Beaufort News

Arnold Palmer stops by Old Tabby Golf Links for course unveiling

Arnold Palmer answers questions from fans at the 18th hole during the reopening ceremony for Old Tabby Golf Links in November 2012.
Arnold Palmer answers questions from fans at the 18th hole during the reopening ceremony for Old Tabby Golf Links in November 2012. Delayna Earley -- Staff photo

The King took the microphone Thursday at Old Tabby Golf Links and asked for questions from its members.

There was only one for Arnold Palmer, the 83-year-old golf icon who was on Spring Island to assess his design company's most recent renovation, a seven-month restoration of his original design completed in 1992.

"Is this my favorite course I've ever done?" Palmer said, repeating the question. "Absolutely."

The answer pleased the crowd gathered at the 18th green. Palmer is no stranger to such events. He conducted a clinic for Wexford members and held court when the Hilton Head Island golf course unveiled its transformation in October 2011.

But many of the questions Palmer faces these days as golf's patriarch involve the state of the game. With golf's governing bodies expected to rule on anchored putters by the end of the year, Palmer has weighed in, supporting a ban on players anchoring a putter to their bodies.

The 83-year-old, who was in studio Thursday morning for a Golf Channel appearance before traveling to the Lowcountry, said he supported a ban at all levels of the game, even for the recreational player, and that future rules changes should be applied to all golfers to limit confusion.

"Having said that, if I putted better with an anchored putter and I was on the tour, I'd use it, as long as it's within the rules," Palmer said. "But I'm giving you my opinion of that, and my opinion is that it's not a place in golf for anchored putters."

Palmer also favors modifying the golf ball to slow its speed off the clubface and called a change to the ball "inevitable," awaiting only manufacturers to come around.

"We have got to slow the golf ball down," Palmer said.

Palmer expressed hope golf would rebound from its recent slump. He admits his golf game is almost non-existent, except for some scripted moments at charity events and his ceremonial first tee shot at the Masters. But he keeps tabs on his company's ongoing renovation projects, calling lead architect Brandon Johnson regularly to gauge the progress of Old Tabby.

"And I know how hard he worked," Palmer said. "Because every time I called him, he was here."

The course, which had developed a more manicured look than the original layout, was restored to its natural character. The $4.5 million renovation included a new irrigation system, with high-density polyethylene pipe and more than double the original 1,200 irrigation heads, meaning half the watering time and more precise watering.

"It's a lot more efficient," superintendent Jay Gratton said. "We save a lot more water, a lot more electricity."

Bunkers were reduced, greens re-contoured to introduce new pin locations and alternative angles created off some tees. The signature 17th, a par-3 with sweeping marsh views, maintained its look. The par-4 11th, previously a straightforward par-4, received a facelift. A large ridge was added in the fairway, a bunker left and new tees give different looks. Players can choose a safer shot down the right side or try to challenge the slope left for a shorter approach.

Old Tabby's greens were rebuilt to conform to USGA specifications and re-grassed with MiniVerde, a sturdier strain of bermuda not available when the course was built. The new grass means Gratton won't have to overseed during the colder months, eliminating the tricky transition periods.

Some greens were repositioned to receive more sunlight and preserve some of the property's significant oaks. Environmental concerns were among the design team's top concerns, Palmer said.

"The Tabby Links lives on, and it will live on for a long time," he said.