Bunker play should be easier this year at Bay Hill but don't expect the course to be a pushover. (Cannon/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Take heart, pros. A set of kinder, gentler bunkers awaits stray shots at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. Even so, they’re still likely to offer more hazard than many other PGA TOUR stops.
“We’re making some inroads,” said Matt Beaver, superintendent at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge. “Are they perfect? No. But we’ve really tried to manage how much sand we’ve got up in the [bunker] faces and tried to make it a little bit better.”
Bay Hill’s soft sand might be the most lingering dilemma from the course’s 2009 renovation, as plugged lies have created challenging shots in the past two Invitationals. In a few cases, shots splashed so deeply that players couldn’t identify their balls without brushing sand aside.
Course officials tried keeping the sand moister last year, but two days of 90-degree temperatures and warm winds negated their efforts.
“We want it to be fair,” Beaver said. “We don’t want it buried all the way around. We’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Beaver and his crew meticulously checked depths in every bunker this winter. Several were targeted for sand removal, including two front bunkers on No.10 and others on Nos. 7 and 12.
“We worried more about the front bunkers than bunkers back of the green,” he said. “The likelihood of you hitting it in the face of a back bunker isn’t nearly as high as it is in those front bunkers.
“I’m sure we’ll see some [plugged lies] this week. But we’re really trying to make sure it gets better every year.”
Elsewhere around Arnie’s Place, a warm winter has helped create some of the best conditions in recent memory. Even with Bay Hill’s active membership play, the course is getting high marks from pros.
Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast for most of the week, which could make Bay Hill’s 3 1/2-inch rough even more punitive. The probability of storms ramps up to 60 percent on Sunday, which could force a shift in tee times.