GOLF COURSE REVIEW - BAY HILL CLUB & LODGE
Course Architects: Dick Wilson and Joe Lee (1961);
Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay (1976-present, redesign)
Year Opened: 1961
Location: Orlando, Florida
Slope: 140. Rating: 75.3
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 441 Yds 10 - Par 4 400 Yds
2 - Par 3 218 Yds 11 - Par 4 438 Yds
3 - Par 4 395 Yds 12 - Par 5 580 Yds
4 - Par 5 558 Yds 13 - Par 4 364 Yds
5 - Par 4 384 Yds 14 - Par 3 206 Yds
6 - Par 5 558 Yds 15 - Par 4 425 Yds
7 - Par 3 197 Yds 16 - Par 5 517 Yds
8 - Par 4 459 Yds 17 - Par 3 219 Yds
9 - Par 4 467 Yds 18 - Par 4 441 Yds
Par 36 3,677 Yds Par 36 3,590 Yds
Key Events Held: Bay Hill Citrus Classic (1979),
Bay Hill Classic (1980-84),
Hertz Bay Hill Classic (1985-88),
The Nestle Invitational (1989-95),
U.S. Junior Amateur (1991),
Bay Hill Invitational (1996-2006),
Arnold Palmer Invitational (2007-present).
Course Record: 62 (Andy Bean, 1981; Greg Norman, 1984).
Awards Won: #94 America's 100 Greatest Public Courses - Golf Digest (2007-08),
#26 Best In State (Florida) Golf Courses - Golf Digest (2007-08),
#5 State-by-State Public-Access Courses (FL) by Golfweek (2007),
America's Top 100 Golf Communities by Travel + Leisure (2006-07),
4 1/2 stars Best Places to Play - Golf Digest (2007)
Top 75 Best Golf Resorts in North America - Golf Digest (2007)
Top 100 Courses You Can Play #44 - Golf Magazine (2006).
HISTORY: What usually happens when a group of businessmen want to build a
private spot to vacation during the winter months is it develops into a world-
class venue. This is exactly the case in regards to Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
Back in 1960, several gentlemen from Nashville, Tennessee, hired Dick Wilson
and Joe Lee to craft a special retreat where they could enjoy their favorite
hobby. Wilson designed many courses in Florida, including Doral's Blue Monster
and Pine Tree and several famous courses around the United States, namely
Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania, NCR in Ohio and La Costa Resort in California.
Lee, known for many Sunshine State courses in his own right, such as Magnolia,
Palm and Lake Buena Vista courses in Disney World, worked with Wilson on many
projects, including La Costa and Cog Hill in Illinois. The duo created a
remarkable course that gently rolls across 270 acres along the shores of the
Butler Chain of Lakes.
After completion, the owners, in an effort to promote the club, invited Arnold
Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Don Cherry and Dave Ragan to play in an exhibition in
1965. Mr. Palmer, who shot 66 to beat Nicklaus, fell in love with the course
and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mr. Palmer, along with several partners assumed control of the club in 1970
and then just six years later, Mr. Palmer purchased the club outright and
became the club owner, president and green committee chairman. Over the years,
Mr. Palmer, along with the recently-deceased Ed Seay have tinkered with the
design of the course in an effort to make Bay Hill one of the most beautiful
and demanding layouts in golf.
Bay Hill has a wonderful tournament history dating back to 1979, when the PGA
Tour moved its Florida Citrus Open to the club. Bob Byman captured the first
event staged at Bay Hill, defeating John Schroeder in a playoff.
The list of champions at this event reads like a who's who of Hall-of-Famers
past, present and future. From Tom Kite (1982, '89), Payne Stewart (1987) and
Ben Crenshaw (1983) to Paul Azinger (1988), Phil Mickelson (1997), Ernie Els
(1998), Vijay Singh (2007) and Tiger Woods (2000-03).
Although never a winner of this event, Greg Norman enjoyed success at Bay
Hill, posting a pair of runner-up finishes, making the cut in his first 12
appearances and recording six top-10s and nine top-15s. Norman was a tad
snake-bitten at Bay Hill, losing in a playoff in 1983 to little-known Mike
Nicolette on the first extra hole, as Nicolette won for the first and only
time, and then finishing one shot back of Robert Gamez, who holed out for
eagle on the final hole from the fairway. Norman, along with Andy Bean, owns
the course record of 62.
When Payne Stewart captured the 1987 event, he posted a record total of 264
which still stands today. Stewart, who defeated David Frost by three shots,
donated his entire winner's check to a local hospital in memory of his father.
Following the 1989 event, Mr. Palmer and his design team reworked the entire
course, including all 18 greens and bunkers, while lengthening the course
almost 100 yards, changing the par to 72.
The USGA made its only stop at Bay Hill in 1991 for the U.S. Junior Amateur
Championship, where who else but Tiger Woods captured the first of his three
consecutive Junior Amateur titles. Woods, the medalist with a two-day total of
140, defeated Brad Zwetschke on the 19th hole.
Fred Couples' eighth career title came in 1992, as he cruised to a whopping
nine-stroke victory over Gene Sauers. Couples opened with rounds of 67-69-63
and closed with a round of 70 for a 269 total, second lowest in event history.
Loren Roberts became the first back-to-back champion of this event when he
titled in 1994-95. During those two tournaments, Roberts blistered the Bay
Hill course with eight sub-par rounds, five rounds in the 60s and a total of
Phil Mickelson's 10th career victory came in 1997, as he closed with a
sizzling seven-under-par 65 for a three-shot win over Stuart Appleby. After
missing the cut the first two times he played the tournament and failing to
break par in his first five rounds at Bay Hill, Mickelson responded with
rounds of 65-70-65 to finish at 16-under. Lefty has recorded three top-five
finishes in his last five appearances.
No player over the years, however, has dominated this event like Woods. The
No. 1 player in the world claimed four consecutive wins (2000-03) and has
never missed the cut at this event as a professional. When he captured the
2003 tournament, he snapped Couples' winning mark by posting an 11-shot
victory. During that four-year streak, Woods was a combined 65-under par with
12 rounds in the 60s and 15-of-16 rounds under par.
For the 2007 tournament, Mr. Palmer changed the course to a par of 70 at 7,137
yards. Vijay Singh, at 44 years old, won for the 31st time in his Hall of Fame
career, defeating Rocco Mediate by two shots. Singh, who has never missed a
cut at this event in 15 starts, has six top-10 finishes. Trailing by three
heading into the final round, Singh made seven birdies and despite back-to-
back bogeys on 16 and 17, was able to shoot his second straight 67 for the
win. "It means a lot," said Singh after the win. "This was my first ever
tournament in America. I love this place."
In one of the most thrilling finishes since 1990, Tiger Woods sank a 25-foot
putt for birdie on the final hole to defeat Bart Bryant by a shot and capture
his fifth Arnold Palmer Invitational. Tied for the lead with four other
players heading into the final round, Woods carded his second straight round
of 66 to post a winning score of 10-under, 270. Sean O'Hair, who tied for
third, carded the low round of the week, a seven-under 63 during the third
round. For the week, the par-70 course played to a scoring average of 70.940,
with the final five holes playing over par.
REVIEW: Most courses start you off with a gentile par five or routine par
four, not Bay Hill. The first hole is a robust 441-yard dogleg left gem that
features a tight landing area and several fairway bunkers down the right side.
To make matters worse, thick rough lines both sides of the fairway, not to
mention out of bounds down the left. After a successful tee ball, a medium-to-
long iron remains to a slightly uphill and shallow green, just 22 paces deep.
Two traps front and two rear will see plenty of action and can make an up-and-
down virtually impossible.
There is not let up when you reach the second tee, a lengthy par three that
can be stretched to 238 yards from the Palmer tees. Another miniscule green,
this putting surface slopes hard from right to left and is surrounded by a
trio of bunkers. The front pot bunker is quite diabolical, so avoid it at all
costs. During the 2007 tournament, Dean Wilson aced this hole during the first
One of just three par fours under 400 yards, the third is a sharp dogleg left
that boomerangs around a lake. Three-metal off the tee is the prudent play,
avoiding water left and a pair of trench-like bunkers down the right. Just a
medium-to-short iron should remain to a very long and narrow putting surface.
There is sand short and left, right and deep, not to mention the water
guarding this undulating green.
For we mere mortals, the fourth hole plays as a nice, uphill par five, but for
the big boys during the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it's a solid 460-yard par
four. With a creek meandering up the entire right side, the play is to favor
the left, although a pair of bunkers, 50 yards in length, occupy the area.
Reachable in two with a big second shot, the player must slip past the bunkers
guarding the entrance to the promised land. The smart play would be to layup
short of the sand and pitch it close for birdie. The green is a small target
and well guarded by bunkers.
The fifth is a routine par four, just 384 yards in length. Bending slightly to
the left, the key is the tee shot, which must dissect the quartet of fairway
bunkers around the 130-yard mark. Just a short iron remains to a receptive
green which features a crown in the center. Once again, sand plays a
predominant role around the putting surface.
With today's technology, the par-five sixth is reachable in two, but the risk
outweighs the reward. Wrapped around the lake, a draw aimed at the center of
the three fairway bunkers would be the smart start. The landing area is
generous, but the water is just a few paces away. A long iron or fairway metal
layup will leave a short pitch to the longest green on the course, a whopping
50 yards in depth. Water left and two bunkers right will keep you honest, but
if you play sensible, birdies can be had on the No. 1 handicap hole on the
The most straight-forward hole on the course, the seventh is also the shortest
at 197 yards. Six bunkers surround the putting surface, which slopes from back
to front. With a calm breeze, this hole can provide plenty of scoring
One of my favorite holes on the course, the eighth is a tough dogleg right par
four that reaches 459 yards in length. Not only does the drive have to be
straight and true, it needs to be long enough to get past the trees down the
right avoiding a blocked approach to the green. From the fairway, a medium-to-
long iron remains to an elevated putting surface fronted by water. The green
itself is just 23 paces deep, but quite wide with bunkers in the rear and
right. The slope runs hard from back to front and is very slick. Anything
short will most certainly run back into the drink, so club wisely.
As you return towards the clubhouse, your work is hardly complete. At the
difficult ninth, your tee shot must reach the fairway for you to have any shot
at getting on in regulation. A long trap and out-of-bounds guard the left side
and a pair of bunkers and trees protect the right. As the hole doglegs to the
left, a long iron or fairway metal will be needed to reach the putting
surface. Three bunkers surround the green, which is one of the longest on the
course. The final hole on the Challenger nine also happens to be the longest
par four on the course.
The Champion nine opens with a forgiving, but clever, dogleg-right par four.
This short par four is quite deceiving, as the fairway, which is fairly wide,
is tightened by the trees and a 35-yard long bunker down the right, as well as
a duo of traps down the left. Take three-metal off the tee and set up a
longer, but easier, approach from the fairway. Make sure you add a little
extra to your second, as the green is slightly elevated and guarded by three
Similar to the third, the 11th is another dogleg-left par four that sweeps
around a lake towards the green. Longer than its predecessor, this hole
features a more forgiving fairway with a pair of bunkers down the right side,
with the water coming into play at the 168-yard marker. A mid-to-short iron
approach needs to be spot on, as the green is long and narrow with sand short
and right. The putting surface plays a half club longer with its elevated
stature. If you think left is bad, long is out-of-bounds.
The real test of the inward nine begins AT the 12th, the longest hole on the
course. At 580 yards, this straightaway par five is rarely reached in two, as
it plays uphill from tee to green. The danger here really is in the narrow
fairway, which is guarded by thick rough. Sand comes to the forefront with
your layup at the 130-yard mark down the right and two massive traps on either
side of the landing area at 65 yards in. The putting surface is fairly large
with a handful of bunkers surrounding the promised land. A real birdie
Another sensational hole, the 13th is the shortest par four on the course at
just 364 yards. Three-metal or less is the play off the tee, as the pond
fronting the green is reachable with the big stick. Be wary of the bunkers
guarding both sides of the fairway, as they can produce a very scary approach.
Just a wedge should remain to attack this hole, however the green is just 26
paces deep and it slopes from back to front. A precise shot will be rewarded,
but too much spin will end up in a rocky grave. By the way, the bunkers in the
rear are no bargain either.
The first par three on the back side, the 14th is rated as the easiest on the
course. Hardly. At 206 yards and playing uphill and into the wind, this hole
requires pinpoint accuracy off the tee. Two ribbon-shaped traps guard the
entrance to the green, which is just 30 paces in length. You'll really have to
work the ball with a back-right pin, especially when you're trying to make
The final four holes are as good as they get in Florida. For starters, the
15th is a sharp, dogleg right that necessitates the player cutting the corner.
That means hitting 250 yards over the two bunkers, trees and homes to leave
the shortest approach in. Bailing out left will leave a very long second shot
to a small and well-guarded green. Just 31 paces in depth, the putting
surface, which has five traps surrounding it, has four distinct sections,
making a two-putt very difficult.
Converted to a par four for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the 16th for us
mortals is a solid, 517-yard par five reachable in two shots with a couple of
conditions. First, the tee shot is semi-blind from the tips and must be
threaded between the numerous fairway bunkers and the trees. The longer, but
better angle to get home is the left side. However, the water fronting the
green must be avoided, otherwise your chance at birdie is gone and the
possibility of double-bogey or worse is conceivable. Sand short-right and deep
protects one of the must undulating greens on the course. A front pin could be
the most difficult, as it brings the slope of the green into play and any ball
not landing on top will certainly spin back towards the water. No one said it
was going to be easy. During the 2007 tournament, this hole produced a stroke
average of 4.411, 21st most difficult on the PGA Tour.
The par threes at Bay Hill are rated the four easiest holes on the course, but
let me tell you first hand, as a player, this is not the case. A back-right
flag on the 17th can stretch this one-shotter to 230 yards from the tips, over
water and over sand. A high, well-struck long-iron or fairway-metal will be
needed to negotiate all the trouble that this hole dishes out. Don't forget
the water hazard that wraps around the right and rear portion of the green, as
any low shot into this miniscule putting surface will end up wet.
How difficult is the closing hole at Bay Hill? During the 2006 tournament, it
ranked as the toughest hole of the event with a 4.319 average. It's best not
to know that going in, otherwise you'll be shaking in your shoes. One of the
most exciting finishing holes in golf, the 18th is a great par four that
demands length and accuracy off the tee. No fairway bunkers to contend with,
just thick rough and out of bounds left. A medium-to-long iron will remain to
a boomerang-shaped putting surface that wraps around a lake and rock wall.
Three deep bunkers cover the rear of a green that slopes hard from back to
front. It's one of the most thrilling finishing holes on the PGA Tour -- just
ask Robert Gamez, who sank his 7seven-iron in 1990 from 176 yards into the
hole for eagle to defeat Greg Norman by a shot.
FINAL WORD: Just a stone's throw from downtown Orlando and Disney World, Bay
Hill Club & Lodge is certainly worth the price of admission.
The Lodge features 70 newly-renovated rooms, with a full service salon and
spa, dining and aquatics. The pro shop is completely stocked for both men and
women, not to mention trinkets with Mr. Palmer's signature. Yes, it's a bit
expensive to stay and play at Bay Hill, but not only do you get a chance to
play one of the best venues in the state, you have a real good chance at
meeting the host.
With five sets of tees, ranging from 5,235 to 7,267 yards, Bay Hill is for all
types of players. The Challenger and Champion nines make up the tournament
course, but a third nine, the Charger, is also very competitive. How tough is
Bay Hill? During the 2007 Arnold Palmer Invitational, the scoring average for
the four days was 72.054 (the course played to a par 70). All four rounds were
over par, including the final day (74.513). For the year, Bay Hill was the
seventh most difficult on the PGA Tour.
Over the years, Bay Hill has been ranked as one of the top golf resorts in
North America, one of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses by Golf Digest
and one of the top-10 public access courses in the state of Florida.
To host an annual stop on the PGA Tour, courses must go through rigorous
upkeep for the standards of today's professional and Bay Hill absolutely
measures up. Most people believe that when the event concludes in the spring,
the site conditioning slips. I'm here to tell you that even in mid-summer, Bay
Hill is in mint condition. From tee to green the course is immaculate and the
landscaping sensational. The staff was also very gracious and accommodating,
making my stay that much more enjoyable.
Would you expect anything less from the king of golf? I think not. I
definitely will be back.