America’s revered golf professional Arnold Palmer had barely cleared his 87th birthday when he passed away in September of last year. From 1958 to 1964, he dominated the Masters in Augusta. His career spanned two generations, yielding 62 PGA tour titles and making him one of the originals in the World Golf Hall of Fame among other similar kudos.
Palmer learned golf from his father, Milfred J. (Deacon) Palmer, who, despite having been afflicted with polio, was the lead professional and greens keeper at the Latrobe Country Club, which “Arnie” bought in 1971. A golf scholarship got him to Wake Forest College (today Wake Forest University). Then, after several successful amateur outings, he won the Canadian Open in 1955, his first pro season, and never looked back.
But besides his golf wizardry, Palmer created a wine brand under which a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon are produced.
And then there’s the drink. The Arnold Palmer. Half lemonade and half iced tea. It came about, apparently, by accident as the beverage combo was long a favorite of his after a long, hard and hot day of designing golf courses. So one day back in the 1960s, he ordered one with his lunch and a woman sitting nearby heard him do so and reportedly said: “I’ll have that Arnold Palmer drink.” And so, as they say, the rest is a footnote.
The drink’s popularity grew as a nonalcoholic quaff, largely because it was a hit with “Arnie’s Army,” the golfer’s extensive and passionately adoring fan base that followed him from green to green. Palmer was every bit as devoted to them as they to him. Arnold Palmer Enterprises began bottling the drink in 2001 in an arrangement with AriZona Beverage Company. Ultimately, multiple different flavors were developed including other fruit flavors, but the original is just lemonade and black tea.
But can it work as an adult beverage? Freddy Ramírez, head “liquid chef” at The National Tavern at Reynolds Lake Oconee, likes to step the drink up to adult status with vodka. “I think that’s the best choice,” says the Argentine native, who rounds his version off with a wedge of lemon.
In fact, the half-and-half iced tea/lemonade combo with vodka is known as a John Daly, named for another American golfer, although it’s also known as the “Tipsy Palmer.”
At the same time, Ramírez says other spirits work well with the lemonade/iced tea blend, including bourbon, a combination known as a Southern-Style John Daly. One variation starts with vodka and then splashes it with the half-and-half lemonade iced tea drink. Substitute tequila for the vodka, and you have what’s known as a “Juan Daly.”
Even rum can be tasty. P.F. Chang serves a version that it calls “Spiked Lemon Tea” for which the “spike” is Cuzan Mango Rum. The drink is quite sweet, masking the alcoholic presence, so caution dictates being careful with it as it’s far too easy to knock back.
But back to the original, which never was an alcoholic drink. It’s widely popular. Arnie, after all, despite his nickname “The King,” was a man of the masses. When he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2004, he stood outside the White House and the Capital building signing autographs, according to a USA Today report. In 2012 he received the Congressional Gold Medal and quipped that at least the House and Senate could find something to agree on.
The King had his own Army but never lost his geniality and his respect for the common man, and remained one of them. His web site today sums it up simply: “A Life Well Played.”
With or without spirits, hoist a glass or two of Arnold Palmer to salute his legacy.
– Jane Garvey is a writer and wine instructor living in Atlanta. She holds the Certified Specialist of Wine credential and has written and taught about wine for more than 20 years.