The new-and-improved Bay Hill was unveiled last month, and Arnold Palmer himself was on hand to greet members of the media and answer questions about the renovations. I was among those playing the refurbished course, and I picked the brain of my playing partner, David Couch, a design associate with the Arnold Palmer Design Company. Here’s the inside scoop:
• For the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational, the course will be a 7,400-yard par 72; last year it was about 7,200 yards and a par 70. No. 16 will play as a par 5 instead of a par 4. No. 17 includes more sand, and No. 18 has a new tee and is one of many holes selected for “green flattening” to allow for more pin placements.
• When asked how Tiger will fare on the new greens, Palmer said that even Tiger’s local knowledge will be lost in the subtle changes. Maybe that means someone else will win the tournament for a change, although that seems unlikely since Tiger has won the event six times since 2000.
• Palmer wanted to make the trouble on every hole visible from the tee.
• The course lost about 300 trees due to hurricanes over the past five years. One hundred new trees were planted, but as Mr. Couch said, “we would have planted 200 and no one would notice!”
• Shotlink data was used to analyze where Tour players most often lay up so designers could pick where to make things more difficult. On the fifth hole, players will find a new bunker on the right side of the fairway, tightening the bail-out area they had used to avoid the bunkers on the left.
Fielding questions on a variety of topics, from the hoopla that surrounded his recent 80th birthday to the honor of receiving a Congressional Gold Medal, Palmer spoke most about his love affair with Bay Hill, which began in 1965 when he arrived to participate in an exhibition match. He has now owned Bay Hill for more than a quarter century, and he still plays from the tips.
When asked how many holes it took him to make a birdie on his first time out after the renovation, he smiled and said “two.” I guess that’s just one more reason he’s the King.