The Arnold Palmer Drink: How to Make It and the Name's Origin

Recipes for and History of the Tea-and-Lemonade Mix

Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer: The man and the beverage. David Madison/Getty Images; TheCrimsonMonkey/Getty Images

Have you ever enjoyed a cool, refreshing Arnold Palmer? No, not the golfer (although "cool" and "refreshing" certainly apply to The King). The drink. The Arnold Palmer drink.

The Arnold Palmer drink is what is sometimes called a "mocktail" — a mixed drink, but one without alcohol. What is being mixed in this case is lemonade and iced tea.

Below we'll take a look at the origins of the Arnold Palmer drink including how it got its name, the popular recipe and Arnie's own recipe, plus several spins on it (including alternate names), and a few more tidbits.

The Origins of the Arnold Palmer Drink

Did Arnold Palmer the golfer invent Arnold Palmer the drink? I think we can safely say no. Lemon and tea have been enjoyed together for centuries. Surely Arnie, in the 1950s, was not the first person who ever combined cold, unsweet tea with cold, sweet lemonade.

But what we can say with certainty is that Palmer the golfer popularized and made famous the tea-and-lemonade drink that now bears his name.

Palmer won his first PGA Tour tournament in 1955. In 1958, he won The Masters, and it was there that he became a superstar and the rabid legion of fans known as "Arnie's Army" was born. He played the British Open for the first time in 1960, taking his stardom global.

It was in the mid-1950s that Palmer, he once told ESPN, began mixing tea and lemonade at home. Within a few years, Palmer took the drink public by requesting it in restaurants and golf course clubhouses. There was no name for the drink when Palmer first started doing this, so he would describe what he wanted to a waiter or bartender.

When and how did Palmer's name become attached to the drink? A commonly told tale is that it happened during the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado, when other patrons overhead Palmer telling a bartender how to make him his favorite drink.

There once was a glossy magazine named after Palmer, and an article written for that magazine (no longer online, alas) stated that this is how the tea-and-lemonade drink first became publicly associated with the Arnold Palmer name:

"One evening after a long day of designing a course in Palm Springs (Calif.) during the 1960s, Arnold Palmer stepped up to a bar and asked the bartender for a mixture of lemonade and iced tea. A woman sitting next to him overheard what he ordered and told the bartender, “I’ll have that Palmer drink.” From that moment on, this refreshing lemonade-iced tea beverage became known as an “Arnold Palmer,” and its name gradually spread throughout the golfing world and beyond into mainstream America."

In 2012, Palmer told ESPN that "from that day on, it (the name) spread like wildfire." The specific date of the Palm Springs incident? Unfortunately, that isn't remembered. But we've seen it described as being as late as the late 1960s, perhaps in 1968.

Arnold Palmer Drink Recipes

All Arnold Palmer drinks, no matter if they are basic or gussied up by some chef or mixologist, starts by combining unsweetened ice tea with sweetened lemonade. So to make an Arnold Palmer, always start by brewing a pitcher of your favorite tea, then chill it. Make your favorite lemonade, and chill it. Then mix!

What's the ratio of the tea and lemonade? Well, Palmer's preference is actually different from what has become the popular and commonly used ratio.

Palmer's Own Recipe

  • Mostly iced tea
  • Plus a healthy splash of lemonade

Add ice cubes to a glass and use the lemonade as the sweetener for the tea. That's how Palmer himself did it: He did not mix half-and-half. Palmer kept the tea as the dominant part of the drink (about 75-percent tea, by his estimate, but at least two-thirds tea).

But: Out there in the wild, the drink has converged on a 50-50 mix. So here is the most common, basic version:

Popular Arnold Palmer Recipe

  • 1 part iced tea
  • 1 part lemonade

Add ice cubes to a glass. Fill halfway with lemonade, and fill the rest of the glass with unsweetened ice tea.

If you want to change the flavors a bit, the easiest way to do so is to experiment with different types of teas, or to try different types of flavored teas or lemonades. Just remember: The King liked his "straight" — plain ol' lemonade and basic iced tea.

So if you want it the way it's popularly made today, use a 50-50 split; if you want it the way Arnie himself made it, use about a quarter or a third of lemonade. Either way, you can always adjust as necessary to suit your own tastes.

Alcoholic Versions of the Arnold Palmer Drink

Once upon a time, any basic Arnold Palmer to which alcohol was added became known as an "adult Arnold Palmer," "spiked Arnold Palmer," "drunken Arnold Palmer," or "tipsy Arnold Palmer," among other variations on the theme. Vodka and bourbon are commonly the liquors of choice, but the alcohol is up to your preference. Today, an alcoholic version is just as likely to be called a "John Daly." See our article about the John Daly drink for recipes and background.

Arnold Palmer Drinks in Bottles and Cans

The company founded by Palmer, Arnold Palmer Enterprises, licenses his name and image for use on bottled versions of the Arnold Palmer drink, plus dry mixes, among other things. The Palmer name and likeness are used on many variations of the drink sold under the Arizona Iced Tea brand.

Other beverage companies also sell lemonade-and-tea drinks, typically mixed 50-50, but without the Palmer name. Sweet Leaf, Snapple, Country Time and Lipton are among the brands that offer the drink without the Palmer name attached.

While many restaurants and bars offer the Arnold Palmer or variations, some coffee and fast food chain restaurants have gotten into the act, too. Starbucks, for example, has tea-and-lemonade mixes on offer, and Dunkin' has occasionally offered an "Arnold Palmer Coolatta" frozen drink. The Arnie drink becomes more and more well-known all the time.

More Factoids About the Arnold Palmer Drink

  • The Arnold Palmer drink is often called a "Half and Half" when the mix is 50-50.
  • If you want a very sweet Arnold Palmer, you can mix equal parts of lemonade and sweet tea. And if you do that, you can call this version a "Winnie Palmer" (named after Arnold's first wife).
  • Palmer said that for years he was too embarrassed to order the drink by name — "I'll have an Arnold Palmer" — and so kept describing what he wanted to waitstaff. But eventually The King gave in and started ordering his eponymous drink by name.
  • The "Arnold Palmer" name is starting to be applied to food items, too, that use a tea-and-lemon flavor palate. Do a search of the Web for "Arnold Palmer recipe" and you'll find cakes, cupcakes, ice creams, sorbets and other goodies.