The Tour heads to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Arnold Palmer Invitational was originally The Citrus Open at Rio Pinar Country Club on the east side of Orlando until 1966. In 1978, the event moved to Bay Hill which is on the west side of the city and where Mr. Palmer made his residence. Mr. Palmer preferred the Orlando area due to the close proximity to Orlando International Airport as he owned and flew his own airplane. This set off the influx of Tour players and mini-tour players chosing Orlando as the preferred area to live in the state of Florida from the 1970’s to the 2000’s.
Bay Hill was originally built in 1956 by well known architect, Dick Wilson. Eventually Mr. Palmer made some changes to the course. The big issue they had over recent years was the quality of the greens, but they completely renovated the greens to a TifEagle grass which doesn’t quite roll as fast as some of the modern bermuda grass types, but it is the most durable of the bermuda putting surfaces. This works for Bay Hill because they do have a substantial membership and one can play the course if they pay to stay at the lodge. So, the foot traffic is a little more at Bay Hill than most Tour courses.
Having been at Bay Hill, yesterday…the course was in fantastic condition and I have various Tour players and caddies tell me that they think these are the best greens they have played so far this season.
This is not a strong field with most of the top-20 players in the world deciding to skip the event. The main complaint is the schedule with having come off Mexico two weeks prior and then the match play in Austin the next week which starts early. Bay Hill is also a bit polarizing in that players tend to either strongly like or strongly dislike the layout. Shorter hitters may not like it as much because the course plays soft as holes #3 thru #6 sit in a ‘bowl.’
The 18th hole gets all of the fame, but the 17th hole is incredible in it’s own right (click to enlarge).
What I also like about the 17th hole is while it’s a difficult shot into the hole, the green has a very high make percentage. In essence, the classic use of ‘form follows function.’
While the 16th hole is a fairly easy hole, it does get golfers into a situation where a good drive can mean going for the green in 2 shots with an iron or a hybrid and between 16, 17 and 18 you really have a fine stretch of finishing holes. If there’s one thing I strongly dislike about that stretch is that from a casual fan’s perspective the 17th is not very friendly because almost all of the seating around the green is taken up by corporate sponsors and there’s only seating for about 40 people while the rest of the fans have to stand the entire time to see the hole.
Other than that, Bay Hill is easily one of the best fan experiences on Tour. Easy course to walk, free on-course parking Monday-Wednesday and excellent bleacher seating behind the driving range. A great spot to watch players on Tuesday and Wednesday is between the 3rd green, 4th tee and 6th tee. So you can watch approach shots come in on the 3rd hole, see tee shots of the par-5 4th hole and tee shots on the famous par-5 6th hole all by walking roughly 30 yards.
The course has changed over the years in terms of critical holes. The 18th used to be the featured critical hole, but now the last critical hole is the long par-4, 15th hole. However, if the winds continue to be breezy like they were on Tuesday, you should see a momentum change and the 18th become a more critical hole.
LOCAL EATS: Orlando doesn’t have the selection of local eats like Tampa does. This is commonplace in resort areas.
The good news is most of the quality local eateries are near Bay Hill like The Chatham Place, Kokino’s, Rocco's Tacos and the Pharmacy Restaurant.
If you want some places more off the beaten path, I would suggest Graffiti Junktion in Thornton Park, Cuban Sandwiches to Go of Lee Road (they only take cash) and Il Pescatore in Winter Park.
PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -15 (if it continues to stay breezy and cold, expect winning score to be higher).
Rory McIlroy +700
Henrik Stenson +800
Rickie Fowler +1,600
Justin Rose +1,800
Tony Finau +4,500
3JACK’S DARK HORSES
Zach Johnson +5,000
Adam Hadwin +6,600
Russell Henley +6,600
Keegan Bradley +8,000
Marc Leishman +10,000