There are few in the sports world who aren't mourning Arnold Palmer's passing on Sept. 25. But in a toast to The King and his contributions, this seems a good time to delve into the history of what may have been Palmer's biggest contribution to pop culture – the Arnold Palmer beverage.
So, just how did the Arnold Palmer come to be? The tale began at home when Palmer's wife, Winnie, made a batch of iced tea, and the golfing legend suggested she add some lemonade. Palmer recounted the story in an ESPN "30 for 30 Short" documentary.
"I came home one day and my wife made a lot of iced tea for lunch," Palmer said. "I said, 'Hey Babe, I've got an idea.' I said, you make the iced tea, make a big pitcher and we'll just put a little lemonade in it and we'll see how that works … and I thought, 'Boy, Babe, this is great.'"
Some years later, after tinkering with the iced tea-lemonade mixture at home, Palmer ordered the drink in a Palm Springs, California, restaurant. Multiple news stories relate that another patron overhead Palmer's order, ordered her own and the rest, as they say, is history.
"One day during the late 1960s, after a long day of designing a course in the Palm Springs area, Arnold Palmer was ordering lunch and asked the waitress for a mixture of lemonade and iced tea," according to the Beverages section of ArnoldPalmer.com. "A woman sitting nearby overheard what he ordered and told the waitress, "I'll have that Arnold Palmer drink." And the eponymous beverage was born.
"Arnold had been drinking the combination for years. After a hot day on the course at Latrobe Country Club, he would ask his wife Winnie to make him an iced tea with lemonade."
Word of the drink allegedly spread through Arnie's Army – the nickname for Palmer's fan club, which originated when servicemen joined his gallery in the early years of The Masters – and became a regular offering at golf courses and country clubs around the nation before breaking into the mainstream in the early 2000s. Palmer began bottling it in 2001 and ultimately struck a deal with AriZona Beverage Company.
The Arnold Palmer is one of a handful of well-known drinks named for celebrities. It is among an even smaller group to earn the distinction while the celebrity was still living – with the Shirley Temple being another notable. Ever popular with the pre-teen set, the ubiquitous cocktail – club soda with a splash of grenadine garnished with maraschino cherries – is said to have been created at Chasen's in Beverly Hills for Temple's 10th birthday.
Among the other celeb-named drinks are the Roy Rogers (a variation of the Shirley Temple with Coke substituted for club soda) and the Bellini (a sparkling wine and peach nectar combo named for Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini). There's also the, ahem, John Daly, which is an Arnold Palmer with a bit of vodka added for some kick.
The King's original drink is marketed as the "Arnold Palmer Half & Half," but there is some question about the recipe. While AriZona markets a 50-50 mix and most restaurants serve the drink as a 50-50 combo, Palmer himself was more about the iced tea than the lemonade. Arnie's recipe called for at least two-thirds iced tea to one-third lemonade.
"Iced tea has the dominant side; that dominates the drink," he said in the '30 for 30' piece. "If it doesn't, it isn't really right."
But no matter how you prefer it, order an Arnold Palmer this week. And as you sip it, enjoy not just the flavor, but the bittersweet memory of the man who created it.