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The King and I

Aliso Viejo, California: “My heart still skips a beat when I think back to my first encounter with Arnold Palmer,” recalled Peter Jacobsen, commentator on Golf Channel and NBC. “I was fresh out of college, had just turned professional after winning the 1976 Oregon Open as an amateur, and was out playing a late afternoon round at Monterey Peninsula Country Club in California.

“With the day growing long, I skipped a couple of holes and inadvertently cut in front of Arnold’s foursome,” winced Jacobsen. “As he approached the tee box, I immediately recognize him, almost fainted, and felt sick to my stomach. I was taught proper etiquette and I had just broken a cardinal rule—getting caught ‘red-handed’ by The King.

“Arnold stuck out his hand and said, ‘Hi. I’m Arnold Palmer. Can I join you?’” remembered Jacobsen. “I think all celebrities, sports stars, and politicians can learn from Arnold’s custom to engage with the common man.

“The memorable day started a friendship that lasted nearly 40 years. As our closeness deepened, I went from calling him Arnold to AP, then partner,” said Jacobsen.

“Arnold taught me several important life lessons. He reinforced in me to show up early and stay late. It’s my responsibility to play my very best, make the fan experience as rich as possible, and have a little fun along the way.”

Teachable Moments

Ketel One Vodka was a stable Palmer endorsement. It’s well documented his favorite drink after a round of golf at Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania (his home course) was Ketel One on the rocks with a lemon twist.

“What started as a business relationship matured into a friendship,” said Carl Nolet, president of Ketel One Vodka and 11th generation to run the Nolet Distillery in Schiedam, Holland. 

Each bottle of Ketel One Vodka carries the signature of Carl’s father, Carolus Nolet Sr., on the label. “It signifies our family’s commitment to quality. Each pot still of Ketel One is laboratory tested for consistency and taste tested before bottling.

“I too learned from Mr. Palmer. Years ago, as a ‘young buck,’ I was with Arnold in Reno at the grand opening of his course at Arrowcreek Country Club. During a member meet-and-greet, we signed Ketel One bottles as keepsakes,” explained Nolet. “Arnold pulled me aside and chided my sloppy signature. I blushed and felt flustered when he questioned me if I take pride in our quality product…which of course I do.

“He lectured me that I need to take that same pride in each signature and make it perfectly legible to show my appreciation. It changed my attitude in the importance of taking the time to do it right. I am sure Arnold often wanted to take the easy way out when throngs of fans were eagerly awaiting a signature, but he always made a conscious effort to stay, connect with fans, and make them feel important.”

Joined At The Hip

Carl Nolet and Peter Jacobsen discussed a possible partnership at the 2003 Hartford Open Pro-Am. “I was intrigued at the Ketel One ice bar. It’s a sight to behold,” said Jacobsen.

“When I first met Peter, it’s hard to pinpoint, but he’s the type of guy you like to be around. His genuineness complements our brand,” commented Nolet.

“It’s easy to appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears the Nolet family has persevered over the centuries,” reported Jacobsen. “To put in perspective the incredible longevity of Nolet Distillery, the same year General Electric was formed into a corporation, the distillery celebrated its 191st birthday. The Nolet family is a class act and I am pleased to have been ‘joined at the hip’ with the family the past 14 years.”

Heartbreaking News

On September 25 of last year, Carl received a text with the sad announcement that Mr. Palmer had passed away from heart issues at the age of 87.

“We flew from California to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for the memorial service at St. Vincent’s College Basilica,” solemnly recalled Nolet. “It was a who’s who in the industry that congregated to pay their respects.

“As everyone exited the church after the memorial service, there was a lone white cloud hovering overhead in what otherwise was a clear, blue sky day. I wasn’t the only one to experience a heartwarming feeling that it symbolized Mr. Palmer looking down and smiling on us.”

With a personal and business relationship stretching for decades, Carl was determined to commemorate the life and legacy of “The King.”

“His philanthropy efforts are well documented,” explained Nolet. “With the help of Arnie’s Army supporters, the portfolio of Palmer companies collectively donate millions to charities each year with a big chunk donated to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida, where families are never turned away for financial reasons.

“I immediately started brainstorming on what more we could do as a tribute to Arnold’s generosity to others.”

Mid-flight from Pennsylvania back to the West Coast, the pilot announced Orange County Airport had temporarily closed because a plane had broken down on the runway.

“Peter was with me and the idea floated to divert to Palm Springs for lunch at Arnold Palmer’s restaurant until the airport reopened,” recalled Carl. “We both had Arnold’s favorite meal of meatloaf and mash potatoes. It almost felt like divine intervention and solidified in me to do more.”

By the time everyone arrived in Southern California, wheels were already in motion on ideas to support the Palmer legacy.

“Arnold stood for the same things we stand for as a family: authenticity, integrity and generosity,” continued Carl. “I knew we ran the risk of critics questioning our motives, but I felt it was important to make a collective effort to continue to carry out his philanthropic mission.”

Ketel One Vodka created an Arnold Palmer Collector’s Edition bottle that reads, “Dear Mr. Palmer, This one’s for you.” The nostalgic black and white vignette of Mr. Palmer is accented with his signature and an open golf umbrella in red, yellow, white and green—his company logo since 1961.

“I swelled with pride when I was able to hand Amy Palmer a check for $100,000 to assist Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation,” concluded Nolet. “I think Arnold summed it up best: ‘the most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.’"