Arnold Palmer was often spotted in Cameron Park during the late 1960s and early 1970s. A boys golf academy bearing his name opened in 1970 on the site of the current Goldorado (Bel Air) shopping center, with promises of widespread publicity for Cameron Park and a positive economic impact on the entire county.
Palmer’s timing was good. The nation was between recessions and golf had become an increasingly popular pastime, firmly embraced by business communities nationwide.
The academy never seemed to gain traction however, and closed after just three summers.
It was designed to handle 150 boys in each of three summer sessions. News stories of the graduation ceremonies, attended by Palmer, mention graduation numbers less than half of capacity.
Palmer reportedly invested $500,000 into the project, which was a joint venture with Dorado Estates during the Ray Henderson era.
The academy included of a two-story 24,000-square-foot dormitory called the Palmer House, with a separate 2,400-square-foot administration building and clubhouse on the opposite side of the new, and appropriately named, Palmer Drive.
A three-hole practice course stretched over what is now the Goldorado Center.
A $690 tuition bought boys age 11 to 17 three weeks of state-of-the-art golf training techniques including instant replay technology (in 1970!). Academy curriculum also covered golf etiquette, sportsmanship and competitive attitudes.
Special areas on the training site were dedicated to iron shots, sand play, driving, putting, chipping, pitching and trouble shots.
Tuition included room and board. The boys bunked in shared rooms at the Palmer House and were fed buffet style in the “Arnold Palmer 20th Hole Dining Room” at the country club.
There was apparently no provision for girls.
The clubhouse lived on as the popular watering hole “Blackwell’s” for many years, then later as “Hemalayas,” the unusually spelled Indian restaurant that closed last year.
The building’s colorful past also includes “Mr. T’s Restaurant and Disco,” opened in 1979, featuring the “most modern sound and light equipment available,” according to the Mountain Democrat. Can you dig it?