Arnold Palmer, who died Sept. 25 at 87, paraded across the world, his gait as familiar as his swing. And in 1987, he made a memorable visit to this region.
His course-design company revamped Rancho Murieta’s north course for the Senior Gold Rush, and Palmer was a big draw for the inaugural tournament, followed throughout the week by “Arnie’s Army,” his legion of fans.
“Generally speaking,” Palmer told The Sacramento Bee of the redesign, “the reaction has been 97 1/2 percent in favor. About 2 1/2 percent are disgruntled, but they’d be unhappy if they were in the Taj Mahal. You could give them a steak and a beer, and they wouldn’t eat.”
When Palmer played Rancho Murieta during that hot August stretch, his fans cheered his every move: “Let’s get going, Arnie! Come alive, big guy!”
“The crowd has been wonderful,” Palmer said then. “I was happy to see all the people out there. It’s a tribute to the tournament and to the city of Sacramento.”
Palmer was involved in the tournament’s most amusing moment.
Generally speaking, the reaction has been 97
Arnold Palmer, on reaction to his redesign of Rancho Murieta’s north course for the 1987 Senior Gold Rush
On the par-3, 180-yard 16th hole, Palmer placed his tee shot over the left-side portion of the green. But the ball bounced over the green and off a woman next to the green who had a large purse. The ball landed on top of that purse, pinned by a seat cushion. She did not move for eight minutes until an official made a ruling.
Palmer and playing partners Orville Moody and Charles Owens closed in, and the barbs came with them.
Palmer asked the woman where she was when the ball landed. “Right here,” she replied with a giggle. “I’ll be honest.”
“Yeah, that’s the trouble,” Palmer joked as the crowd laughed. “If you’d have walked on the green, we’d have been in good shape.”
Palmer, who was allowed a free drop, kissed the woman on the cheek before bogeying the hole. She was presented with the ball.
The Senior Gold Rush, an annual stop on the Senior PGA Tour, was at Rancho Murieta through 1995 before moving to Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills through 2001.
Maloof Sports and Entertainment assumed control of the Gold Rush Classic in 2000, and the idea of including actor Bill Murray with retired NBA stars Charles Barkley, Rick Barry and George Gervin wasn’t enough to save it. The event folded after 15 seasons in January2002.
94,896 Attendance for the inaugural Senior Gold Rush in 1987
Moody won the inaugural event. Other winners were Bob Charles (1988, 1992), Dave Hill (1989), George Archer (1990, 1991, 1993), Bob Murphy (1994), Don Bies (1995), Jim Colbert (1996), Bob Eastwood (1997), Dana Quigley (1998), David Graham (1999), Jim Thorpe (2000) and Tom Kite (2001).
At that first tournament, Palmer created even more excitement when he had five consecutive birdies and briefly appeared on the leaderboard during his second-round 3-under-par 69. He opened with a 74 and closed with a 71 to tie for ninth at 2-under 214.
A crowd of 50,000 was expected for the first tournament, but 94,896 attended the weeklong event.
“The galleries were tremendous,” Palmer said then. “The golf course played well for its first tournament, and you certainly saw some good golf.”