Former Turtle Bay Director of Golf Matt Hall wasn’t expecting much when he inked a letter to Arnold Palmer while aboard a flight from Florida to Hawaii in 2004.
“I asked him to consider playing in the 2005 Turtle Bay Championship and I mentioned how much it would mean to our community to see him play on his own course.”
Arnold Palmer designed Turtle Bay Resort’s championship course that takes his namesake in 1992.
(17th hole of the Palmer Course)
“Never thinking I would receive a reply, I got a note from him saying that he appreciated my letter and would make every effort to play in the event. About a month before the tournament I received a call from Doc Griffin, his personal assistant, telling me that Mr. Palmer would be playing in the event and that my letter had a lot to do with his decision.”
Hall’s letter would lead to one of the most memorable weeks of his life. He greeted Palmer on the Honolulu tarmac- Palmer had landed his own private plane for the first time in Honolulu.
“When he pulled up you could see him through the window and it was unreal to see the legend himself give a thumbs up through the pilot window.”
Hall brought three rental cars for Palmer to choose from, and he picked a Cadillac. They then proceeded to drive to Turtle Bay, where Hall would get to know the golf great and even witness a landmark in the legend’s life.
Hall spent time trying to ensure Palmer was comfortable during his stay at Turtle Bay Resort, placing him in a Beach Cottage and upon his request, lending him a golf cart to use to get around Turtle Bay’s 850 acres.
One evening Hall came by to switch out Palmer’s cart when Palmer’s caddy invited him into Palmer’s Beach Cottage to attend a special ceremony.
Palmer was tying the knot with his girlfriend Kathleen “Kit” Gawthrop right on Turtle Bay’s Beach Cottage Lawn. It was a small, impromptu ceremony overlooking the Pacific Ocean. North Shore Pastor Ron Valencia performed the ceremony.
(Beach Cottage lawn where Arnold and Kit said their vows)
“I was one of only 6 people that attended his reception after he married his wife Kit outside the cottages at Turtle Bay. The others at his wedding were his pilot, his caddy and their wives. And then two nights later, while putting away the last of the golf carts in the dark, I heard my name being called from the dining area outside Lei Leis. It was Mr. Palmer's voice calling me over. He invited me to join him and Kit for dinner. I declined twice trying to respect his privacy but on a third insistence from the King himself, I happily agreed.”
(The newlyweds after their wedding ceremony)
Hall was in awe at how down to earth Palmer was.
“He signed several autographs during the meal and never turned away one person.”
(Arnold Palmer and Matt Hall)
Palmer played all three days in the 2005 Turtle Bay Championship, drawing quite a crowd. It was truly amazing for everyone to see the legend playing his own course.
Several weeks after the excitement of the tournament died down, Hall was surprised to receive a letter from Arnold himself, thanking him for his memorable time on Oahu’s North Shore. Of course the letter is one of Hall’s most prized possessions. You can read the full letter below.
“He touched a lot of people and I am sure my story is not unlike many others, I am just fortunate to have my own Arnold Palmer story and grateful to meet such an incredible person.”
Palmer passed away on Sunday, September 25 at the age of 87. His memory and legacy lives on at Turtle Bay Resort. The Palmer course was awarded several distinctions, including “75 Greatest Golf Courses in Hawaii” (Golf Digest), “Top 100 Public Courses in the US” (Golf Digest) and the “Top Five Courses in Hawaii,” just to name a few.