With his prized course upgraded, Arnold Palmer eager for the latest edition of tournament that bears his name
Arnold Palmer reached age 80 in September, but as much as he enjoyed the celebrations marking the occasion, golf’s legendary King admits that the rebirth of his prized layout, the Championship Course at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, was a much more enjoyable experience last autumn.
Palmer oversaw a major renovation of Bay Hill, the renowned course in Orlando, Florida, that he has owned for four decades and which has hosted a PGA TOUR event since 1979, and he is eager to see the game’s best players take on his remodeled creation when the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard returns for its 32nd edition March 22-28.
“We’re all very excited for this year’s tournament and to have the players come here and play the golf course and see what we’ve done,” Palmer said with noted enthusiasm as he talked about the upgrades to a course already considered one of the great ball-striking tests in golf. We’ve had numerous players come in here already and play the golf course, and the reaction we’ve gotten is very good. We think it’s going to be an exciting week of golf.”
While Palmer assures that the ball-striking examination has not been altered appreciably at Bay Hill, the course is in every way strengthened, starting with new tees and greens. Bunkers have been repositioned throughout and the length of the layout has been stretched modestly to clock in at 7,381 yards. The most noticeable change to the layout is that the bunkers, while repositioned, also have been made more visible, with their sculpted faces pulled to the tops of mounds. Flanking bunkers have been replaced by more offset traps, while bunkers around the greens have been tucked closer to the putting surfaces. Finally, many of the greens feature runoff areas where once rough or bunkers were in play, providing new short-game challenges.
While those tweaks might signal a change in philosophy, Palmer will tell you it merely strengthens the intrinsic value of the course that already was in place.
“We haven’t changed the bottom line on what the golf course is, what the shot values are, but a lot of holes we’ve actually strengthened in that regard,” Palmer says. “We’ve created some tougher pin positions, too. We looked at ways to make improvements and make it more challenging. It’s just all-around a better golf course and one that should provide a strong, fair test.”
One more adjustment that Palmer made was restoring tournament par to 72 after a three-year trial playing the Championship Course at par-70. The par-five fourth and 16th holes were converted to par-fours strictly for the tournament, but Palmer decided that he’d rather see the contestants go for scoring, perhaps in the manner that he used to do in his prime. “We’ve decided it’s more fun to see the guys go out and try to make birdies and eagles than to see them maybe settling for pars or putting up other scores.”
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, and it boasts an impressive array of winners, including six-time champion Tiger Woods and other recent winners such as Chad Campbell, Ernie Els, Paul Goydos, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, and Vijay Singh.
Palmer says that he has enjoyed watching the early portion of the golf season unfold and seeing a mixture of young and established players excel on the West Coast. He believes the game remains on a solid foundation. “I think the TOUR is holding its own; it’s doing well,” he says. “I’ve talked to (PGA TOUR commissioner) Tim Finchem, and it’s encouraging what’s happening out there. The consistency of the TOUR is good, and the players are showing continued good play. I think we’re going to see more young people do well.”
While golf is still a passion for Palmer, he finds that other causes occupy more of his time is occupied, causes that take on ever greater importance as the years pass and are near and dear to him. “I’m very involved in the Arnold Palmer Medical Center here, and we’re very happy with what’s happening there. I’m also quite involved in cancer research, and we’re doing a lot of work along those lines. That is something very, very important to me,” Palmer says. “We’re also working with Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson, various medical centers … and all of that is keeping me busy, and I like that. I like doing all of that.
“Golf, well, it’s not the big thing on my list anymore,” the King adds. “It’s in my rearview mirror for the most part as far as me playing a great deal. But I’ll always have golf in me. I can’t bring it out like I used to, but it’s always in there, and it’s always a part of the things that I do and enjoy.”
For tickets to the 2010 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 ticket office at 407-876- 7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843.Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Childrenand the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.