I last played Bay Hill in 2012. At the time I was overwhelmed at the influence Arnold Palmer had on the resort and golf course. The condition was good at the time, but did not necessarily stand out from many other good quality venues. Since that time, the course has undergone a major renovation involving new greens and fairways. The La Costa Dewsweepers, including myself, made a return visit just after the Arnold Palmer Invitational, during the amazing Florida swing (recounted in earlier blogs). Despite the all-star lineup of venues, including TPC Sawgrass, Streamsong and the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, Bay Hill proved to be the most universally loved, ranking 1 or 2 on each attendees list. This was no surprise as the course was in fantastic condition (in addition to the excellent design as well as being a regular stop on the PGA tour). Clearly, the new investment has made a difference.
It certainly does not hurt the ambience that the clubhouse and other facilities are a monument to Mr.
Palmer himself. Although he was not around during our visit on Easter Sunday, he is reportedly very
accessible in the Men’s locker room and dining facilities during much of the year. The memorabilia is
incredible, and well worth a stay, even if not playing golf.
You must stay at Bay Hill in order to play the course. This is not a problem as the rates are extremely reasonable. I had a single room. With the golf round, the entire cost was a very affordable $475 “all in”. Share a room, and the cost is even lower. This also grants you access to the common areas which are loaded with golf history.
The course is very walkable, and I strongly recommend a caddie. I had Alex on the bag; a +3 who was, no doubt, frustrated watching me flail, but had to be impressed with my bunker play, which included four sand saves (including a double sandy) and an additional hole out on Number 6 for a birdie. The finish of 16, 17 and 18 rivals that of the Stadium Course at Sawgrass, without the Island Green. This is a great finish to what is a very strong 18 holes.
Indicative of the challenge, the winner of the event the prior week was Jason Day. In fact, the
Bay Hill is a traditional Florida design, with plenty of water, sand and palm trees covering comparatively level terrain. Elevated greens and regular wind make club selection important. Aggressive shots attempting to shortcut the water provide for a regular risk/reward that may be too much for the first time visitor…unless they have a caddie. Like all Palmer designed courses, the venue is very playable, and a good score may be had if you are playing well. Check out the photo gallery.
Absolutely Must Play? Yes, the renovated facility is in excellent condition, the site is a regular PGA tour stop and the design is most enjoyable. It is icing on the cake that the Palmer history of golf is on full display. If you are making a trek to Disneyworld, dump the family for a day and head over to Bay Hill, it is well worth the effort.
My Rating: 9. In 2012 I rated the course an 8.5, but the renovation has encouraged me to reevaluate,
and place Bay Hill amongst the most desirable of facilities. I may still prefer TPC Sawgrass, but playing
one does not preclude the other, even if the drive is several hours.
Weekly Observation: Good for Charlie Hoffman winning at the Valero this past week. The San Diegan
had been much maligned for his Sunday play, but stepped up big time. I see Tiger is hitting balls again. I can already envision a too early return to the tour. Haven’t we heard this song before?
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and
design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his
thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top
100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly