Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Pittsburgh Golf Articles | Golfer’s Lifestyle MagazinePittsburgh Golf Articles | Golfer's Lifestyle Magazine

My Love Affair with Laurel Valley Golf Club

It was September of 1975. I was an 8th grader on the Forest Hills Junior High football team. We had all been playing together since we were 8 years old. Life was simple yet amazing.

My dad surprised me on a Wednesday when he said I had to miss practice and he had already negotiated how many hills I would have to run the next day. I told him, “This better be good.”

We headed out Route 30 and went right past Idlewild Park where we had gone with our church every year. It wasn’t nearly as fun as it used to be when I was younger. A couple miles later, we turned right and then turned left into a field where tons of cars were already parked. We hopped on a shuttle bus which took us on a tree lined road that dropped us off in front of a gorgeous clubhouse that looked over a golf course.

I was never really into golf. I was a football, baseball, basketball and hockey guy and I really loved every one those sports. 

There was a long line right before the clubhouse. It wasn’t to get in. We were already in. They had handed us a program for the 1975 Ryder Cup Practice Round. The line was for a man sitting in a golf cart signing autographs. My dad said, “That’s Arnold Palmer. This is his place.”

I knew who Arnold Palmer was. I devoured the entire sports sections of the Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Press every morning. I had no idea what the Ryder Cup was. 

We hopped in line and my dad explained exactly what was going on. As I looked around, I was blown away at how manicured and pristine the grounds were. There were a lot of people there. I finally made it to the man in the golf cart and he asked me if I was a golfer. I told Mr. Palmer that I was football player, and I was skipping practice. He signed my program. Winked at my dad and said, “You should give it a shot.”

We made our way toward the course and the first tee. People were jockeying for position to see the players hit their drives. I guess everyone wanted to see Jack Nicklaus who was paired with Tom Weiskopf. We made our way down the right side of the fairway in time to see Jack and Tom hit
their drives. 

Weiskopf knocked it well past Nicklaus and there was a bit of murmur from the gallery. I said to my dad, “Isn’t Nicklaus supposed to be the best player in the world. “ He told me he was, but the game is very mental and Weiskopf hits the ball a mile and he’s great until he hits one sideways. Since it was just a practice round, Weiskopf kept his cool and hit it great all day.

The experience was very special. Meeting Arnold Palmer. Seeing how far these guys hit the ball and the stunning beauty of Laurel Valley Golf really piqued my interest in golf.

We certainly weren’t country club types, but my dad always supported and encouraged us to try things and push ourselves. Even though fulfilling my 20 hill runs in full pads for missing practice was brutal, I was still pretty geeked about golf.

That weekend we headed out to Greensburg Country Club.  My dad knew a guy there that said we could a get a set of used clubs for a reasonable price. I’m sure they weren’t the latest and greatest, but I had my first set of clubs, and I loved them. The obsession had begun.

The question was, would I ever be any good and would I ever set foot on Laurel Valley again?

I ended up playing golf for my high school team my senior year because I didn’t want to get hurt playing football before my last year of high school hoops. It was an absolute blast. Our whole neighborhood was on the team, and we were all pretty decent.

Fulfilling the dream of getting back to Laurel was quite the journey but I pinch myself every time I think about how truly blessed, I’ve been.

I was working for KDKA TV in 2001 and shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center and the plane that crashed nearby in Shanksville, Laurel Valley hosted the Marconi Pennsylvania Classic. I was invited to play a round of golf for media day. It was beyond amazing. Sadly, I couldn’t tell my dad, but I know he was watching. Fred Funk’s wife hand painted American Flags on every single player’s bag. I did a feature story on that as well as then Governor Tom Ridge talking about becoming the first Director of Homeland Security.

Mike “Radar” Reid was the winner, and we were all slowly yet surely working our way back to some sense of normality. Laurel Valley was even more spectacular than I had remembered. 

In 2005, Laurel Valley was selected to host the Senior PGA Championship. This was all world fun. We were once again invited to play a round of golf as part of media day. When we were done, there was going to be a 3-hole scramble between selected members of the media and Arnold Palmer and Hale Irwin. 

I was asked if I would be willing to caddy for Mr. Palmer I couldn’t say yes fast enough. A couple of minutes later, my good friend, Bob Pompeani was told he had to get back to the station. 

Next thing I knew, I was on Team Irwin and Mr. Palmer kiddingly called me a traitor. We were tied after playing 10 and 11and I stuck a wedge to 4 feet on 18 and Hale Irwin told me to finish it. I did and I had just played golf with a living legend at his favorite place and managed to help our team win with a birdie on 18.

We were invited back one more time to play and do some more interviews right before the Senior PGA. I was paired with Mr. Palmer’s long time PR man, Doc Giffin.

I was playing the best golf of my life and could not wait to play. I managed to shoot a 75 and when Mr. Palmer greeted us, Doc said I should be playing in the event not covering it. I could have died and gone to heaven at that very moment.

Thankfully, I have been back to Laurel Valley several more times and spent a lot of time with Mr. Palmer, including his 80th birthday on September 10th, 2009. Of course, he spent his special day at a Pirate game, as he shared what it was like growing up as a Pirate fan with me on the air during the broadcast.

Just thinking about those times and recently being back at Laurel brings those amazing memories streaming back. Sadly, that 75 is a very distant one but I miss Mr. Palmer far more than playing good golf. His legacy and The Laurel Valley Golf Club will be alive in my heart forever.

Paul Alexander
Latest posts by Paul Alexander (see all)