Players Eager For Return to Bay Hill


Competitors give high marks to course changes after 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard

It’s a rare thing when hype matches reality. But that just happened to be the case at the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, when an elite field of world-class golfers came to the newly renovated Championship Course expecting to see for themselves if Arnold Palmer’s famed layout had been made better.

They weren’t disappointed. It was as good as advertised.

That’s why competitors are eager for a return when the 33rd edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard is held March 21-27 at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

“I’ve heard some good things, so I’m interested in seeing what’s out there now,” said Tiger Woods, whose 71 PGA TOUR titles to date include six at Bay Hill, including the 2008 and 2009 tournaments before the changes. Woods skipped the event in 2010.

What’s out there now is simply a better golf course, one with changes that Palmer had been contemplating for some time but finally pulled the trigger on after the 2009 tournament.

Tees and greens have been changed, with the putting surfaces recontoured and the edges flattened, and they’ve been resurfaced in a new strain of Bermuda grass (Emerald Dwarf). Some new hole locations were able to be established after that. Many of the greens feature runoff areas on their flanks where once rough or bunkers were in play, providing new short-game challenges.

Bunkers have been repositioned throughout and also have been made more visible, with their sculpted faces pulled to the tops of mounds. Fairway bunkers that once were facing each other on opposite sides have been repositioned in offset orientation, while bunkers around the greens have been drawn in closer to the putting surfaces. Finally, par was re-established at 72 on the Championship Course that measured up to 7,400 yards.

Not a hole went unchanged.

“I think we gave it as good a look, critically, as one could give any golf course,” said Palmer, who admitted adding a few minor tweaks to the operation for this year’s tournament.

“I didn't play there for a couple of years, and when I got to Bay Hill (last year) I was pleasantly surprised by the changes they made, felt like the old Bay Hill,” said two-time champion Ernie Els, who won in 2010 by two strokes over Edoardo Molinari and Kevin Na in a weather-delayed finish on Monday. “Bay Hill is one of those courses where you can be playing great golf and then the trouble just gets you. Which kind of happened to me on that final day. But it also rewards you if you hit the ball well, and I did that, too. Enough to win. It was a really good win.”

Els won the title at 11-under 277, the highest aggregate score since Ben Crenshaw’s 280 performance in 1993. That said, the renovated course was, on average, easier on the field as a whole with the 120-man contingent averaging 72.918, or almost a stroke over par. That made Bay Hill the ninth-hardest course on the PGA TOUR in 2010. By comparison, a par-70 Bay Hill layout ranked fourth toughest in 2009, with the field averaging more than two strokes over par at 72.19.

“This time he went for a different style around the greens with nice chipping areas. He wants the bunkers to be a penalty not the rough,” said new U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, a three-time runner-up at Bay Hill who shared the first- and second-round lead in 2010 before ending up tied for 14th place. “He went for more of an Augusta style of play instead of a U.S. Open style.”

“Personally, part of the appeal last year was that 4 and 16 went back to be played as par-5s,” said Orlando’s Charles Howell III, who tied for 21st a year ago. “It makes the course more exciting, and the flow of 16-17-18, a great finish that just fits what’s out there. It looks a lot better, a lot more pleasing to the eye and how you look at shots, how you see the lines. It was enjoyable to play.”

Added former U.S. Open champion and 2010 FedExCup champion Jim Furyk: “I liked the changes a lot. One, because it looked better. It’s a prettier golf course now. Two, it was still difficult, but it received good shots better. It was more fun to play, and I think there were a lot of players who agreed.”

Scott Wellington, the tournament director, said: “The golf course currently is in fantastic condition, the best it has ever been, and hopefully will just continue to get better as we get closer.”

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.