The King Has Bay Hill Flying High


Palmer refining course, eagerly looking forward to another great year at tournament that bears his name

Arnold Palmer recently decided that he would not renew his pilot's license after more than 50 years of aviation success and excitement, but that doesn't mean he ever tires of piloting the direction of another of his passions - overseeing one of the most prestigious events on the PGA TOUR, the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard.

"Every year I think of something that I want to do a little better, and every year that makes me look forward to bringing everyone back to Bay Hill Club," Palmer says with a big smile.

Palmer, 81, has plenty to look forward to, what with hosting the 33rd edition of the tournament that bears his name March 21-27 and also celebrating the 50th anniversary of his prized layout, Bay Hill Club & Lodge. The Championship Course at Bay Hill is as good as ever after a significant renovation last year that was met by overwhelming approval from the competitors. Palmer has made a few minor tweaks to the 7,381-yard, par-72, most significantly leveling some fairway bunkers to bring uniformity to the shot values.

"We were very happy with the changes, how those changes made a difference in how the players handled the golf course, and we were very happy that the players seemed pleased with what we did. That was all good news for us," says Palmer, who cautions that anything he changes now is in the vein of refinement.

"The larger work is done," he says. "That doesn't mean we can't do a couple of little things - though I don't plan to make it any harder. We've looked at some sand traps, and we're leveling those up a bit, and we'll scrutinize here and there to make sure everything is as good as it can be. I'm happy with what we've got now. If there is one surprise to it all, I thought the scores (last year) would be a lot lower."

Former U.S. Open and British Open champion Ernie Els won his second title at Bay Hill, making a series of clutch putts down the stretch to close with a 1-under-par 71 and 277 total, good for a two-stroke victory over Edoardo Molinari and Kevin Na. The tournament finished on Monday after inclement weather forced a suspension of the final round. The extra day only added to the drama.

"I'll tell you, Ernie Els played a very good golf tournament, and he needed to because they were on him," Palmer says. "It was a very exciting finish."

Also exciting to Palmer is the continued growth of the tournament's charitable initiatives and its beneficiaries, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. As Palmer says, playing golf isn't high on his list anymore but he loves remaining in the game to be able to accomplish other goals.

"Most of the stuff that we think about these days is being done is in line with the hospital and how we can keep that energy going, the interaction between the club, the tournament and the hospital," Palmer says. "The hospital is growing, the things they are doing, the technologies that are developing, are all very important things. How to keep that charity growing... we keep pushing it hard, and people are so generous. That gives us a lot to do, but good things."

"We continue to work hard all year long to ensure that Mr. Palmer's philanthropic vision is carried out, and that means strengthening the tournament's relationship with our benefiting charities, the Arnold Palmer Medical Center Foundation," said Scott Wellington, tournament director. "It will be clear to see that work in action during the weeks leading up to and through the event this year."

Palmer says his passion for golf hasn't changed. But the manner in which he enjoys it has evolved. "You know, I don't play Bay Hill like I used to, but what I enjoy now is watching how the players, when they come here to the tournament, handle the challenges of Bay Hill," Palmer says. "I just wish I could still be out there with them, but what I'm doing now is OK, too. What I'm doing is still special, and it will always be special."

For tickets to the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard or for more information, call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843, or visit us on the Internet Tournament proceeds benefit Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children andWinnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.