Eager as ever for the tournament that bears his name
Having won seven major championships and competed in more than 150 in his illustrious career, Arnold Palmer certainly knows enough about what goes into making a golf tournament special.
Palmer would never be so bold as to claim that the tournament that bears his name, the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, is a major championship. But that doesn't mean that Palmer doesn't strive to make his annual PGA TOUR event at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge as good as it can be, with a world-class golf course to challenge the game's best players and as many nice touches as possible to make both competitors and fans feel welcome.
"I like to think that at the end of the day there isn't something we've overlooked to make this tournament as good as it can be," Palmer, now 82, says of his event that is in its 34th year at Bay Hill. "What really sets a major apart from other tournaments is history and the prestige of the title, and we know the four events that mean the most in that regard.
"My goal for this tournament is to have a well-run, exciting and fun tournament that players hopefully want to come back to and keep playing. I want to see lots of fans, and good media support, and of course the participation of our sponsors is just tremendous, so you put it all together and it's great to see the game and our charities benefit.
"I think about this tournament all year, and it's something I get excited about every year, because every year is different and brings something new."
If there is one thing that Palmer does try to emulate it's striving to get the Championship Course at Bay Hill in major championship condition.
"That's the thing that we look at more than any other, is to have our golf course be a major championship quality in its condition and its challenge," Palmer says. "We don't really strive to make it particularly difficult, because the course itself, to a degree, is naturally that way by its design. We want it to be a good test, a fair test. We have a good golf course, and we want to make it playable but also ask the players to hit some good golf shots.
"Our greens tend to be on the faster side and very firm, which is something that we now have the opportunity to do since we upgraded our greens. But what we've found over the years is that these players can score when hitting the proper shots and that's all we're asking them to do."
Palmer admits that if there is one major championship that has most influenced him in his approach, it would have to be the Masters Tournament, which he won four times (1958-60-62-64).
"I think when you look at the Masters, what you think of is something that is of high quality and consistent," he says. "Year to year you can look at what goes on at Augusta National Golf Club and you know what you're going to get. That's what we've always tried to do, and we think we're in a better position to deliver on that since we changed the golf course and made some improvements on our greens."