Bay Hill Golf Club & Lodge is a very special place, it holds a unique place in Orlando as a private club that also doubles as a 70-room lodge open to visitors. It’s combination of intimacy and luxury is tough to find in Orlando, where courses are either ultra-exclusive or huge golf resorts. Arnold Palmer has a reputation for being a great man of the people; Mr. Palmer is about as accessible in his realm as any figure of such iconic stature could be. The King resides at Bay Hill from late fall through the better part of spring. He comes to work in his office above the pro shop for a few hours every day with his dog Mulligan. Most days, he dines at Bay Hill’s two primary dining rooms.
I first met Arnold Palmer in 2004 at Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, MA at the Bank of America Championship, a Champions Tour event held each year in the greater Boston area. Each year, as tournament volunteers, my brother and I were assigned to Mr. Palmer, to manage the crowd control of Arnie’s Army. It was a very memorable experience and Mr. Palmer always personally thanked us for helping. To our amazement year after year at the event Mr. Palmer remembered both our names. His attention to detail with people, his manners on the course and his dealings in business and in life, set a new standard in the game, that to this day is unmatched by no other.
No one individual in the history of golf will ever have the impact upon this great game as Arnold Palmer did and to this day, still does. He was the first superstar of the game to make golf global. He has made more appearances on TV then any other sports celebrity in history. His vision for the Golf Channel brought the game to a new level across the planet and by doing so, increased purses to what they are today for the sport. Without him there would have never been a Senior Golf Tour, Arnold Palmer is the King of the Game.
In 1970, Arnold Palmer, already the most celebrated statesman of the game of golf and known around the world for his accomplishments, took a five-year lease with an option to buy Bay Hill. After taking ownership in 1975, Palmer has polished the original visions of Bay Hill into the opulent diamond it is today with the stature of a world-class facility. In 1979, Arnold Palmer successfully negotiated Bay Hill as the venue to host a major event on the PGA TOUR. The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard (formerly the Bay Hill Invitational) bears a special aura in professional golf. The tournament is one of the premiere events each year on the PGA TOUR. Annually the Invitational has one of the strongest fields of the season with the entire production overseen and directed by the Legend himself.
Mr. Palmer decided in the Summer of 2009 to renovate the famous course with the Arnold Palmer Design Company and was hands-on throughout the entire process. The specific goals of the renovation were focused in three distinct areas: Agronomic/Maintenance (redesign of all 18 greens), Playability and Aesthetics which included the reworking of all the bunkering and major changes in four holes that altered the yardage from 7,103 to 7,196 and from par 71 to par 72.
The Bay Hill Club & Lodge features 27-holes of golf, the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, tennis on four Har-tru and two DecoTurf courts. The Lodge features 70 rooms with a full service spa and salon, fitness center, a heated Jr. Olympic-size pool. There are also three dining locations, 3 lounges, and 9,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
Bay Hill is a community of beautiful homes surrounding the golf courses and lining the boulevards. As you drive in, gardens, trees and lawns are a flowering testimonial to the lushness of Central Florida and the care and concern of the Bay Hill community. The magic of this special place is quickly apparent and the influences of the Palmer family leave you feeling like an esteemed member of an exclusive private club on your stay there. Upon your arrival you are greeted with a level of service and hospitality that makes you feel like you’re not only welcome but special in a Bay Hill way. Upon checking into your room you are treated with the life story of Arnold Palmer on each room television, a documentary produced by the Golf Channel produced in 2014. It provides a vision into a life that changed the world of golf forever.
In 2015 Bay Hill’s historic award winning golf course underwent a summer-long re-grassing project. The course re-opened officially for guest play in September of 2015 to rave reviews with all new TifEagle Bermuda grass greens and Celebration Bermuda grass on the fairways. Course conditions were exceptional in the Fall when we visited the amazing facility. Bay Hill consists of three 9-hole courses: the Challenger, Champion and Charger. Dick Wilson built the Challenger and Champion courses in 1961, Bob Simmons added the Charger in 1968. Renovations to the courses by Palmer and Ed Seay in 1989 and in 1997 added length and a new design to many of the greens.
Play the Tournament courses and you’ll begin at its third handicapped hole, Challenger’s 441-yard, dogleg left, par 4. The first three holes at Bay Hill are said to be the very toughest starting holes of any tour event.
The combined Challenger and Champion courses measure 7,204 yards from the Palmer tees and carry a course/slope rating of 75.1/139. The blues measure 6,920 yards at 73.8/138; the yellows play 6,647 yards at 72.4/130; the reds play 6,220 yards at 70.4/124; and the forward tees play 5,235 yards at 72.7/130. The Charger’s 9-hole Palmer tees measure 3,409 yards at 35.8/123; the blues play 3,291 yards and 35.7/123; the yellows play 3,178 yards and 35.0/117; the reds play 2,905 yards and 33.8/105; and the forward tees play 2,635 yards at 35.3/122.
Making the right choice of tee boxes before you even hit a shot could be the best or worst decision in your round. Be wise and play at your level and your proper length and you will be in for one of the best days in your golf life.
After a round at Bay Hill enjoy one of three great dinning facilities at the club while embellishing your round at the King’s House. Bay Hill is a private golf club only accessible to members and those staying at the club as hotel guest. You can get Stay & Play packages for 3 nights with 2 rounds of golf in spring or fall for as little as $450.00. Forget about tournament week because it’s just not possible to stay or play the course for weeks before or after the Bay Hill invitational. Fall and spring are the very best times to play at the facility and as a bonus, you are likely to run into Mr. Palmer having breakfast or lunch in the main dinning room. Keep in mind Mr. Palmer is a stickler about wearing a golf hat in his clubhouse and he will personally tell you so if you walk in with it on. He will also extend a hand and welcome you to his home away from home, Bay Hill. For more information, go to BayHill.com
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