Golf Course Review - Bay Hill Club Lodge

By Phil SokolFebruary 6, 2008, 5:00 pm
HISTORY: What usually happens when a group of businessmen want to build a private spot to vacation during the winter months is it develops into a world-class venue. This is exactly the case in regards to Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
 
Bay Hill Bay Hill has a wonderful tournament history dating back to 1979, when the PGA Tour moved its Florida Citrus Open to the club. Bob Byman captured the first event staged at Bay Hill, defeating John Schroeder in a playoff. Back in 1960, several gentlemen from Nashville, Tennessee, hired Dick Wilson and Joe Lee to craft a special retreat where they could enjoy their favorite hobby. Wilson designed many courses in Florida, including Doral's Blue Monster and Pine Tree and several famous courses around the United States, namely Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania, NCR in Ohio and La Costa Resort in California. Lee, known for many Sunshine State courses in his own right, such as Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista courses in Disney World, worked with Wilson on many projects, including La Costa and Cog Hill in Illinois. The duo created a remarkable course that gently rolls across 270 acres along the shores of the Butler Chain of Lakes.
 
After completion, the owners, in an effort to promote the club, invited Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Don Cherry and Dave Ragan to play in an exhibition in 1965. Mr. Palmer, who shot 66 to beat Nicklaus, fell in love with the course and the rest, as they say, is history.
 
Mr. Palmer, along with several partners assumed control of the club in 1970 and then just six years later, Mr. Palmer purchased the club outright and became the club owner, president and green committee chairman. Over the years, Mr. Palmer, along with the recently-deceased Ed Seay have tinkered with the design of the course in an effort to make Bay Hill one of the most beautiful and demanding layouts in golf.
 
The list of champions at this event reads like a who's who of Hall-of-Famers past, present and future. From Tom Kite (1982, '89), Payne Stewart (1987) and Ben Crenshaw (1983) to Paul Azinger (1988), Phil Mickelson (1997), Ernie Els (1998), Vijay Singh (2007) and Tiger Woods (2000-03).
 
Although never a winner of this event, Greg Norman enjoyed success at Bay Hill, posting a pair of runner-up finishes, making the cut in his first 12 appearances and recording six top-10s and nine top-15s. Norman was a tad snake-bitten at Bay Hill, losing in a playoff in 1983 to little-known Mike Nicolette on the first extra hole, as Nicolette won for the first and only time, and then finishing one shot back of Robert Gamez, who holed out for eagle on the final hole from the fairway. Norman, along with Andy Bean, owns the course record of 62.
 
When Payne Stewart captured the 1987 event, he posted a record total of 264 which still stands today. Stewart, who defeated David Frost by three shots, donated his entire winner's check to a local hospital in memory of his father.
Following the 1989 event, Mr. Palmer and his design team reworked the entire course, including all 18 greens and bunkers, while lengthening the course almost 100 yards, changing the par to 72.
 
The USGA made its only stop at Bay Hill in 1991 for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, where who else but Tiger Woods captured the first of his three consecutive Junior Amateur titles. Woods, the medalist with a two-day total of 140, defeated Brad Zwetschke on the 19th hole.
 
Fred Couples' eighth career title came in 1992, as he cruised to a whopping nine-stroke victory over Gene Sauers. Couples opened with rounds of 67-69-63 and closed with a round of 70 for a 269 total, second lowest in event history. Loren Roberts became the first back-to-back champion of this event when he titled in 1994-95. During those two tournaments, Roberts blistered the Bay Hill course with eight sub-par rounds, five rounds in the 60s and a total of 29-under-par.
 
Phil Mickelson's 10th career victory came in 1997, as he closed with a sizzling seven-under-par 65 for a three-shot win over Stuart Appleby. After missing the cut the first two times he played the tournament and failing to break par in his first five rounds at Bay Hill, Mickelson responded with rounds of 65-70-65 to finish at 16-under. Lefty has recorded three top-five finishes in his last five appearances.
No player over the years, however, has dominated this event like Woods. The No. 1 player in the world claimed four consecutive wins (2000-03) and has never missed the cut at this event as a professional. When he captured the 2003 tournament, he snapped Couples' winning mark by posting an 11-shot victory. During that four-year streak, Woods was a combined 65-under par with 12 rounds in the 60s and 15-of-16 rounds under par.
 
For the 2007 tournament, Mr. Palmer changed the course to a par of 70 at 7,137 yards. Vijay Singh, at 44 years old, won for the 31st time in his Hall of Fame career, defeating Rocco Mediate by two shots. Singh, who has never missed a cut at this event in 15 starts, has six top-10 finishes. Trailing by three heading into the final round, Singh made seven birdies and despite back-to- back bogeys on 16 and 17, was able to shoot his second straight 67 for the win. 'It means a lot,' said Singh after the win. 'This was my first ever tournament in America. I love this place.'
 
REVIEW: Most courses start you off with a gentile par five or routine par four, not Bay Hill. The first hole is a robust 441-yard dogleg left gem that features a tight landing area and several fairway bunkers down the right side. To make matters worse, thick rough lines both sides of the fairway, not to mention out of bounds down the left. After a successful tee ball, a medium-to- long iron remains to a slightly uphill and shallow green, just 22 paces deep. Two traps front and two rear will see plenty of action and can make an up-and-down virtually impossible.
 
There is not let up when you reach the second tee, a lengthy par three that can be stretched to 238 yards from the Palmer tees. Another miniscule green, this putting surface slopes hard from right to left and is surrounded by a trio of bunkers. The front pot bunker is quite diabolical, so avoid it at all costs. During the 2007 tournament, Dean Wilson aced this hole during the first round.
 
Bay Hill
The third is a sharp dogleg left that boomerangs around a lake.
One of just three par fours under 400 yards, the third is a sharp dogleg left that boomerangs around a lake. Three-metal off the tee is the prudent play, avoiding water left and a pair of trench-like bunkers down the right. Just a medium-to-short iron should remain to a very long and narrow putting surface. There is sand short and left, right and deep, not to mention the water guarding this undulating green. For we mere mortals, the fourth hole plays as a nice, uphill par five, but for the big boys during the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it's a solid 460-yard par four. With a creek meandering up the entire right side, the play is to favor the left, although a pair of bunkers, 50 yards in length, occupy the area. Reachable in two with a big second shot, the player must slip past the bunkers guarding the entrance to the promised land. The smart play would be to layup short of the sand and pitch it close for birdie. The green is a small target and well guarded by bunkers.
 
The fifth is a routine par four, just 384 yards in length. Bending slightly to the left, the key is the tee shot, which must dissect the quartet of fairway bunkers around the 130-yard mark. Just a short iron remains to a receptive green which features a crown in the center. Once again, sand plays a predominant role around the putting surface.
 
With today's technology, the par-five sixth is reachable in two, but the risk outweighs the reward. Wrapped around the lake, a draw aimed at the center of the three fairway bunkers would be the smart start. The landing area is generous, but the water is just a few paces away. A long iron or fairway metal layup will leave a short pitch to the longest green on the course, a whopping 50 yards in depth. Water left and two bunkers right will keep you honest, but if you play sensible, birdies can be had on the No. 1 handicap hole on the course.
 
The most straight-forward hole on the course, the seventh is also the shortest at 197 yards. Six bunkers surround the putting surface, which slopes from back to front. With a calm breeze, this hole can provide plenty of scoring opportunities.
 
One of my favorite holes on the course, the eighth is a tough dogleg right par four that reaches 459 yards in length. Not only does the drive have to be straight and true, it needs to be long enough to get past the trees down the right avoiding a blocked approach to the green. From the fairway, a medium-to-long iron remains to an elevated putting surface fronted by water. The green itself is just 23 paces deep, but quite wide with bunkers in the rear and right. The slope runs hard from back to front and is very slick. Anything short will most certainly run back into the drink, so club wisely.
 
As you return towards the clubhouse, your work is hardly complete. At the difficult ninth, your tee shot must reach the fairway for you to have any shot at getting on in regulation. A long trap and out-of-bounds guard the left side and a pair of bunkers and trees protect the right. As the hole doglegs to the left, a long iron or fairway metal will be needed to reach the putting surface. Three bunkers surround the green, which is one of the longest on the course. The final hole on the Challenger nine also happens to be the longest par four on the course.
 
The Champion nine opens with a forgiving, but clever, dogleg-right par four. This short par four is quite deceiving, as the fairway, which is fairly wide, is tightened by the trees and a 35-yard long bunker down the right, as well as a duo of traps down the left. Take three-metal off the tee and set up a longer, but easier, approach from the fairway. Make sure you add a little extra to your second, as the green is slightly elevated and guarded by three bunkers.
 
Similar to the third, the 11th is another dogleg-left par four that sweeps around a lake towards the green. Longer than its predecessor, this hole features a more forgiving fairway with a pair of bunkers down the right side, with the water coming into play at the 168-yard marker. A mid-to-short iron approach needs to be spot on, as the green is long and narrow with sand short and right. The putting surface plays a half club longer with its elevated stature. If you think left is bad, long is out-of-bounds.
 
The real test of the inward nine begins AT the 12th, the longest hole on the course. At 580 yards, this straightaway par five is rarely reached in two, as it plays uphill from tee to green. The danger here really is in the narrow fairway, which is guarded by thick rough. Sand comes to the forefront with your layup at the 130-yard mark down the right and two massive traps on either side of the landing area at 65 yards in. The putting surface is fairly large with a handful of bunkers surrounding the promised land. A real birdie chance.
 
Another sensational hole, the 13th is the shortest par four on the course at just 364 yards. Three-metal or less is the play off the tee, as the pond fronting the green is reachable with the big stick. Be wary of the bunkers guarding both sides of the fairway, as they can produce a very scary approach. Just a wedge should remain to attack this hole, however the green is just 26 paces deep and it slopes from back to front. A precise shot will be rewarded, but too much spin will end up in a rocky grave. By the way, the bunkers in the rear are no bargain either.
 
Bay Hill
Two ribbon-shaped traps guard the entrance to the green on the 14th.
The first par three on the back side, the 14th is rated as the easiest on the course. Hardly. At 206 yards and playing uphill and into the wind, this hole requires pinpoint accuracy off the tee. Two ribbon-shaped traps guard the entrance to the green, which is just 30 paces in length. You'll really have to work the ball with a back-right pin, especially when you're trying to make par.
 
The final four holes are as good as they get in Florida. For starters, the 15th is a sharp, dogleg right that necessitates the player cutting the corner. That means hitting 250 yards over the two bunkers, trees and homes to leave the shortest approach in. Bailing out left will leave a very long second shot to a small and well-guarded green. Just 31 paces in depth, the putting surface, which has five traps surrounding it, has four distinct sections, making a two-putt very difficult.
 
Converted to a par four for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the 16th for us mortals is a solid, 517-yard par five reachable in two shots with a couple of conditions.
First, the tee shot is semi-blind from the tips and must be threaded between the numerous fairway bunkers and the trees. The longer, but better angle to get home is the left side. However, the water fronting the green must be avoided, otherwise your chance at birdie is gone and the possibility of double-bogey or worse is conceivable. Sand short-right and deep protects one of the must undulating greens on the course. A front pin could be the most difficult, as it brings the slope of the green into play and any ball not landing on top will certainly spin back towards the water. No one said it was going to be easy. During the 2007 tournament, this hole produced a stroke average of 4.411, 21st most difficult on the PGA Tour.
 
The par threes at Bay Hill are rated the four easiest holes on the course, but let me tell you first hand, as a player, this is not the case. A back-right flag on the 17th can stretch this one-shotter to 230 yards from the tips, over water and over sand. A high, well-struck long-iron or fairway-metal will be needed to negotiate all the trouble that this hole dishes out. Don't forget the water hazard that wraps around the right and rear portion of the green, as any low shot into this miniscule putting surface will end up wet.
 
How difficult is the closing hole at Bay Hill? During the 2006 tournament, it ranked as the toughest hole of the event with a 4.319 average. It's best not to know that going in, otherwise you'll be shaking in your shoes.
Bay Hill
The 18th is a great par four that demands length and accuracy off the tee.
One of the most exciting finishing holes in golf, the 18th is a great par four that demands length and accuracy off the tee. No fairway bunkers to contend with, just thick rough and out of bounds left. A medium-to-long iron will remain to a boomerang-shaped putting surface that wraps around a lake and rock wall. Three deep bunkers cover the rear of a green that slopes hard from back to front. It's one of the most thrilling finishing holes on the PGA Tour -- just ask Robert Gamez, who sank his 7seven-iron in 1990 from 176 yards into the hole for eagle to defeat Greg Norman by a shot.
 
FINAL WORD: Just a stone's throw from downtown Orlando and Disney World, Bay Hill Club & Lodge is certainly worth the price of admission.
The Lodge features 70 newly-renovated rooms, with a full service salon and spa, dining and aquatics. The pro shop is completely stocked for both men and women, not to mention trinkets with Mr. Palmer's signature. Yes, it's a bit expensive to stay and play at Bay Hill, but not only do you get a chance to play one of the best venues in the state, you have a real good chance at meeting the host.
 
With five sets of tees, ranging from 5,235 to 7,267 yards, Bay Hill is for all types of players. The Challenger and Champion nines make up the tournament course, but a third nine, the Charger, is also very competitive. How tough is Bay Hill? During the 2007 Arnold Palmer Invitational, the scoring average for the four days was 72.054 (the course played to a par 70). All four rounds were over par, including the final day (74.513). For the year, Bay Hill was the seventh most difficult on the PGA Tour.
 
Over the years, Bay Hill has been ranked as one of the top golf resorts in North America, one of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses by Golf Digest and one of the top-10 public access courses in the state of Florida.
 
To host an annual stop on the PGA Tour, courses must go through rigorous upkeep for the standards of today's professional and Bay Hill absolutely measures up. Most people believe that when the event concludes in the spring, the site conditioning slips. I'm here to tell you that even in mid-summer, Bay Hill is in mint condition. From tee to green the course is immaculate and the landscaping sensational. The staff was also very gracious and accommodating, making my stay that much more enjoyable.
 
Would you expect anything less from the king of golf? I think not. I definitely will be back.
 
Phil Sokol writes for the Sports Network, and periodically contributes to GolfChannel.com. Send your thoughts on this article to Phil Sokol at psokol@sportsnetwork.com.
 
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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.