Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge better than ever after reconstruction

By Erik Peterson, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - One of Florida's best golf courses recently received a facelift, but if you ask the surgeon with the scalpel, it was about more than just cosmetics.

Bay Hill Club & Lodge - No. 1
A before-and-after image of the first hole at Bay Hill Club & Lodge shows the added bunkers.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge - No. 1Bay Hill Club & Lodge - No. 18

"The opinion is that we make courses harder and harder," Arnold Palmer said of renovating Bay Hill Club & Lodge, the course he's owned and lived at for more than 40 years. "Our purpose has changed a little bit. We decided to rethink that."

Some of the changes were made with the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational in mind - most notably converting Nos. 4 and 16 to true par 5s - but a few significant changes to the golf course are meant to inject more versatility into how Bay Hill plays for you, the resort golfer.

The "new" Bay Hill's bunkers

The first thing you'll notice when playing the "new" Bay Hill is that the bunkers are much more visible than before. The intention is to add an intimidation factor, but it also frames the greens nicely.

This flanged bunker style begins on the first hole, where four low-lying bunkers were raised to be in full view from the fairway. The trend continues throughout the round to No. 18, where the three bunkers behind the green give the hole an intimidating white backdrop.

One school of thought says exposing the bunkers makes approach shots easier because you can now see the trouble, but many of the bunkers were also made larger and deeper.

Once you reach the greens at Bay Hill, you'll notice a lot of the thick rough has been replaced by run-off areas that give you the option of putting or chipping the ball. (The run-off areas come in to play at holes 1-6 and 10-16.)

Players who knew Bay Hill as a golf course that's very penal around the greens may or may not have a different opinion now, but one thing is certain: The new run-off areas put a premium on short game strategy and the finesse shot.

Bay Hill's new Emerald Bermuda greens

The last significant change is to the green surfaces themselves, which were flattened and reseeded with Emerald Bermuda grass. If you're thinking flat greens make the course simpler, think again. Their purpose is to increase the number of "pinnable" locations, which means hole locations can be tucked in places they've never been before.

So is the new Bay Hill tougher than the old? Arnold Palmer Design Company architect Thad Layton thinks it depends on who's playing the course.

"For the amateur player, it will be easier because the forward tees are shorter, and the new runoffs will allow them to putt the ball from off the green," Layton said. "But I think the pros will have a more difficult time deciding what shot to hit from the closely mown collection areas around the greens."

King spotting at Bay Hill Club & Lodge

While the golf course is indeed much different than before, the vibe you'll feel is still the same old Bay Hill. The golf course is still very walkable, and there are five sets of tees to suit every skill level. The adjoining 70-room lodge is still an excellent option for overnight guests who want a golf-rich experience that's far from the hustle and bustle of Disney but still within 15 minutes of when you want it.

But perhaps the biggest draw at Bay Hill Club & Lodge is that there's a good chance you'll bump into the King, himself, hovering around the first tee. Palmer not only owns the joint, he also plays there on a daily basis.

If you're lucky, you'll see him strolling the fairways, still hitting those irons with the same surgeon-like precision he put into his reconstruction of Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

Erik PetersonErik Peterson, Contributor

Erik Peterson is a former editor for, specializing in courses and travel content. He earned his bachelor's degree at University of Oregon's award-winning school of journalism and communication. He enjoys playing competitive golf and carries a 2 handicap, but appreciates strolling the fairways with people from all walks of life.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment