Course Review: Bay Hill – February 1, 2022

I had the opportunity to stay at the Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Lodge and Club in the first week of February and also to play the course a few weeks before the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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The most direct and easiest way to play the course is to stay at the Bay Hill Lodge.  The second, more indirect way is to receive an invite by a member.  My latter option, a connection with a well known PGA Champion Tour Player, never came to fruition so I employed the more direct root and stayed at the Lodge. The Lodge is reasonably priced at $250/night.

Bay Hill Lodge PHOTO: Course Reviewer

Many of the Lodge’s rooms face the main practice green and the ninth green.  It is a spectacular view from your deck – which may consist of a walk out deck or a second floor deck.   We stayed on the first floor and it was a great spot to have a coffee and watch the play.

I have had the opportunity to stay at many golf resort destinations and Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill & Lodge is my favorite to date.  The club’s tradition and ambience is derived from one person:  Arnold Palmer.  Although Palmer passed away in 2016, his presence is felt everywhere.  

Arnold Palmer Statue PHOTO: Course Reviewer

There are seemingly hundreds of pictures of Palmer – pictures of Arnie with past US presidents, famous actors and fellow professional golfers.  Upon reviewing all of the pictures, my first thought was, “I am sure that no where in the world do I have that many pictures of myself!”.

The rooms themselves are very nice but not particularly large.  The television in our room – which has an entire 24 hour channel dedicated to Palmer – is incredibly small.

Another way Palmer’s presence is felt is in the way the staff greets and treats its guests.  Every single person we ran into treated us like Mr. Palmer was standing right next to them. Experiencing this consistently wonderful treatment was welcomed and enjoyed.

With a phone call, your golf clubs are taken from your room and placed on a golf car. The driving range is a 1 minute walk from the lodge rooms.  The range is nice but unspectacular by PGA Tour standards.  At the end of the range is a place for private lessons and clearly touring pros can easily carry their drivers to the end of the range and beyond.

As one would hope and expect, your foursome is called to the tee by your full names.  We started our round on the 10th tee.  We were greeted by our caddy Oscar.  Oscar caddies at Bay Hill during the Bay Hill golf season – which pretty much ends in May and caddies in the greater Chicago area offseason.

We find Oscar to be low key, extremely polite and a total gentlemen (we ran into him three days latter and he remembered our names).  After the round I realized that early on in our 4 hour interaction that he was listening in to hear and understand what our knowledge and interest was in the course and its history and he ended up filling in any gaps perfectly.  He didn’t tell us one single thing that we didn’t already know and filled in gaps about course knowledge and history that we did not know.

When I do a course review, of course one major fact in my perspective is, “how did I play. Did I meet or exceed my expectations?”

I’ve had the opportunity to play some nice courses like TPC Sawgrass, Winged Foot, etc. but when I’m at those courses, I generally play my normal game.  I am convinced that I played so well this week at Bay Hill most because I was completely relaxed and 100% comfortable because of the way I was treated by everyone that I came into contact with – staff, starter, caddy and members alike.

Bay Hill is the home to many PGA Tour members and PGA Champion members.  While we were teeing off on number 10, Dicky Pride, Robert Damron and Robert Gamez were teeing off on the adjacent 1st tee.  I was ecstatic to observe that they were teeing off not too far back from the tees that we were playing.

On the first hole, I was full of positive adrenaline and hit a great drive that was about 3 yards too long and I was in a fairway bunker.  As If I needed to be any more comfortable, I picked a 7 iron clean from 158 yards and was left with a 20 foot birdie putt that missed by inches.

From there on I was in Golf Heaven and played well above my normal game. Every year I watch the Arnold Palmer Invitational so I remembered the course layout well (on CBS March 3-6, 2022).  I was especially looking forward to holes number 6 and number 18.  I throughly enjoyed each one but had very different results.  

Starting on the second nine, of course I came up to my signature hole number 18 first.  As you can see from the attached picture, the Tournament teeing ground placement is daunting and you cannot see the landing area. My group teed off no where near that teeing ground (this year the Tournament will be played at 7,466 yards).   

The 18th hole at Bay Hill from the fairway. PHOTO: Course Reviewer

Filled with excitement and adrenaline, I hit a long tee shot but caught a little of the left rough. A smart player would have gone for the left side of the green and looked to two putt.  That was not me as I wanted to recreate a famous shot on 18.  I took a mighty hack of out the tall rough but came up about three feet short and hit the famous rocks protecting the right side of the green.  

I took a drop and chipped on and saved bogey.  Oscar retrieved my first approach shot Pro V ball out of the rocks.  I didn’t know how meaningful that retrieval was going to be ~ it turned out I played the entire round without losing a ball!.

The entire course was spectacular but I still awaited hole number 6 – the 589 yard par 5 that loops around the largest body of water at Bay Hill ~ think Bryson DeChambeau sharply cutting the corner.

 I am positive when they designed the course it was thought to be inconceivable that any player would ever be able to drive the green over the water. The course was busy but not so much that I would hold up play to try to hit a ball from the 6th hole Tournament tees.  

The 6th hole at Bay Hill PHOTO: Course reviewer

When I went back to that teeing ground I told Oscar that I had brought 7 dozen Pro Vs and was going to hit until I eventually carried the water. By that time in the round, Oscar got my sense of humor and I knew I would be one and done.

I hit a fantastic drive (for me) and was not even remotely close to carrying the water. Oscar mentioned that Bryson played at a corporate outing at Bay Hill a couple of weeks before and, with the right wind, can comfortably carry the 6th green in one. PGA Tour viewers may recall that DeChambeau bailed out slightly last year to the right of the green. This year’s Bay Hill Invitational will be must-watch TV viewing just for these four Bryson DeChambeau 6th tee shots ~ assuming he makes the cut.

Back on my normal non-Bryson tees, I hit an excellent drive, a solid lay up, an approach from 98 yards and made a 20 foot birdie putt.   The satisfaction I experienced in birding the 6th hole is indescribable.  On a lessor known par 5, number 16, I also birdied in the same three shot manner.

As you can see in the attached pictures, the patron viewing stands are almost completely installed and my group was also fortunate to play on one of the last days before the Tournament that wasn’t cart path only. The workers go through great pains to put up the stands during non play time. We did not hear banging once and the crew was virtually unseen by my group. For example, we woke up to the viewing stands erected for the driving range.  We never heard them go up, never saw them go up.

Also, pictured here is a plaque in the middle of the 18th fairway marking one of the greatest shots in golf history.

The Robert Gamez plaque PHOTO: Course Reviewer

Then PGA Tour rookie Robert Gamez holed our for an eagle two from 176 yards on the 72nd hole to beat Greg Norman by one stroke in what was then known as the Nestle Invitational.

The greens fees at Bay Hill are $295 per person and the caddy gratuity is extra and is cash only. We gave Oscar $200 which was very well deserved and at the higher end of suggested range. No where else on the premises is cash accepted. Everything else must be charged back to a guest room account.  

Other than the incredibly small television in my lodge room, I can only hope to pen a future course review as enthusiastic as this one.

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