Pro recounts moments spent watching Arnold Palmer tinker with clubs

arnold palmer clubs

Cole spent time with Palmer on and off the course, starting when he was a teenager.

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Eric Cole enjoyed a home game of sorts last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which might seem strange when you realize the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year currently resides in Delray Beach, Florida — a nearly 3-hour drive from Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

What made it a “home game” is Cole’s connection to Orlando and the tournament’s namesake. Yes, that tournament namesake. Cole was born in Palm Springs, California, but spent his formative years in Orlando, playing golf on a junior membership at West Orange Country Club.

It was during high school that Cole befriended another freshman by the name of Sam Saunders. Cole and Saunders have played plenty of rounds together over the years, including more than 50 with Saunders’ grandfather: Arnold Palmer. Many of those rounds with “The King” occurred at Bay Hill and Latrobe Country Club in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Asked recently what stood out from his time playing with Palmer, Cole dug through the memory bank and chose one from their time off the course in the bowels of Bay Hill’s club room — a spot Palmer frequented when he needed to regrip a club or tweak a lie angle.

Palmer was the epitome of a “gearhead” who loved to talk shop about tools past and present. One look at the club collection he amassed at “The Barn” in Latrobe confirms his place at the head of the gearhead table. During a recent interview on GOLF’s Fully Equipped podcast, Cole admitted he never caught the gear bug, but watching Palmer work on his tools remains one of the highlights of their interactions.

“It was something I knew was special, even at that time,” Cole said. “You try to take a second and realize how cool it was. But looking back on it, I probably should’ve asked him more questions and valued it more.”

Teenagers rarely ask questions, Cole included, but at least the 35-year-old was wise enough to glean a few bits of gear intel from Palmer that stick with him to this day.

arnold palmer clubs
It was not uncommon to see two bags of clubs on the back of Palmer’s golf cart. Getty Imagew

“He was very old school with the way he [built his clubs],” he said. “A lot of guys today use one piece of tape under the grip, whereas he’d use a spiral wrap design that a lot of players back then used. He had big hands, so he made the club look really small. It looked like a toy.”

The “spiral wrap” was a Lamkin leather that Palmer and Jack Nicklaus preferred during their heyday. The leather was added to the end of the grip in a “wrap style” that took patience and precision to get just right. Even when the industry moved to rubber grips that were more economical and easier to apply, Palmer used a wrap-style rubber version when he was an honorary starter at the Masters.

“It was really cool to be in the room with him telling stories about how different golf clubs used to be, and the consistency of clubs now versus then,” Cole said. “A lot of those stories I’ll remember forever.”

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Jonathan Wall Editor

Jonathan Wall is GOLF Magazine and’s Managing Editor for Equipment. Prior to joining the staff at the end of 2018, he spent 6 years covering equipment for the PGA Tour. He can be reached at