“The King Is Dead! Long Live The King!”
This traditional proclamation has been used for centuries in all royal lands, first to announce the death of the king and then to assure the public that the new regime will successfully replace the previous one.
When our King, Arnold Palmer, passed away on September 25, 2016, no one person could hope to replace him.
However, Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation with its CEO Kevin Bingham had already been put in place by Arnold himself shortly before his death. He wanted to make sure that his “Life Well Played” philosophy would continue undiminished in the succession.
Arnie’s Army first came to life in 1959 at Augusta National when uniformed soldiers from nearby Fort Gordon followed the defending Masters champion during the event, and then the term came to symbolize the inestimable number of fans who followed Arnold throughout the rest of his career. Now the second Arnie’s Army has been created.
Kevin Bingham has been the general for less than a year, but his nonprofit expertise and his love for the game have shaped “Arnie’s Army” into a formidable force. Kevin lives with his wife Laurie in Orlando and has three children, Hayley, 23; Kaitlyn, 20; and Jackson, 13. He takes his 15 handicap to Bay Hill whenever the job allows.
“Long live the King!” And Kevin Bingham will explain how.
NEGM: What exactly is Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation?
KB: It was formed in 2015 by the Palmer family to continue the good works and legacy of Arnold and Winnie Palmer. Their vision spanned more than 60 years of philanthropy, particularly in health and wellness for children and young people at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. In the areas of community and environment as well, there are the 50 acres of the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where we have plans to build a nature pre-school.
We are focusing on the legacy of Mr. Palmer—what kind of person he was, what he stood for, and what were the attributes that made him a beloved figure all around the world. We are trying to re-capture that image and to challenge people to be more “Palmeresque.” To do that, we have re-constituted “Arnie’s Army,” and we’re hoping to gather thousands of people all over the country who want to do good and give back.
NEGM: Why did you take this position as CEO in early September, 2016?
KB: This is dream come true for me. I grew up in Texas, where my dad was an avid golfer and we were a golf family. Golf was important to us and still is. I have two daughters who both play college golf. We all know the good things that can come out of golf and all the good people who are involved in the game. And I’ve been in the nonprofit sector from the national organizational perspective for 32 years. Therefore, I saw the opportunity to lead a nonprofit organization that has Mr. Palmer’s name attached to it and has an attachment to the Palmer family as just a perfect fit for me.
I oversee the administrative functions of the organization, and I’m putting our business structure in place to make sure we are functioning at a high level. Probably my most important job is to recruit and empower the Board, the people who are really charged with making sure that we fulfill the mission of this organization.
NEGM: Did you and Arnold discuss your new job?
KB: We did. I had the pleasure of being with Mr. Palmer twice, just before we lost him. I asked him, “What do you want from the Foundation?” And he said, “Quality—it’s very important to me. I want to make sure that we emphasize doing good and giving back. I love children. I want to continue what we are doing with the hospitals, but I want us to focus on the environment as well. I want us to have a national reach, to be out there so everyone can be a part.” A part of his Army.
NEGM: Is Arnold’s family involved in the Foundation?
KB: Very much involved and very supportive. Amy Saunders, Mr. Palmer’s daughter is our Board chair and has been a fantastic leader. Her son Sam, a PGA TOUR pro, is also on the Board. He is a very accomplished young man and is an effective spokesperson for the Foundation. He has a passion for what we’re doing, and he was a marvelous host at this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Just like his grandfather and his parents, he is very humble.
NEGM: Do you have a role to play in maintaining the API as a premier TOUR event?
KB: Yes, it is an utmost priority. Legally, Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation is the parent organization of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We are working feverishly right now to assure that we maintain the status that we have and even grow it. We realize that we’ve lost our patriarch. However, we also realize that if we do the things that he would want us to do from a legacy standpoint, if we continue to remind PGA TOUR players how important it is to give back and do good in a meaningful way, and if we continue to improve the golf course and upgrade the facilities year after year, then the Arnold Palmer Invitational will remain a “must stop” for TOUR players and patrons.
NEGM: What other goals does Arnie’s Army have?
KB: The Foundation is also embarking on a player philanthropy program, in which we’ll make a $100,000 grant to a professional golfer, man or woman, who proposes to support children in a manner similar to the Palmers. The grant will further that player’s philanthropic efforts over a two-year period, and that player will have a spot on the Board for those two years. This player will be announced November 4 here at Bay Hill.
We’re also working on a leadership and character development program for young people from 4 to 22 called GRIP. The title is an allusion to Mr. Palmer’s famous story about never changing the grip that his father Deacon had originally taught him, and it is an acronym for Grit, Respect, Integrity, and Passion—four of the characteristics that Mr. Palmer exhibited in his life. We’re developing a curriculum designed to teach children and young adults as they grow up how to be more “Palmeresque.”
NEGM: Give a little background about your life before Arnie’s Army.
KB: I was born is West Texas and graduated from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. When I was in college, I began my 24-year career with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Then I was in a nonprofit consulting business called Diversified Nonprofit Services for five years. After that, I became the COO for the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, and my mandate was to expand the foundation into a national organization. The Ripken family—with Cal, his brother Bill, and their mother Vi—is very much involved in its running. I loved my life there in Baltimore. Leaving the Ripken Foundation was a tough decision, but the challenge of leading the brand-new Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation was something I really wanted to do.
NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
KB: George W. Bush, Phil Mickelson, Lee Trevino; Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen.
(Photography by Vicky MacKay)