The past will meet the future in mid October at the Wake Forest Pro-Am at Old Town Golf Club.
The pro-am, a major fund-raiser for the tradition-rich Demon Deacon men’s and women’s golf programs, will have an added feature with the legendary Arnold Palmer scheduled to be on hand. He’ll be honored by his former school as the on-campus golf complex will bear his name.
The pro-am will be held Oct. 17 with a dinner on Oct. 16 in which the school will officially announce that the facility will be named “The Arnold Palmer Golf Complex.”
“It’s going to be great to get back to Wake Forest for the pro-am,” the 82-year-old Palmer said. “I always have enjoyed participating in the past and I’m glad that the pro-am is back this year. It means a lot to the golf programs and the university.”
Palmer’s design team expanded the practice facility on campus last year. The Jesse Haddock portion of the complex will still be named for the legendary former coach and the Dianne Dailey Learning Center is on the other side of the spacious facility.
Athletics director Ron Wellman says naming the entire facility after Palmer is a perfect way to honor the Hall of Famer.
Back in 2005 when Palmer gave the commencement speech at Wake Forest he talked about what the school meant to him. He came to the old Wake Forest campus near Raleigh after one of his good friends, Buddy Worsham, decided to go there. It was at Wake Forest, however, that Worsham died in a car accident in 1950.
“I have had a love affair with Wake Forest since my undergraduate days,” Palmer said in the commencement speech, “but I didn’t realize until many years later what I had truly learned at Wake Forest, both in and out of the classroom, about the meaning of a productive and meaningful life.”
While Palmer is considered the first big star for the Demon Deacons, the tradition actually began even earlier than 1954 when Palmer won the first ACC individual championship at Old Town. Players such as the late Billy Joe Patton, who graduated in 1943, went on to become one of the top amateurs of all time, nearly winning the 1954 Masters.
The golf tradition that started in the 1940s picked up steam in the ‘50s and really took off under the direction of Haddock, who still lives in Winston-Salem.
Haddock, 84, won three national championships and had a long line of players who went on to play in the pros. From Lanny Wadkins to Gary Hallberg, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Scott Hoch, Len Mattiace and Billy Andrade, the Demon Deacons used to have seven or eight former players on the PGA Tour at one time.
The Wake Forest pro-am originated in the late 1980s and has been a big part of the fund-raising efforts of the program through the years.
The current Wake Forest golf coach, Jerry Haas, is excited about the pro-am, not only because of Palmer but two of his former players, nephew Bill Haas and Webb Simpson, are scheduled to play.
Bill Haas won the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship last month – an $11.4 million payday. Simpson won his first two PGA Tour tournaments this year and finished second behind Haas in the FedEx Cup points standings.
Haas and Simpson were both named to the President’s Cup team that will compete in Australia in November.
“The Wake Forest pro-am is a day that I’ve always looked forward to,” said Haas, who graduated from Wake Forest in 2004. “When I was in school it was always fun to see the guys on tour that were wake alums. It was fun to pick their brains on being on Tour and their memories of Wake Forest.”
Haas says hearing stories from former players who made it big on the PGA Tour are memorable.
“I had always loved hearing the stories from my dad about himself and Curtis and Lanny, so it was always fun seeing those guys and listening to them re-live their college days.”
As part of the pro-am festivities putting guru Stan Utley will put on a clinic and several former players are scheduled to be at the pro-am.
Kyle Reifers, who is playing on the Nationwide Tour this season but will be back on the PGA Tour in 2012, along with Champions Tour players Jay Haas, Jay Sigel and Hallberg are scheduled to play. Also, Andrade, who doesn’t play as much on the PGA Tour anymore and has been working on television as an analyst, is expected to play.
Palmer will also be a part of the pro-am in some capacity.