The renovated hole #1 at Bay Hill
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, situated just a few minutes' drive from Orlando's major tourist attractions, has been a haven of privacy and charm since its opening in 1961.
A few years ago, this exclusive Florida resort, which doubles as Arnold Palmer's winter home, underwent a $7 million renovation to all guest rooms and public areas. Once that project had been completed, Mr. Palmer, who purchased the property outright back in 1976 and has hosted the PGA Tour there every spring since 1979, turned his attention to improvements he felt needed to be made to the golf course.
So, shortly after Tiger Woods sank the putt that sealed his sixth victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard last March, the course was closed until September for an extensive facelift. "Bay Hill is a great golf course. We don't want to change it; let's tweak it," said Mr. Palmer to Arnold Palmer Design Company architects Erik Larsen, Thad Layton and Brandon Johnson during initial project meetings at Bay Hill, where APDC and the Invitational's tournament offices are also located. "Let's get the greens closer to the water, break up the long tees and fan them out, and get the sand up where you can see it."
The overriding principle of the renovation was to inject more versatility into how Bay Hill plays without dramatically changing the character of the golf course, while the specific goals were focused on three distinct areas: agronomy, playability and aesthetics. The previous greens needed to be replaced because of small parasitic pests in the soil that made it difficult to maintain good turf quality. "To improve the turf conditions on the greens, new Emerald Bermuda grass was installed after proving the best performer in test plots grown at Bay Hill prior to construction," said course superintendent Matt Beaver. "It requires less maintenance than the previous grass and the new irrigation heads around the greens provide a more precise application of water."
Mr. Palmer's experience of designing courses around the world, dating back to when he helped his father Deacon build greens at Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania, meant he was hands-on with the entire project from start to finish.
"I love the Bay Hill course. It's my home, which is why it was so important to me to be involved with everything," he said. "The renovations really add some new dimensions of play for Tour players and our members. I've introduced firm, fast playing conditions on slopes around greens mowed at fairway height that run away from the green surface and take the ball farther away from the intended target instead of stopping it, like the previous heavy rough did. With these new conditions we hope to add creativity to recovery shots."
Eliminating some of the thick greenside rough and introducing run-offs should, in theory, make the course easier for amateurs as they can putt more often from off the green, but potentially harder for Tour pros by giving them a decision to make about the best club to use.
Bay Hill's general manager Ray Easler is delighted with the modifications. "It really hasn't changed an enormous amount the last 40 years. A lot of newer courses are designed for longer hitters. Bay Hill is suited to shotmakers. That is Mr. Palmer's style. Also, the way we set it up is along the lines of Augusta. We are the tune-up for Augusta. "
Brandon Johnson takes up the story. "PGA Tour Shotlink data was used to site bunkers and now reflects the new distances of the modern game. Over time the edges of the greens had shrunk significantly and a few greens had too much slope to place a pin. The new greens allow us to increase the ‘pin-able' areas for the Invitational."
Bay Hill's tees also came in for attention. "We really improved the turf conditions and playability of the tees by making them all consistently level," said Thad Layton. "Some of the narrow ‘runway' tees are now more visually appealing and large enough to handle wear from high golf traffic."
Most importantly, Mr. Palmer is also very pleased. "I'm very proud of everyone involved to make the Bay Hill course renovation a success," he said. "I know the 2010 Invitational will be very exciting to watch."
Hole #5 (above)
Tees realigned and moved closer to the cart path opening up an unobstructed view of the fairway. Bunkers enlarged and repositioned to force decisions off the tee. New fairway cut beyond the left bunker provides the opportunity for a drivable par-4 from the forward tee. Steep slope on the front right of the green will defend the front pin location.
Tees expanded and fanned out to left. Fairway cut short of the green and steepened to repel shots short of the green to the bottom of the slope. Greenside bunkers deepened and pushed tight to the green. New front-right pin location will be quite a test.
Tees widened. Fairway bunker to the left shifted 40 yards further from the tee. Two fairway bunkers on the right converted to rough. Green rotated to the right to engage the re-configured bunker complex.
Left fairway bunkers slightly expanded and shifted to the right. The right fairway bunker was moved 50 yards forward to bring it more into play. Subtle green modifications made by squaring off the edges to introduce pins on the corners. The approach and side slopes of the green surrounds made sharper to introduce a tightly mowed slope.
Three hidden fairway bunkers eliminated and replaced with two bunkers—one protecting the inside right corner at around 270 yards off the tee and one protecting the outside left corner at approximately 300 yards from the back tee. The mounding that blocked views into the bunkers and green complex was removed and the greenside bunkers were reshaped and moved closer to the putting surface.
Front right bunker complex replaced by a tightly mown grass slope along the right side of the green. The left greenside bunkers were reshaped and moved closer to the green. Greenside bunkers behind the green reshaped, made visible and shifted closer to the putting surface which has been smoothed out to allow for more ‘pin-able' space but with a hint remaining of the old contours.
A new back tee can add 50 yards to the hole and will bring the reshaped bunker protecting the inside right corner of the fairway more into play. Green reduced to move it out of shadows cast by surrounding trees and away from the cart path. The front and back greenside bunkers have been reshaped and moved closer to the putting surface and the right greenside bunkers replaced with a tightly-mown grass slope.
Visually this hole will look different and slightly more intimidating but strategically should play better with increased pin locations along the perimeter of the green and reshaped bunkers that are closer to the putting surface. The most dramatic change is the expansion and reshaping of the beach bunker.