club’s loft a few degrees, switching to a firmer shaft, or building a new set from scratch. And because he was so concerned with the way a club felt in his hand, he often changed grips from one day to the next. The leather Lamkin Grips that Arnie always used could be easily rewrapped for customization. His search for the perfect club was not only an endless pursuit—it was a labor of love for Arnie.