Palmer's Bay Hill Club is a well-respected, enduring test
One measure of a great golf course is its enduring value as a meaningful test, regardless of the improvement of the players who take it on and the equipment with which they arm themselves. The Bay Hill Club, which has hosted the prestigious Bay Hill Invitational presented by MasterCard since 1979, has proven through the years to be one of the more exacting examinations on the PGA Tour.
"Bay Hill is definitely one of the best courses we play, one I've always enjoyed. It tests every part of your game," says defending champion Kenny Perry, who submitted a solid performance in posting a 12-under-par 276 total and a two-stroke victory over Vijay Singh and Graeme McDowell. "You have to work pretty hard for what you get there."
Last year Bay Hill was the 10th most difficult course on the PGA Tour, with the field averaging 73.243, more than a stroke over par. Andy Bean set the course record of 62 in 1981 and Greg Norman equaled the mark in 1984. Bay Hill is one of just eight Tour layouts that has not seen a course record set or equaled since 2000, and at only two regular stops has the course record endured longer than at Bay Hill.
Accomplished architect Dick Wilson designed the Bay Hill Club in 1961, but the championship layout didn't find its identity or earn its high reputation until tournament host Arnold Palmer began in 1989 to slowly, surely and smartly bring it up to modern standards and its current par-72 configuration of 7,267 yards. The broad-shouldered golf course features narrow fairways accentuated by humps, bumps and bunkers, and large greens with strong contours. While generally regarded as one of the best driving tests on Tour, the Bay Hill Club, consistently regarded as one of the best resorts in America, demands much more than good tee shots because of its intriguing green complexes with firm and fast surfaces, its dramatic doglegs, and the intelligent integration of water hazards that initiate numerous risk-reward decisions.
Having said that, those who have found success at Bay Hill have usually enjoyed a good week with the driver. "It's a wonderful golf course for a long hitter, if they are driving it well, because of the way it's shaped," says Tiger Woods, who won four straight Bay Hill Invitational titles beginning in 2000. "The par fives are borderline for most guys. Guys who are long can probably take a go at most of the par fives. Some of the par fours, since they are doglegs, longer hitters can cut the corners and shorten them up quite a bit."
"It's hard to play out of the rough here," says Chad Campbell, who ended Woods' reign with his impressive six-stroke victory in 2004. "Everything is sort of set up by how well you drive it, and you definitely have a tough time scoring if you're not in the fairways. That's probably the biggest key."
Long tee shots aren't necessarily an advantage, at least not all the time, according to 1999 winner Tim Herron. "I think you have to shape it both ways. I think the holes really set up nice. You can kind of see them and visualize your shot, and move it around."
As far as key holes to consider, two par fours, the first and the signature 18th are annually among the toughest holes on the PGA Tour. No. 1 is a dogleg left of 441 yards. The home hole, also 441 from the championship tees, is renowned for its kidney-shaped green that wraps around water. "Nos. 1 and 2, right from the start the golf course is really tough," says Ernie Els, the 1998 champion. "Then you have Nos. 17, and 18, that tough green, and the rocks there, it's a good finish."
Another hole that causes sweaty palms is the 558-yard par-five sixth, a dogleg left that wraps around a lake. John Daly made 18 there in 1998. "You can ruin your round right there," Els says. "You want to make birdie, but you also don't want to hit it left. Anything left is like out of bounds. You got to tee it up from the tee again with that water. So that's a key hole, a very big hole."
Loren Roberts, who won back-to-back Bay Hill titles in 1994 and 1995, says the holes around the turn, Nos. 7 through 11, can determine the outcome if a contender plays them too loosely. "I think that's the meat of the golf course," Roberts says. "You can't fall asleep because you can start making bogeys one after the other. But that's pretty much true of the whole golf course. It's just not a golf course you can attack. You keep it in play and make some putts, and just go about your business. Physically and mentally, it's a real challenge."
For tickets to the 2006 Bay Hill Invitational presented by MasterCard, or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.bayhillinvitational.com, or call the Bay Hill ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women.