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The King Holds Court

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ORLANDO, Fla. - With age comes wisdom, or so the saying goes. Based on that philosophy, media gathered Wednesday to hear the thoughts of Arnold Palmer.
 
The King held court at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, site of this weeks Bay Hill Invitational, where he is tournament host.
 
Palmer spoke on a myriad of topics, ranging from the recent course changes at the Masters to the prospects of new tours to his future in the game.
 
Augusta National Alterations
 
Palmer won the Masters Tournament four times, the last coming in 1964. And with those victories, the 72-year-old earned more than a quartet of green jackets; he earned a lifetime exemption into the seasons first major.
 
But times have changed, and, so too, has the course. Nearly 300 yards has been added to the overall length, stretching it to 7,270 yards. Palmer has played from the championship tees on two occasions since the renovation, and liked what he saw ' even if it didnt benefit him.
 
I think its appropriate, he said. I hear some remarks about they were doing something to keep Tiger from winning; hell, if anything, (the changes) favor him. The long hitter is the guy thats going to be rewarded.
 
Palmer wouldnt disclose what he shot in those two practice rounds, only saying, with a dry laugh, Were not talking about that.
 
He added the most significant changes were at the opening and closing holes.
 
At 1, with a fair drive, Im hitting a 5-wood or a 3-wood into the green. At 18, unless I really catch a good drive, its a 3-wood. And I have to hit the hell out of both of them to get them on the green.
 
But really, thats not very significant, because the comparison is not a good one. These young people are just hitting the ball a really long way.
 
Bay Hill Changes
 
Augusta National wasnt the only subject of change. Like the aforementioned major venue, this weeks Bay Hill course has undergone a facelift, though slight in comparison.
 
We changed all the greens, said Palmer, who noted there was a new type of Bermuda grass called Tifeagle on the surface.
 
The rough is not any higher than its ever been, but it is thicker. And, of course, the obstacle there will be to get it out of the rough and hold it on the much harder greens.
 
The greens have been the primary focus this week. Publicly, players have been praising the tough terrain. Privately, there have been grumblings that the surface will not hold accurate approach shots.
 
Even Wednesday mornings heavy rain shouldnt have much of an effect on the firmness of the greens when play starts Thursday.
 
The most obvious change can be seen at the par-5 16th.
 
We changed the entire green, moved it more to the right, and we reduced the size to approximately 5,000 square feet and put some, I would call, modestly severe to severe undulation on the green.
 
The left side of the green will be a dangerous target if you hit the left side and the ball is pulling left, it is very likely to go into the water.
 
Overall, the golf course is in the best shape in my 33 years here, without question.
 
His Future
 
Every year, Palmer sits down and says hes contemplating a full exit from competitive golf. This year was no different.
 
I wont say the Masters particularly or Bay Hill particularly, but its getting to the point where I probably will be very careful about where I play.
 
Ive decided not to play the Hope anymore, and thats going to be the general trend.
 
Palmer has played in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic 32 times.
 
In reference to the changes to Augusta National, Palmers friend and long-time rival Jack Nicklaus said they might embarrass the older player, forcing them to quit making the annual trip.
 
Said Palmer, I think hes given a pretty good evaluation, really. The fact that we dont hit the ball anywhere near like we once did - that is going to be a factor for us.
 
As I get older and try to play golf courses like Augusta or Bay Hill, I realize its time for me to give way.
 
Musings
 
On the prospect of a tour such as the proposed Majors Tour, where major winners from the ages of 37-55 would compete, Palmer said, Could you imagine a player winning a major championship and giving up his PGA (Tour) membership? I couldnt.
 
In my thinking, I suppose someone could come along with deep pockets, and form another tour. But right now, at the moment, I dont think thats a factor.
 
On Augusta National introducing their own specs for equipment: That is a conversation that has been going on around the world, not just at Augusta, but everywhere.
 
Jack Nicklaus and I have been, for a number of years, suggesting that they take a look at the golf ball and slow it down. Now, they can do that one of two ways. They can slow the golf ball down generally by making different specs on all golf balls. Or, they can do a two-game situation, one for the professionals and one for the amateurs.
 
On speaking out on non-related golf issues, which Tiger Woods has been criticized for not doing: I really dont think theres much to gain by getting involved in social issues and other things hes handled it very well.
 
And how did he handle such situations in his prime: The same way Im handling them now, he said with an evasive laugh. My father taught me a few things, and that was one of them.