Courtesy of OrlandoGolf.com - By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Even two years later, the renovation of the Bay Hill Club & Lodge continues to be praised and cherished.
Critics have blasted changes at some other high-profile tournament courses -- notably Dubsdread at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club near Chicago and the West Course at the Wentworth Club in England -- but not Bay Hill.
Members, guests, managers and, most important, the PGA Tour pros who tee it up every March in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, have embraced Palmer's thoughtful work to the bunkers and green complexes. The new grass on the greens, Emerald Bermuda, has been deemed "the right fit" by all. The renovation, which was completed Sept. 10, 2009, gives the King another reason to celebrate his birthday each year.
"The most telling things are the greens," said Roy Saunders, the vice president at Bay Hill. "That is where you receive your criticism or accolades. Everybody loves the greens. The grass is really doing very nicely. They have really matured well this summer. They are thick, smooth and roll nice."
With the new grass, members and guests enjoy tournament-quality greens almost year-round. Matt Beaver, Bay Hill's superintendent, said today's greens require less off-season maintenance, reducing the number of annual aerifications from three or four down to two.
Bay Hill General Manager Ray Easler said the greens receive shots better. He also noted their more-subtle slopes are a fairer test of golf.
"It takes a couple years for new greens to take hold, so you can manicure them how you like," he said. "This grass has done a great job the past couple years. We are really pleased with the choice.
It is a strong grass. It takes the heat and maintenance well. It takes over-seeding extremely well, and it comes back. That's all in the plus column."
Rewind to 2010 during the first Arnold Palmer Invitational, where players were immediately smitten with the changes.
Phil Mickelson, normally quite outspoken, said "everything was changed for the better." Mickelson was especially happy the fourth and 16th holes transitioned back into the risk-reward par 5s of the past.
Ernie Els, the 2010 champion who has taken heat for his work as a designer at Wentworth Club, was especially kind, calling the course brilliant.
"The shaping is different," Els said then. "The bigger bunkers, you know, they have the edges that flow through the bunkers. I think it's very well designed. Some of the new green complexes are good. They (create) really tough pin positions. I mean, 11-under won. I know I was 14-under through 67 holes, but, you know, for a par 72, 11-under winning, that's pretty good.
"That's where, as a designer, that's where you want the winning score to be."
Scott Wellington, the tournament director of the Invitational, admits he was surprised to hear such glowing reviews so early.
Flash-faced bunkers provide definition that may have been lacking. And the newly shaved areas around the greens, at holes 1-6 and 10-18, add a whole new dimension of shot-making that is easier for amateurs but requires more precision and thinking from pros.
Wellington said the revamped version of Bay Hill isn't necessarily tougher, even though the course throws more sand than ever at players. He indicated Palmer isn't looking at other changes, but added, "You never know."
"Mr. Palmer is always looking to do subtle tweaking, but to do anything significant, (I think) the golf course stands up on its own," Wellington said. "To add a tee or lengthen a tee where we have room to do that, I think those are the kinds of things Mr. Palmer looks at year in and year out."