Postcards from Latrobe (by way of Orlando) -- The Arnold Palmer Forever stamp (Latrobe CC photo)
Wednesday, March 4 is a special day for golfers everywhere.
That's because Wednesday is the day that Arnold Palmer will be recognized with a Forever First Class U.S. Postal Service stamp and a "First Date of Issue" ceremony at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando.
The only problem?
Well, as anyone who knows the slightest bit about golf history is aware, the golfer known as "The King" grew up and maintained a lifetime home in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
That rankled some longtime Latrobe golfers, who think the ceremony should have taken place there.
As a media company, we can certainly understand why the U.S. Postal Service chose Orlando --and Arnold Palmer's PGA tour event at Bay Hill -- as the place to do the ceremony.
Although Latrobe didn't land the "First Date of Issue" ceremony, residents and visitors won't have any problem getting the stamps on March 4. The Latrobe post office ordered a whopping 80,000 of them to stock up.
In an age when many young people never even buy stamps, getting maximum media exposure makes sense. And Orlando was Palmer's second home, and the city where he co-founded The Golf Channel. But don't tell that to Latrobe native Fran Brasile, who once worked at Palmer's Latrobe Country Club.
In an interview with Jim Himler of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Brasile said:
“It should be here. Latrobe is where he grew up.”
Brasile, 55, described the golfing legend to Himler as a strict boss who demanded respect from employees. But he also noted that Palmer’s rapport with his fans was unmatched in the sport.
“He’d never shun the fans,” Brasile said. “He would shake your hand and sign everybody’s autograph. He’d spend hours.”
I can attest to the unique quality that Arnold Palmer had to seemingly make eye contact with everyone in the gallery as he stood waiting to tee off, or passed through an aisle from green to tee. I experienced that feeling on more than one occasion, including one of his last Masters tournaments, standing on the 2nd tee at Augusta National.
As a 14-year-old, I wrote a letter and simply mailed it simply to "Arnold Palmer, Latrobe, Pennsylvania."
I asked Mr. Palmer if he would return to my home state of Connecticut to play in the Greater Hartford Open that year. It was the site of his first U.S. PGA Tour victory -- his official first win was in Canada -- but he hadn't returned to play in years.
I received a reply that spring, (dated on my birthday of all dates) indicating that he would return in 1976, and that he looked forward to the possibility of meeting me. Sure, it may have been drafted by his secretary, but the signature was his, and it was real.
I would wind up working the tournament and acting as standard bearer for Palmer's group one of the rounds. I didn't bother him during play. But on the 17th tee, on a 95 degree humid day, I saw him reach into a large ice bucket full of towels. As his Popeye-sized forearms twisted the water out of one of the towels, I witnessed his strength with boyhood admiration.
Then, as he walked towards me, I realized the towel was for me.
"You look really hot," he said as he handed me the towel. "Wrap this around your neck, it will cool you off."
As I have recalled that moment many times over the years to my golfing buddies, it seems everyone has an Arnold Palmer story to relate.
And regarding Palmer's hometown, I'm hoping that Latrobe will get a ceremony of its own at a later date.
The Tribune-Review story said:
"There is talk of a special cancellation mark featuring an image of Palmer’s signature and his trademark umbrella logo, but it won’t be available Wednesday at the Latrobe post office, according to Jill Walters, a spokeswoman for the service’s Western Pennsylvania District. She said details for any future “postmark events” have yet to be confirmed."
I don't know about you, but my stamps have been pre-ordered. Enough to last a long time. Because there is nothing like a personal letter, like the congratulatory ones that Arnold Palmer used to send to PGA Tour winners. If you get one from me, it's going to have one of his stamps on it -- until I run out that is.
You can order them from the USPS, in sheets of 20 for $11.00, by clicking here.