Return of the King

Today (September 12), two days after his 76th birthday, Arnold Palmer returns to Weston Golf & Country Club in Toronto to celebrate a pivotal anniversary in his spectacular career.

In the summer of 1955, a starry-eyed, 25-year-old Palmer captured the Canadian Open at Weston for a victory that kick-started one of the greatest careers in the history of modern sport. Palmer would go on to 62 victories on the PGA Tour and become so beloved that he became known as “The King.”

And now, Palmer returns for the 50th anniversary of that first victory. The occasion will include a gala dinner and a pro-am. The events will help kick off the inaugural Kings & Queens Senior Amateur Championship, a national tournament for men and women that will run September 13-14 at Weston.

Palmer is excited about returning to Weston to celebrate the anniversary of that first win. "It was the kicking-off point for me," he said of his 1955 victory. "It got me started on the winning trail and smoothed things out for me. The next year, I won a couple of tournaments and felt much more comfortable about what I was doing."

Palmer will be on hand Tuesday, September 13, to unveil a statue adjacent to Weston’s first tee commemorating the 50th anniversary of his 1955 Canadian Open victory. The statue was created by Ruth Abernethy, an artist based in Cambridge, Ontario. Palmer and Canadian amateur legend Marlene Streit, who became the first Canadian inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in late 2004, will then both hit the opening tee shots to help launch the inaugural Kings & Queens event. These festivities will kick off the two-day Kings & Queens tournament, which Palmer said "will soon be a premier senior mixed event in North America."

"The Return of the King should be a marvelous event for Canada," Streit said.

"This has been 50 years in the making," said Weston club president Robb English. "The board members are beyond excited."

Funds generated by The Return of the King will go to Greens & Dreams, a registered charitable foundation operated by the Greater Toronto Area Golf Association (GTAGA). The main beneficiary will be The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, as well as junior golfers, including those from underprivileged homes.

Due to his busy schedule, bringing Palmer to Toronto was a challenge for Glenn Goodwin, president of the GTAGA. But Palmer was sold on making the trip when he learned the event would benefit children's charities. "For decades, Arnie has been directly involved with raising millions of dollars for children's hospitals and he sits on many hospital boards," Goodwin said.

Palmer is pleased that funds from Kings & Queens will also help fund the new Kern Cup international tournament for junior boys and girls, to begin in the near future. The cup is named for the late Ben Kern, former Director of Golf at Devil's Pulpit Golf Association in Caledon, Ontario, who also played on the PGA Tour with Palmer.

"Just as my win in 1955 (at Weston) played an important role in my career development, I know the Kern Cup will foster a new generation of great Canadian golfers," Arnie said.

Meanwhile, golfers are looking forward to Palmer's return in September to Weston, including Jerry Kesselring of Kitchener, who finished ninth at the 1955 Canadian Open, Gordon Delaat Weston's head professional in 1955, and Ray Slater, who was Arnie's caddie as a teenager in that memorable Open.

"When he showed up, I didn't know who the heck he was," Slater said. "All I knew was, I was getting $125 for four rounds and a practice round and that was good money in those days. He turned out to be a pretty good golfer."

Slater added that he tried to stay out of Palmer's way "and just remind him about the sand traps and the hazards."

After trailing in the first round, Palmer went on to register a Canadian Open record of 23-under-par for 72 holes, beating Jackie Burke by six shots. Palmer's prize? A princely total of $2,400.

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