It was a huge day in The Villages in November 2002 when the King and Queen of golf roared into Florida’s Friendliest Hometown for a special gathering.
Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez – two of the greatest golfers of all time – came together at the Nancy Lopez Legacy Golf & Country Club to play a nine-hole exhibition round. The official occasion was the ribbon-cutting and christening of Torri Pines, the third nine in the 27-hole championship course.
Lopez, a staple in The Villages for many years, had helped design the Torri Pines leg of the golf course and was looking forward to playing with Palmer, her good friend and mentor.
All three of the nine-hole courses that make up Lopez Legacy carry the name of the groundbreaking golfer’s daughters – Torri, Ashley and Erinn. Many golfers agreed that the Torri Pines nine was the most difficult. But that didn’t stop Lopez, 45, and Palmer, 73, from being excited to put on a show in front of several thousand Villagers who anxiously awaited the opportunity to see the two Hall of Fame golfers boasting 147 wins and 10 major championships between them.
The show got under way when Ken Creely, director of golf operations for The Villages, introduced the two legends to the massive crowd. The temperatures were in the 70s and it was an overcast day – conditions that excited both golfers. In fact, both agreed that they were ready to go and have some fun together.
The day turned out to be extremely fan-friendly, as both Palmer and Lopez cut up and clearly had a great time playing together. There was no scorecard to be found. But there were plenty of photo ops with Villagers who tagged along outside the ropes and hung on every shot.
The fans who turned out for the event, many of whom said they were members of “Arnie’s Army” during his heyday in golf, expressed pure delight at getting to see the two legendary golfers come together to christen the community’s newest nine holes.
Both golfers spent the majority of the round smiling and loving the chants of praise they were hearing. They took plenty of opportunities to stop and chat with fans. And they quickly made everyone in attendance realize how monumental it was to have both of them playing together on the same course.
At the time, Lopez was married to former Major League Baseball star Ray Knight, who as a member of the New York Mets scored the winning run in Game Six of the 1986 World Series and was named the Most Valuable Player. Knight, who also is remembered as the player who replaced Pete Rose at third base for the Cincinnati Reds, had tagged along with Lopez and put on a hitting clinic for Villages softball players at the Saddlebrook Complex.
After his round of golf with Lopez, Palmer headed out to the future site of a brand new Villages golf course off Buena Vista Boulevard that would carry his name – Palmer Legends. He had been active playing a role in the design of the new course. And the golfing powers-that-be decided to take advantage of Palmer’s trip to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown for a groundbreaking ceremony for his new course – one that eventually would bring him and Lopez back together again for an exhibition round much like the one held on the Legacy course earlier in the day.