Two things happened in 1971 that would change Orlando, Florida, forever. The first would be the opening of the Walt Disney World® Resort, the most ambitious resort theme park destination project of its kind.
The second would be the purchase of a private golf club just a few miles down the road, Bay Hill Club and Lodge, and the new owner, Arnold Palmer. We all of course know the role Arnold Palmer played in the growth and success of the PGA Tour, the game of golf, and sport marketing globally. What many people do not know is his impact on Walt Disney World® Golf.
In September 1971, with just a few weeks remaining before the opening of the Walt Disney World® Resort, Director of Marketing, Sandy Quinn, was asked to setup a PGA Tour golf tournament at the Walt Disney World® Golf courses. Quinn had no experience in setting up an event like this, but he knew who Arnold Palmer was, and he knew he had just moved into the neighborhood.
“I sent someone over to see if Arnold would come by and at least talk to us about it,” Quinn said. “Well, he came over, and we’re starting to talk, and then all of a sudden he looks off in the distance, curious about something. I walk over and see he’s watching the train engineers put the new cars on the monorail. Right away Arnold gets interested, and wants to know if he can take a ride. Well as luck would have it, the engineers were running a full scale test on the whole system that day — and they were delighted to have Arnie as their first passenger.”
We all said a small prayer, hoping the thing wouldn’t break down while he was in it! When he was through, we started talking a little about a golf tournament. ‘No problem’, he says, ‘Sign me up. I’ll call a few friends.’ And that was it. In no time at all, we had a full- fledged PGA golf tournament.
And as they say….the rest is history! The Walt Disney World® Open Invitational was held in December of that year and was won by Arnold’s good friend and most fierce competitor, Jack Nicklaus. Eight years later, Arnold would bring another PGA Tour event to Orlando when he convinced the PGA Tour to move what was then the Florida Citrus Open to his Bay Hill Club and Lodge, an event now known better as the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
As fate would have it, forty years later these two iconic partners would come together again. In 2011 the Walt Disney World® Resort and Arnold Palmer Golf Management signed a 20-year strategic alliance to operate and manage the golf properties at Walt Disney World®.
On June 10th, 2013 the Arnold Palmer Course Design team began a 6 month journey redesigning Disney’s Palm Golf Course. This classic tournament course was re-imagined by Arnold Palmer and his design team, and reopened in December 2013. Disney’s Palm Golf Course was awarded the Renovation of the Year in the resort course category by Golf Inc. Magazine the following year.
While many Disney guests have enjoyed the championship caliber courses over the decades since 1971, few knew how the relationship all began with Arnold Palmer’s curiosity of the monorail. Please see below the illustrious list of past winners of this event, 1971 – 2012.
Year Winner Country Score To Par Margin of Victory Runner(s) Up Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic 2012 Charlie Beljan United States 272 -16 2 strokes Matt Every
2011 Luke Donald England 271 -17 2 strokes Justin Leonard Children’s Miracle Network Classic 2010 Robert Garrigus United States 267 -21 3 strokes Roland Thatcher
Year Winner Country Score To Par Margin of Victory Runner(s) Up Children’s Miracle Network presented by Wal-Mart 2009 Stephen Ames Canada 270 -18 Playoff Justin Leonard
2008 Davis Love III United States 263 -25 1 stroke Tommy Gainey 2007 Stephen Ames Canada 271 -17 1 stroke Tim Clark Funai Classic at the Walt Disney World Resort 2006 Joe Durant United States 263 -25 4 strokes Frank Lickliter
2005 Lucas Glover United States 265 -23 1 stroke Tom Pernice, Jr. 2004 Ryan Palmer United States 266 -22 3 strokes Briny Baird
2003 Vijay Singh Fiji 265 -23 4 strokes Stewart Cink
Disney Golf Classic 2002 Bob Burns United States 263 -25 1 stroke Chris DiMarco National Car Rental Golf Classic Disney 2001 Jose Coceres Argentina 265 -23 1 stroke Davis Love III 2000 Duffy Waldorf United States 262 -26 1 stroke Steve Flesch
Year Winner Country Score To Par Margin of Victory Runner(s) Up National Car Rental Golf Classic Disney 1999 Tiger Woods United States 271 -17 1 stroke Ernie Els 1998 John Huston United States 272 -16 1 stroke Davis Love III Walt Disney World / Oldsmobile Classic 1997 David Duval United States 270 -18 Playoff Dan Forsman 1996 Tiger Woods United States 267 -21 1 stroke Payne Stewart 1995 Brad Bryant United States 198 -18 1 stroke Hal Sutton
1994 Rick Fehr United States 269 -19 2 strokes Craig Stadlier
1993 Jeff Maggert United States 265 -23 3 strokes Greg Kraft 1992 John Huston United States 262 -26 3 strokes Mark O’Meara 1991 Mark O’Meara United States 267 -21 1 stroke David Peoples 1990 Tim Simpson United States 264 -24 1 stroke John Mahaffey
Year Winner Country Score To Par Margin of Victory Runner(s) Up Walt Disney World / Oldsmobile Classic 1989 Tim Simpson United States 272 -16 1 stroke Donnie Hammond 1988 Bob Lohr United States 263 -25 Playoff Chip Beck 1987 Larry Nelson United States 268 -20 2 stroke Morris Hatalsky
1986 Raymond Floyd United States 275 -13 Playoff Lon Hinkle
1985 Lanny Wadkins United States 267 -21 1 stroke Mike Donald
Walt Disney World Golf Classic 1984 Larry Nelson United States 266 -22 1 stroke Hubert Green 1983 Payne Stewart United States 269 -19 2 strokes Nick Faldo
1982 Hal Sutton United States 269 -19 Playoff Bill Britton Walt Disney World National Team Championship 1981 Vance Heafner & Mike Holland United States 1980 Danny Edwards & David Edwards United States
Year Winner Country Score To Par Margin of Victory Runner(s) Up Walt Disney World National Team Championship 1979 George Burns & Ben Crenshaw United States 1978 Wayne Levi & Bob Mann United States 1977 Gibby Gilbert & Grier Jones United States 1976 Woody Blackbun & Billy Kratzert United States 1975 Jim Colbert & Dean Refram United States 1974 Hubert Green & Mac McLendon United States Walt Disney World Golf Classic 1973 Jack Nicklaus United States 275 -13 1 stroke Mason Rudolph Walt Disney World Open Invitational 1972 Jack Nicklaus United States 267 -21 9 strokes Jim Dent
1971 Jack Nicklaus United States 273 -15 3 strokes Deane Beman