The Ouimet Fund today joins the world of golf in mourning the passing of Arnold Palmer. Mr. Palmer was involved with The Fund for nearly 20 years, thanks to the efforts of Ouimet Trustee and Alumnus Richard F. “Dick” Connolly, Jr. who worked as Mr. Palmer’s financial advisor and was a very close personal friend.
The “new era” of Ouimet Fund Banquets began in 1997 when Arnold accepted Mr. Connolly’s invitation to become the Banquet’s guest speaker and first recipient of the Francis Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf. Mr. Palmer’s appearance helped bring the dinner and the Ouimet Fund to a new level as 1,400 guests were on hand.
That Banquet was also the first time The Fund created an endowed scholarship from the proceeds, and Mr. Palmer selected his late father, Deacon Palmer, as the named honoree. The Deacon Palmer Award has been presented annually to a Ouimet Scholar studying to be a golf professional or course superintendent, as Deacon Palmer was, and Mr. Palmer wrote to the recipient to extend his congratulations each year.
Over the next few years, the Ouimet Banquet secured its position as the biggest golf dinner in the U.S., and Mr. Palmer frequently helped recruit subsequent honorees of the evenings.
Two years later, Messrs. Connolly and Palmer hooked up again when Mr. Connolly sponsored a Boston Pops Concert during the Ryder Cup that honored Mr. Palmer’s 70th birthday. The event created a $100,000 addition to the Deacon Palmer Scholarship.
In 2000, Mr. Palmer stepped into a new role with Ouimet. He succeeded Gene Sarazen, who died in 1999, as Honorary Chair of the Francis Ouimet Memorial Tournament, The Fund’s premier invitational event. Mr. Sarazen, who had been a close friend of Francis Ouimet, had been Honorary Chair since the inception of the Tournament in 1968.
In 2011, Mr. Palmer agreed to be the Honorary Chair of the Ouimet Centennial. With Arnold on board, The Fund was able to ask the other prior Banquet honorees and some special friends to be Centennial Ambassadors. The cycle was completed when Mr. Palmer agreed to be presented with the 2013 Richard F. Connolly, Jr. Distinguished Service Award at The Fund’s Centennial Gala. There were 2,100 guests on hand – the largest ever for a golf banquet in the United States. He was joined on stage by Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner, the Master of Ceremonies, Peter Jacobsen and Mark Frost, the author of The Greatest Game Ever Played, and Bill Paxton, the director of the movie of the same name.
Finally, The Ouimet Fund is extremely grateful that Mr. Palmer has been a friend to Dick Connolly and our mission. We were proud to present the Richard F. Connolly, Jr. Distinguished Service Award to Arnold Palmer, who as much as any other player ever, embodied so much of what Francis Ouimet was to American golf.