Jacksonville Sports Day

SEELY: Arnold Palmer and Jacksonville

Arnold Palmer, who died this week at 87, was much more of a Jacksonville presence than his appearance in golf tournaments here.

He was a business owner, club owner and member, co-owner of an apartment house, close friend of many, and yes … he loved the local social life.

So, in order:

ARNOLD PALMER

ARNOLD PALMER

Business: He and Ponte Vedra Beach’s Ed Seay owned Palmer Course Design, a company started when Palmer played Sawgrass Country Club and was enthralled with the design. Seay had done the course and Palmer arranged a meeting. To say they hit it off would be a huge understatement. They became close friends and formed a company. Palmer lent his name and his opinions; he was busy on the PGA Tour. Seay and the staff did the field work. There are several original Palmer-Seay courses here, notably Plantation Country Club, Marsh Landing Country Club and what’s now called Blue Sky, but was built as Mill Cove. Their office building, at the corner of Ponte Vedra Blvd. and Corona Road, is now a real estate office; when Seay died in 2007, Palmer moved the company to his Orlando base.

Club owner/member: A close pal was Jacksonville physician W.D. “Doc” Coppedge whose family made a fortune in the tugboat business and owned lots of Arlington land. Coppedge always wanted a great men’s golf course and lured Palmer, and many others, into developing Hidden Hills Country Club. It was before Palmer was in the design business and the original architect was Dave Gordon of Philadelphia. It didn’t last long as a men-only club but prospered when the ladies were allowed. Palmer and Seay later redesigned the course to allow homesites. It has since gone through several owners.

Apartment house: The weirdly named Villa de Palmereaux was developed by Palmer and several others. The buildings are still there, on Atlantic Blvd. just north of University Blvd., but it’s been through multiple owners.

Friend: Palmer once told me that he thought he had as many friends in Jacksonville as he had anywhere. Coppedge was just one and probably his closest, and the two were constant companions. Both were outgoing and friendly, and had the charisma that attracts others. When the Greater Jacksonville Open was at Deerwood, Palmer stayed in Coppedge’s condo just off what’s now the 11th tee. Predictably, Palmer missed the cut because he certainly didn’t miss the round-the-clock fellowship.

Social life: Might be best to leave the details to your imagination here. Yes, the rumors are true.

Personal observation: He was a man’s man as well as a ladies’ man. I once lucked into drawing him in the Tournament Players Championship Pro-Am and it was a delightful afternoon. He loved people and spent most of the day walking along the gallery ropes, taking to everyone. Can’t remember much about the round (we didn’t win anything) but I treasure the official photo of the foursome. The last time I saw him was about five years ago at Bay Hill. He was the same Palmer that I first saw at the Greater Greensboro Open in 1966. He drove out to our foursome in his cart, joined us for a few shots and made our day.

Great guy.

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