Minnesotans' affinity for golf can be easily seen in the scores of this state's towns and cities that sit adjacent to golf courses. Many of them were carved out of cornfields and pastures in the 1960s, not long after the game became a television sensation and one golfer — Arnold Palmer — its biggest star. The working-class son of Latrobe, Pa., convinced middle Americans that golf could be Everyman's game.
That's why Palmer's death Sunday in Latrobe at age 87 is a felt loss in the state that by Golf magazine's measure is home to more golfers per capita than any other in the nation. Golf has produced other popular champions since Palmer won his last PGA tour event in 1973. But none has commanded a following larger or was more important to the growth of the game than Arnie's Army.
The size of that army's Minnesota division helps explain why this state has, by one count, 584 golf courses, and has been the frequent host of major tournaments, among them this week's Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Chaska.
Palmer was not expected to be at Hazeltine this week. He made few public appearances in recent months and died while awaiting heart surgery. His death comes amid reports of waning interest in golf in Minnesota and the closure of a number of courses in recent years.
Yet a visibly weakened Palmer was in Minnesota only last month to contribute to the redesign of what was 3M's Tartan Park Golf Course in Lake Elmo, to be known as the Royal Golf Club when it reopens in June. It will be among more than 300 courses around the country on which he and the design firm that bears his name left a mark. That was among many ways Palmer kept his name a household word long after his competitive playing days were over. (Being credited for a popular iced-tea-and-lemonade drink was another.)
It might be deemed fitting that Palmer's final visit to Minnesota was in connection with an aging golf course's rebirth. As golfers and fans assemble in Chaska this week for match play that will begin Friday, they're bound to be talking about Palmer's passing. We hope they also talk about how to carry on his efforts to keep the game strong.