The Arnold Palmer Golf Academy at Bay Hill Club & Lodge offers the finest in golf instruction
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arnold Palmer might be considered a golf legend, but he was never known for his textbook swing or for playing it safe when necessary. His mindset was usually to hit it hard, even when the situation called for a delicate shot.
So what is special about the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy at his Bay Hill Club & Lodge? It is home to some of the top instructors in golf, and the 27 holes at Bay Hill are some of the most challenging in Florida.
The lodge offers a little bit of everything, including photos and memorabilia from Palmer's career throughout its 70 newly renovated guest rooms. It is located close to the Orlando International Airport and just minutes from Walt Disney World and the rest of the theme parks in Orlando.
It's the golf, though, that brings people to Bay Hill.
There are two courses at Bay Hill: the Championship and the nine-hole Charger. And the Arnold Palmer Invitational each March is one of the highlights of the PGA Tour season and usually attracts one of the top fields of the year. Hardly anyone who is exempt skips Arnie's tournament. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is played on the Championship Course, but the Charger is no less challenging.
The Academy is a great way to prepare for 27 holes of tough golf at Bay Hill, as well as the dozens of other top-notch courses in the west Orlando area. John O'Leary, director of instruction at the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, has been a PGA member since 1995 and is in charge of training all instructors in the Palmer way -- to a certain extent. O'Leary uses the methods that Palmer's father, Deacon, taught. They include good fundamentals, practice and attitude.
"When Mr. Palmer started the Academy, he based it on what he learned from his dad," O'Leary said. "We aren't going to teach people to play like Mr. Palmer, but we work on three things: the grip, the proper address and the one-piece takeaway. People aren't going to leave the Academy playing like Mr. Palmer used to, so we make everything an individual lesson."
O'Leary follows the Palmer methods:
Mastering the full swing. While not always textbook, they worked well enough to earn Palmer 62 wins on the PGA Tour.
Working on the short game, learning proper address positions for shots 50 yards and in. There's also plenty of teaching on bunker play and putting.
Course strategy. "You can crush the ball off the tee and be in the wrong place, or you can hit a safe shot and have a shorter approach," O'Leary said. "There is a big difference between taking a risk or playing it safe. A lot of golfers don't understand it."
Most golfers would rather be playing 18 than banging balls on the practice range, but O'Leary preaches the drills and fundamental sessions that can improve confidence and consistency once it comes time to tee it up on the first hole. "You have to work on it all the time," O'Leary said. "If you went to work 100 days a year, how would your business do? You have to stay with it all the time."
A stay at Bay Hill won't turn you into Palmer (by the way, be sure to refer to him as "Mr. Palmer" at Bay Hill). Palmer was known for his follow-through in which the club seemed to be caught in a tornado. O'Leary said Palmer always hit the ball solid, no matter how it looked, and that the follow-through might have been for show.
"I always wondered if it was what he wanted to do and if it was just part of his charisma," O'Leary said. "I have looked at his swing in slow motion and he still hit the ball the right way, so maybe it was just the flair. He plays golf passionately, even today. He's still a magical player to watch."
Bay Hill offers several programs, ranging from a half-day session to a five-day session with four hours of instruction each day. The Bay Hill Club & Lounge also offers a world-class spa and salon, a fitness facility and plenty of dining options. In addition, there is more than 9,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.