Arnold Palmer introduces renovated Bay Hill

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ORLANDO, Fla. – If Bay Hill Club & Lodge were a thrilling novel, then Tiger Woods’ 15-footer to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March was a fitting end to Volume 1. And just days after closing the book, Arnold Palmer put pen back to paper, leading a renovation of one of golf’s most revered venues.

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Video: Arnold Palmer discusses changes to Bay Hill
  • Bay Hill: Before and After
  • Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Volume 2 was officially released Tuesday, as Arnold Palmer reintroduced his pride and joy, less than five months after its wall-to-wall renovation began. While the routing remains the same, significant work was done around each of the greens, which allows for more creative short game shots, and more hole locations. The bunkers were also reworked to make them more visually intimidating.

“The opinion is that we make courses harder and harder,” Palmer said of renovating Bay Hill. “Our purpose has changed a little bit. We decided to rethink that.”

PGA Tour players will be glad to hear that Nos. 4 and 16 were made into true par 5s, and that some of the rough around the greens has been replaced by run-off areas, but does that mean Bay Hill is easier? Arnold Palmer Design Company architect Thad Layton thinks it depends on who’s playing the course.

“For the amateur player, it will be easier because the forward tees are shorter and the new runoffs will allow them to putt the ball from off the green,” Layton said. “But I think the pros will have a more difficult time deciding what shot to hit from the closely mown collection areas around the greens.”

The collection areas appear on holes 1-6 and 10-16.

Another significant change that players will have to negotiate is a flattening of the putting surfaces, which gives the PGA Tour flexibility in setting hole locations for the tournament. The PGA Tour has what it calls the 2 percent rule, meaning it won’t cut holes in places where there is more than a 2 percent slope to the green. By flattening the putting surfaces, hole locations can go where no hole location has gone before.  
 
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While it’s debatable that flatter greens make a golf course tougher, this characteristic fulfills one of Palmer’s initial requests for the renovation to “get the greens closer to the water hazards.” Palmer wanted pins tucked closer to the edges, bringing the jagged-rock waterlines – a Bay Hill signature – more into play.

Greens were also reseeded with Emerald Bermudagrass, a new seed from Houston that has never been used on a Palmer-designed golf course. The hope is that the surface is less grainy than the previous Tif-Eagle grass, but Palmer admitted it will take about a year before they really find out how much grain they have.

Before players even get to the greens, however, they’ll have to avoid reshaped and repositioned bunkers that are much more visible on tee shots and approach shots than before. Perhaps the best example of this theory at work is No. 4, which was converted into a true par 5 without lengthening the hole (it had been played as a par 4 during the Invitational).

The fairway bunkers at No. 4 were moved out into the 270-300-yard range, and a new bunker was added left of the fairway 100 yards from the green to guard the lay-up area. The green was elevated and made smaller, while roll-off areas were created front right and back left.

The other hole that was made into a true par 5 without being lengthened is No. 16, which also played as a daunting par 4 for the pros.

While a better viewing corridor from the tee down to the landing area has been created, fairway bunkers have been adjusted and brought closer to the fairway. An accurate tee shot will give players a chance to go for the green in two, but getting your ball in position is easier said than done.

Up at the green bunkers were reshaped and the beach-style bunker left of the green was replaced by a collection area. With the green smoothed out, more pin locations can be cut near the treacherous water hazard, which Palmer expects will make for interesting risk-reward scenarios coming down the stretch on Sunday.

“It’ll be an exciting hole to watch,” Palmer said of No. 16. He grinned and added that, “I’ll certainly be there lurking.”

At No. 18 a new tee was created to give players a better angle for their tee shot, though Palmer believes the longer hitters will still hit 3-wood. As for the 25-foot putt Tiger made at No. 18 on Sunday to win in 2008? Palmer said the green is flatter so it doesn’t break as much as it used to.

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, Bay Hill is an enjoyable golf experience that lets you hit a variety of shots. And with Arnold Palmer as the author, you know Version 2 will be even better than the original.
  • Bay Hill: Before and After
  • Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard