ORLANDO, Fla. – As the proud owner at Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer doesn’t want to see PGA Tour players light up the scoreboard. As one of the game’s great entertainers, Palmer also appreciates that the fans like to see birdies.
Entertainment won this round.
Bay Hill will return to being a par 72 for the Arnold Palmer Invitational after the tournament host reluctantly agreed that fans would rather see players score below par, and that a par 5 on the finishing holes could make the PGA Tour event more exciting.
The club switched to a par 70 the last three years by converting two par 5s into par 4s, including the 16th hole, which often is pivotal in deciding the tournament.
“We’re going to go with four par 5s again, with the thinking that the galleries and the people enjoy seeing players make birdies,” Palmer said Tuesday. “We're going to give them an opportunity to make birdies.”
The fourth hole also will be changed back to a par 5.
Palmer believes the course still will be challenging enough when Tiger Woods returns in the final week of March to defend his title. Bay Hill recently reopened after extensive renovations to the bunkering – some were reshaped and moved, others added – along with a new strain of Bermuda grass on the greens and moderate lengthening.
The course played at 7,162 yards as a par 70. Palmer said it would be about 7,400 yards as a par 72.
Besides having new grass, severe contours on some of the greens have been softened, which will allow the PGA Tour field staff to find as many as eight potential hole locations.
Palmer also has a new tee at No. 15 that is across the road, although he doubts that will be used because of congestion. The 18th tee also has been moved back, although only about 10 yards.
The white sand in the bunkers is fluffy, making it difficult to hit a clean shot from fairway traps and reach the green. Palmer said a machine that tamps the sand around the edges will reduce the likelihood of a ball plugging.
Even so, the most welcome change is the 16th, which returns to a par 5 even at a short 511 yards.
It will be the shortest of the par 5s, with bunkers on each side of the fairway and a stream cutting in front of the green. Palmer expects to see plenty of birdies, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
“There’s a risk-reward situation there,” he said. “It’s still going to be short for the pros. The fact is, it will be kind of fun. If a guy is coming down the stretch needing a two-shot swing and hits it on that green and makes eagle, or a guy who has a two-shot lead hits a flaw on his second shot, those two shots disappear quickly.
“Based on that argument, I relinquished and went to the par 5.”