I was saddened to learn that the legendary Arnold Palmer passed away yesterday. As a young agent on President Eisenhower’s Secret Service Detail, I had the wonderful opportunity to watch Palmer play with Ike on multiple occasions. I wrote about my memories of watching Palmer in Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. (Gallery Books, May 2016)
One of the most fun things about protecting President Eisenhower on his golf outings was being around the high-profile people with whom he played—people like Cliff Roberts, a co-founder of Augusta National; Bill Robinson, chairman of the board of Coca-Cola; and the most interesting to me, Arnold Palmer.
When Palmer drove from the tee, the ball would rise and remain about three feet off the ground for about two hundred yards and then zoom upward, coming to rest near or on the green. He was amazing.
Later, when I was assigned to protect Vice President Spiro Agnew, I had another encounter with Arnold Palmer in Honolulu. We were returning to the U.S. from a trip through Asia, New Zealand, and Australia, during which we had encountered violent anti-Vietnam war protestors at every stop.
When we got the Agnews checked into the Kahala Hilton near Diamond Head, I discovered that Arnold Palmer and his wife were also guests, and I had an idea.
“Mr. Vice President,” I said, “we’ve learned that Arnold Palmer is staying here this weekend. Would you be interested in playing a round of golf with him if I could arrange it?”
Agnew looked at me with wide eyes. “Of course I’d be interested, Clint. The question is, would he want to play with me?”
“Well, I know he enjoyed playing with President Eisenhower—I got to know him a little bit during my days with Ike—and I’d be happy to make the introduction.”
“Wow, Clint,” Agnew said. “Sure. that would be a great opportunity.”
I contacted Mr. Palmer, and he said he’d be honored to play with the vice president, so a golf game between the two was arranged. They got along so well that Palmer and his wife and the Agnews ended up having dinner together as well.
Despite the constant protests, the trip had been very successful overall, but to end it with a golf game between the vice president and one of his golf idols was a nice final note.