Host Arnold Palmer celebrates anniversary of the PGA TOUR event that bears his name
Arnold Palmer was nervous, and he was excited, and he was determined. In the end, he was rewarded with the golf tournament that has since become the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
The year was 1979 and Palmer, was preparing to host his first tournament at his Bay Hill Club, the successor to the Florida Citrus Open Invitational, which he had won at Orlando's Rio Pinar Country Club in 1971.
Palmer wanted everything to be perfect. "Sure, I felt a little bit of apprehension," Palmer admitted. "When you get involved in something important, something that you put energy into, something that means a lot to a lot of people, then it's only natural to have that little bit of nervousness about what you're doing.
"I had a lot of reasons to want the golf course to be good, want to the tournament to be good, and put on a first-rate tournament that would be enjoyable for the players and for the fans. We certainly were determined to do some things for charity. We were bringing attention to Bay Hill, something I had just acquired, and it was important to establish ourselves. It was a challenge, but that's what makes it rewarding is the work you put into it and doing something well. I'm very pleased with how it has all turned out and what we've done."
Palmer, 78, still has a passion for doing things well in golf. Winner of 62 PGA TOUR titles, including seven major championships, the timelessly popular icon looks forward to hosting the 30th edition of his invitational tournament, which now is fittingly named the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the most popular and prestigious tournaments in all of golf, is slated for March 10-16, and Palmer is looking forward to another exciting tournament on the championship course, originally laid out by Dick Wilson, which Palmer has completely redesigned over the years. Bay Hill, which last year was converted to a par-70 test, has undergone a few tweaks since Vijay Singh's two-stroke victory over Rocco Mediate last year. Also new is the purse; it has been raised to $5.8 million, a far cry from the first year when $250,000 was available to the field.
"This is our 30th tournament. There's been a lot of great golf along the way", Palmer said with a proud and wide smile. "I'm very proud of what's happened over the years not only with the golf tournament and the level play we have seen over the years, but also with the hospital and our charities, and I appreciate the fact that the players have supported us through the years.
"I'm very pleased with the preparations for the tournament thus far, and the guys seem to be enthusiastic about coming back from talking to a few of them, and that is always pleasing to me", Palmer added. "I'm hoping that our field continues to be as strong as it has been in the past years."
The setup of the championship course, Palmer said, isn't drastically different from recent years, with firm greens and challenging rough. It's the kind of test he would have relished in his prime. "I would have loved it. That was my thing. The tougher courses were the ones I played my best on," he said.
Still, Palmer is always looking at ways of making it better and more challenging. Since last year a few tees have been rebuilt and a new tee was installed at the par-4 third hole that added 40 yards to the dogleg left that bends around a large lake. It now plays 435 yards, and total yardage for the championship course has been increased to 7,279 yards.
"The significance of what we did was we built a new tee to make the players go down the fairway instead of across the water on the corner. I think that will get them thinking a little bit before they look at cutting across that corner. Or what they did was just hit an iron into the neck making a safe play, and now if they do that they will have a much longer shot into the green. I think it's going to make it a great hole."
"We're just looking at all of the different aspects to make sure it is in the very best shape we can get it in, and we'll certainly look at ways to tweak it to make it an even better test, he added. "I feel confident that we'll have it in tip-top shape when the guys get here."
One of the premier stops on the PGA TOUR, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard traditionally draws one of the strongest fields among golf tournaments from around the world. Hall of Fame golfer Vijay Singh is the defending champion, joining an esteemed list of past winners including Tiger Woods, who won a record four straight at the Bay Hill Club and recently tied Palmer on the all-time PGA TOUR victory list with his 62nd career victory. Other past champions who could return to Palmer's invitational tournament include Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Tim Herron, Rod Pampling and Paul Goydos.
Palmer said he is still getting used to his name atop the marquee, which was added before the 2007 tournament. "I don't have a feeling about it one way or another except that it's a humbling thing, and I hope that it helps the tournament in terms of the things we try to do for our charities," he said. "If it's meaningful in any way, I would say that would be the most important thing. We've given over $15 million alone to the Arnold Palmer Hospital here in Orlando, and it's rewarding to see that happen."
For tickets to the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com or call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.