This week’s tour stop is a tribute to Arnold Palmer, the guy who put professional golf in the money by selling his charisma to the TV media back in the early sixties. The players today have reverential respect for path he created and playing in his tournament each year is a way of showing it.
The Bay Hill Resort and Country Club is Arnie and Winnie Palmer personified represented in the informal, tranquil, and confident atmosphere that pervades the place. A walk through the resort reveals hallways and rooms full of Arnie memorabilia. Photos with the King, entertainment personalities, and the top pros of every era make you feel like you are walking through Arnie’s study in Latrobe. Food is good, I recommend the Belgian Waffle, and everything about the place-the health club, outside recreation areas, eating facilities, and meeting rooms-are top shelf experiences without any attitude.
The golf course has a lot of Arnie’s hand in it-originally designed by Dick Wilson in 1963 but tinkered with endlessly by Ed Seay and Arnold ever he took ownership of it in the early 1970’s. To win here demands thoughtful course management and shot execution. Not a brute in length, this course continually challenges the players to make good decisions especially if the wind is up.
Arnold’s Invitational attracts a strong and diverse field-representing 16 countries, with over a third of the field under the age 30 and 25 players 40 years or over. Fifteen different major winners and eight of the top ten on the 2012 PGA Tour money list are here including Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, and Bill Haas, as well as Tiger and Phil.
Over the years drama has been part of this event. Walking down the right center of the 18th fairway about 170 from the green you cannot miss the bronze plaque that commemorates the spot from which Robert Gamez, a rookie on the tour, holed a seven iron in 1990 to steal yet another championship from the clutches of world #1 Greg Norman. Then there is one Phil, two Ernies, and any of the six wins Tiger has had at this place-four straight from 2000 to 2003.
For much in the field this is a home game since so many international and American golf pros call Isleworth or Lake Nona their home. Bay Hill would be a place they can play on a regular basis. Sleeping in one’s own bed or in one of the suites at the resort means it is not far from the morning coffee to the weight room or range for pre-game prep. Seems to me it should be an easy day at the office for many of them.
Bay Hill is a comfortable tour stop to play and a wonderful win to have on your golf resume. It is something special in a professional golfer’s career to shake Arnies hand and accept the unique sword trophy presented as the winner. Even to superstars like Phil, Ernie, V.J., and Tiger this is a piece of hardware they cherish having in their trophy case.