Professional golfer, Arnold Palmer, had a fanbase dubbed ‘Arnie’s Army’. But was he ever in the military?
In 1951, Arnold Palmer enlisted as a Yeoman in the U.S. Coast Guard where he served until 1953. He completed his training in Cape May, New Jersey before being stationed in Cleveland, where he served in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Read on to learn more about Palmer’s time in the Coast Guard and ‘Arnie’s Army’.
Born on September 20, 1929, Arnie grew up spending the summer months in Pennsylvania, but would spend fall and winter in Bay Hill, California, playing golf.
His father, who first taught him the sport, was a professional player and course superintendent at a country club in Latrobe. Arnie was able to get a glimpse of the course and learn the ins and outs of the game.
He gained a golf scholarship to attend Wake Forest College and though he studied for 3 and a half years, he’d question his course after his roommate and friend was involved in a fatal car accident in 1950.
Arnie said in an interview in 2012, “I was pretty distraught over that and decided that I needed to get away — I joined the Coast Guard”.
Though Arnie had been the “No. 1 man” on his college golf team, he withdrew during his senior year and enlisted in the coast guard.
First Arnie had to complete his basic training, which he completed at the Cape May Coast Guard Training Centre in New Jersey in 1950. It was during this stint that he designed his first golf course – “a rudimentary nine-hole pitch-and-putt layout”.
He reportedly stayed on after his training for a little while as a self-defense and fitness instructor, playing golf in his spare time and gaining a new awareness of his interest in golf.
He was able to continue to pay attention to the sport after his transfer to Cleveland in 1951, where he was stationed at the Ninth District Headquarters as a yeoman. He played in ameteur tournaments, practising at the local country club, alongside his military duties.
He even gave his commander, Admiral Roy L. Raney, sporting tips which gave Palmer official permission and encouragement to continue the sport.
Though Palmer had his heart set on giving professional golfing a shot, Raney was keen for him to become an officer. Palmer has said “my intentions were to eventually get out and play golf and of course my boss, the admiral, had suggested I go to training at the academy”.
Palmer finished his service in 1954, ready to dedicate his attention to golf, but credits his military service with laying the foundations for his future success.
In an interview with historian Richard A. Stephenson, Palmer insisted “It made me a better person for the world and I believe that in my own right”, adding “the knowledge that I gained, the maturity that I gained in the Coast Guard was unbelievable. It matured me”.
Though not a real military unit, Palmer’s connection to the Coast Guard would eventually reinvent itself in the form of a loving fanbase.
After leaving the Coast Guard, Palmer quickly made his intentions to become a leading pro player known. His first major win came at the 1958 Masters Tournament.
On his official website, Palmer recalled first recognizing his fanbase: “It was 1959 when I first saw the words “Arnie’s Army”. I only wish I knew the name of the young man who was clever enough to coin the phrase”.
Soldiers from the nearby Camp Gordon would be able to attend tournaments at Augusta National for free, and their support for Arnold would eventually lead to his fanbase being dubbed ‘Arnie’s Army’.
He had an incredible career, and has the 5th most PGA Tour wins of all time. According to USGA, “golf and the military instill and promote shared values and characteristics”, so it was fitting that Palmer would find his military career so important to his golfing success.
Watch the video below to learn more about Arnold Palmer’s life and legacy.