Prospective entrants, past champions eager to play in Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard
“Bay Hill is always one of those places you look forward to getting back to,” says Davis Love III, “but I think there’s even a little bit more of a buzz about it this year.”
There is, indeed, more of a buzz about the upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, and it could mean one of the most exciting editions yet in the tournament hosted for the 32nd year by arguably the game’s most iconic and popular figure.
The Bay Hill Club and Lodge is once again the site of the storied golf tournament in Orlando, Florida, but it’s a de facto new Championship Course at Bay Hill that players will encounter March 22-28. Palmer oversaw a complete renovation of his prized layout, and word has gotten around in PGA TOUR circles – as Love alluded to – that the King outdid himself in upgrading what was already one of the great shot-making tests in golf.
“I think it could be a very interesting week,” says Ernie Els, who won at Bay Hill in 1998. “I heard from my sources in Orlando that they have changed the golf course again, so I wanted to go check it out, basically. I’m curious to see what they have changed. And I heard a lot of good things about it.”
“You know, I just love that golf course,” says 2005 champion Kenny Perry. “It’s always set up well for me, and it’s really a great driver’s golf course. And now I hear that Arnold has made it even better. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what’s been changed.”
What changes have been made Palmer insists are for the better.
Tees and greens have been changed, with the putting surfaces recontoured and the edges flattened. They have been resurfaced in a new strain of Bermuda grass, too: Emerald Dwarf. Bunkers have been repositioned throughout and 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 Flanking bunkers have been replaced by more offset traps, while bunkers around the greens have been drawn in closer to the putting surfaces.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.”
Palmer is especially eager to see how the new chipping areas impact strategy and scoring. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about and wanting to do at Bay Hill for some time,” he said. “Rather than just throwing a bunker here or there, we’ve got some new things going on that are really going to make the guys think.”
The course also has been lengthened slightly, to 7,381 yards, and the additional length was part of the reason that Palmer decided to restore tournament par to 72 after a three-year trial playing the Championship Course at par-70. The par-5 fourth and 16th holes were converted to par-4s 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.”
That decision was widely applauded by many players.
“I know it’s just a number on the scorecard, but from the standpoint of scoring and making a move, it’s going to be fun to try and make birdies and eagles coming down the stretch, and 16 is going to be such a pivotal hole in that,” Love said.
Added 2007 winner Vijay Singh: Vijay: “I think it does make it more fun at a par-72. It’s all in your head, but that’s what it is. Four and 16 are good par-5s. They were good par-4s, but they’re better as par-5s. It’s a good change.”
“Bay Hill is the kind of golf course where if you hit it well, you’re going to get rewarded, and if you don’t, you’ll struggle, and that’s really all you want when you go play,” says Paul Goydos, who captured the 1996 edition for his first PGA TOUR title. “I’m sure that whatever Arnold has done hasn’t taken away from the nature of the golf course. It’s still going to be about hitting it well. You’re still not going to be able to hide if you’re not on your game. It should be interesting to see what’s been done.”
Palmer said past champions probably still have a leg up on the competition, even after the Bay Hill facelift. “I would suspect that guys who have done well here in the past would continue to do well,” he said. “I think the experience factor will still have an impact on things.”
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 champions, including recent winners like Els, Goydos, Perry, Singh, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Chad Campbell.
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.