THINGS TO KNOW
Five Things to Know: Bay Hill
March 01, 2022
By Jeff Eisenband , PGATOUR.COM
- March 01, 2022
- Bay Hill is once again the host venue for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
The Florida Swing now shifts to the center of the state, a theater for some of the PGA TOUR’s greatest moments of the last half-century, many of which have featured a certain Big Cat. Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge features 7,381 yards of beautiful ponds, Bermudagrass and some of the most challenging golf in the world.
So put up your umbrella, pour some iced tea and lemonade (and then iced tea again if you’re a real pro) and get ready for the best players in the world to sweat out long irons over water, as the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by mastercard tees it up from Bay Hill for the 44th time.
1. PALMER’S PET PROJECT
In the 1970s, a magical attraction emerged in the Orlando area under the direction of one of America’s most celebrated 20th-century figures. That would, of course, be Bay Hill Club & Lounge under ownership by Arnold Palmer.
The history of Bay Hill actually goes back slightly before Palmer’s purchasing – and before Walt Disney began surveying the Orlando area for Walt Disney World. Dick Wilson designed two nine-hole courses – Champion and Challenger – that opened in 1961. The course was seeded with Tifway Bermudagrass, becoming the first golf course in the world to use the now-iconic surface.
After Wilson’s passing in 1965, Bob Simmons designed another nine holes, the Charger, which upped Bay Hill to 27 holes of property.
Around this time, Palmer became infatuated with the property. In 1965, Palmer visited Bay Hill to play in and win a charity golf tournament. As the story goes, Palmer went home directly after and told his wife Winnie he wanted to buy the course. In 1970, he took a five-year lease on the club with an option to buy.
After taking full ownership in 1975, Palmer added his own touches to the course and in 1979, the Florida Citrus Open moved from nearby Rio Pinar Country Club to Bay Hill. The Champion and Challenger courses combined to make up the 18 holes for the 1979 Bay Hill Citrus Classic and the venue has hosted the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard ever since.
2. AERIAL APPROACHA look from the No. 3 tee box at Bay Hill. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Coming off PGA National, which featured just two par-5s and 15 holes with water in play, Bay Hill offers more of a challenge related to length, although target golf is not lost on the premises. Since 2016, Bay Hill has required more approach shots of 200+ yards than any other course on the PGA TOUR. That’s due in large part to Bay Hill’s long par-3s and reachable par-5s. Many of those shots require long irons over water and force players to start thinking about their approach-shot clubs while still on the tee box.
No. 3 should immediately get a player’s pulse pumping on the tee box. The L-shaped hole pivots right at the 250 to 300-yard mark where players would prefer to play their drives. With water along the entire left side of this dogleg left, players are forced to either challenge the edge of the water with driver or take less club and worry about water left of the green on the approach shot.
No. 6 takes the challenge of No. 3 and extends it into a par-5 with a more severe dogleg left. On the tee, players can choose their best line to clear the massive lake and give themselves a shot at the green in two. Water short and left will almost definitely come into play for any player hitting into the green in two.
On paper, the hole should play 555 yards, but en route to his 2021 win, Bryson DeChambeau began hitting unprecedented drives to an area of land just short of the green, leaving just a short wedge shot. A completely direct shot at the pin requires 350 yards of carry, but no player has converted such a drive in PGA TOUR history.
Other holes, such as Nos. 9 and No. 10 include bunkers jutting into the fairway, asking players for a more dry, but still challenging decision to attack or stay short. Hole No. 16 is a 511-yard par 5 that also uses bunkers to shrink the fairway before players must carry water for their second shot to this very reachable par-5. A moat of water short of the green penalizes any short mishit with a similar layout to No. 15 at TPC Scottsdale three weeks back.
No. 18 provides a final test that requires an aerial approach to pass (see below).
3. TOUGH TEST
From 1994-2006, Bay Hill went through a 13-year period seeing its highest winning score at 12-under. While by no means a cupcake, Bay Hill was clearly more forgiving than some of its Florida counterparts.
Over the last decade-and-a-half, headlined by a 2009 redesign led by Palmer, Bay Hill has sharpened its teeth. Since 2007, only three Arnold Palmer Invitational winners have finished with a score of 14-under or lower. In 2020, with Tyrrell Hatton winning at 4 under and only four players finishing under par, Bay Hill ranked as the toughest stop on the PGA TOUR with an average score of 2.1 over par. That number remained north of par in 2021, with an average score of slightly more than 1 over.
One of the trademarks of the 2009 redesign is the par-3 2nd hole, which consistently plays as one of the hardest holes on the course (its 3.2 scoring average in 2021 was the highest among Bay Hill’s par 3s). When redesigning all 18 greens, Palmer had the second green turned 30 degrees clockwise and the back tee box lengthened. This creates a downhill shot from as far back as 245 yards, with a mostly horizontal green just slanted enough to hold long irons or woods.
4. TIGER TAMED ITTiger Woods with Arnold Palmer in 2013. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
While Tiger Woods may not be playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, his presence is always felt at Bay Hill. After all, the course is still recovering from roughly two decades of Tiger dominating it.
His first victory at Bay Hill was more than three decades ago, as he claimed the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur at Bay Hill for the first of his three consecutive victories in that championship (followed by three consecutive U.S. Amateur wins).
After missing the cut as an amateur in 1994, Woods played the API 16 times from 1997-2013. He made every cut. He recorded top-25 finishes in 14 of those years and top-10 finishes nine times. He won eight of those events (2000-2003, 2008-2009, 2012-2013). Woods came back one more time in 2018, finishing T5 (his first top-five since August 2013).
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the only active PGA TOUR event that saw Woods win eight times at the same venue. Woods also won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational eight times at Firestone Country Club and he won the Farmers Insurance Open seven times at Torrey Pines, along with the 2008 U.S. Open on the Torrey Pines’ South Course.
As noted by Justin Ray, from 2000-2013, Woods was 109 under at Bay Hill. The next closest player in that stretch was Vijay Singh at 36 under. And as noted by Jason Sobel, Woods has earned $7,657,559 at the API in his career. If you add up the two next closest players (Bryson DeChambeau and Marc Leishman), you would still be more than $1 million short of Tiger.
5. FAMOUS FINISHThe 18th hole at Bay Hill. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
After grinding through 17 holes at Bay Hill, the 18th hole asks for one more shot to be carried over water to the course’s signature final green. The tee shot is mostly straight with water only coming into play on the right for the longest of hitters. But the short hitters are not off the hook. A tee shot left brings out of bounds into play while a tee shot right demands the approach shot be hit out of the rough and fully over water.
A long curved green hugs the water, and with the Sunday pin position typically all the way to the right, the final round asks contenders to hit their final iron shots over water with rocks defending against any short bailout. Bunkers on the left and in the back of the green provide a cushion and a punishment for any players taking the safe route.
That traditional Sunday hole location has been the setting for many dramatic 72nd-hole birdie putts, including several by Woods, as well as past Bay Hill winners Francesco Molinari and Rory McIlroy.
For much of the API’s history, Arnold Palmer himself would be waiting on the 18th green on Sunday, ready to be the first to greet the victor. In three of his eight victories, Woods felt the drama on 18, making putts to win by one stroke and claim his Palmer handshakes.
The unpredictability of Bay Hill’s 18th hole has led to 11 one-stroke winners since 2000. However, the API has not seen a playoff since 1999.