With Bay Hill's Championship Course in top shape, legendary tournament host turns to his passion for giving
ORLANDO, Fla. (February 18, 2015) - "The first thing that comes to mind," Arnold Palmer says when asked about preparations for the 37th Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, "is what we can do for our charities and how they benefit. The more things we do to make the tournament better, the more we can do for our hospital and other things. That's exciting to me that there is a connection, and that we can do more when we improve on the things related to the tournament."
Preparations for next month's 37th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard are not only on track, but upgrades to the Championship Course at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge overseen by Chris Flynn, the first-year Golf Course Superintendent, should provide the finest playing conditions yet for the 72-hole invitational event scheduled for March 16-22.
Palmer, 85, smiles when thinking about the improvements to the presentation of the golf course he has meticulously redesigned and tweaked since the first time he hosted his tournament in 1979. The Championship Course remains 7,381 yards, par 72, but new bunker sand, expansion of fairway grass and an aggressive tree-trimming project all contribute to making Bay Hill a better golf course.
Improvement is something that Palmer always strives for.
"I'm always thinking about ways of making the golf course better and stronger," he says. "In fact, I was giving a great deal of thought to making a few changes this year, but I ran out of time this year. I am always thinking about the next tournament, what things we should do to improve it. Even when I think something is good, we try to look at it differently to make it better. I enjoy that. But more than anything right now, I think about our charities. As you know, I love golf, and I love to watch how the players do during the tournament. But at the end it's what we do for our charities that is of the greatest importance."
The tournament has given Palmer a great sense of satisfaction throughout the years - particularly with its contributions to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Having been involved in charitable initiatives for more than 60 years, Palmer says that he is always pleased when he hears from families, parents, strangers and friends about something the hospitals have done for them or a loved one. Players as well have benefitted from the hospital and many who lived in the Orlando area have seen their children born at Winnie Palmer Hospital.
"I'm not sure you could have a more meaningful connection to the tournament than that," Palmer says with a smile.Staying connected to the PGA TOUR and its players is something that Palmer still finds satisfying, even if he long ago gave up trying to compete alongside them. He takes special interest in the crop of young players coming up now, and he has been impressed by their skills and competitive spirit. It's those players who continue to make the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard a strong and entertaining event year after year.
"We certainly know how [eight-time winner] Tiger Woods plays the golf course. Obviously, he's done very well," Palmer says with a chuckle. "But, yes, I do pay attention to how the younger players play the golf course. They're stronger, and they're hitting it farther and farther, and it's interesting to me how they approach things. There certainly are a lot of very good young players today."
One of those good young players is 25-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. Last week McIlroy committed to play in this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. He will be making his first appearance in the tournament.
Winner of seven major titles and 62 PGA TOUR victories overall, Palmer says he approaches preparations for his tournament as if he were still competing. He knows what he would expect from a top-notch event and tries to make sure that the player in him would approve of what the tournament host is trying to accomplish. He remains driven and enthusiastic about each edition of his invitational.
"Well, sure, I am motivated. I just hope to make the tournament as good as it can be, that it's a major-type event as far as the presentation of it," Palmer says. "We hope that the players look upon it as a significant event and continue to support it as they have. Over the years that has been personally satisfying to me."
For tickets to the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, go to www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com, visit participating Central Florida Publix stores or call the tournament ticket office at 407-876-7774. Tournament proceeds benefit Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.