Courses / Architecture

Shorter holes most intriguing at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill

Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer (Getty Images)

Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Master Card; March 17-20; Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, FL

The Arnold Palmer Invitational brings excitement annually. For a long time it was trying to figure out what miracle shots eventual eight-time winner Tiger Woods (2000-03; 2008-09; 2012-13) would pull out of his bag. Usually, it was a putt on the 72nd hole.

Okay, so maybe two-time defending champion Matt Every (2014-2015) isn’t quite as dramatic a player. The event still has its magic, mainly because it’s impressive to watch the players pay their respects to Arnold Palmer on a stage that he owns and runs and has redesigned. Reason enough to watch.

Dick Wilson originally designed the course back in 1962 when there wasn’t anything around out there on the west side of town but orange groves. Today, the surrounding area is thickly settled in with cushy residences and upscale marketing. Gone are the resort’s puffy cloud bunkers. The place has a tighter, more integrated look, adorned now with chipping areas and side slopes into low areas rather than a monotone/monostand of dense turfgrass. At 7,419 yards, the par-72 layout isn’t long – though in fact, nothing is these days for PGA Tour pros, who now regularly hit 480-yard par-4s with a driver/short-iron.

That’s why some of the most intriguing holes here are the shorter ones, like 370-yard par-4 13th, where players lay up off the tee and then try not to hose a short-iron to a shallow green set diagonally across a pond.

My own favorite is the 511 yard, par-5 16th hole, the shortest of the par-5s at Bay Hill. In order to create more room for the par-5 16th hole, the Palmer team pushed the tee back onto a little peninsula of the same lake fronting the horseshoe 18th green.

The hole swings to the right, with the turn point between two elongated fairway bunkers that squeeze the primary landing area down to 24 yards. It’s a 315-yard carry past the bunker on the right, though a more standard PGA Tour carry in the range of 270-280 yards will do the trick if successfully steered down the right center. From there, the play is over a pond/canal fronting an elevated green, with bunkers to the right and back and a steep falloff front and left.

Note the shifting shot shape the hole calls for. For a right-handed golfer, a fade drive and a draw approach. For the Phil Mickelsons of the world, it’s a draw/fade combo. In other words, under the pressure of a finish, players have to work the ball both ways.

Palmer design associate Thad Layton, who has done extensive work on the golf course, says that “the water hazard guarding the front and left side of the green will exact a pound of flesh from anything less than a purely struck approach shot.”

Lay up might be the smart shot under a variety of circumstances: from more than 240 yards out; from the rough or fairway bunker; with a difficult wind; or for anything less than an ideal lie from the fairway, especially if the hole is cut on the (more inaccessible) left side of the green. But Tour pros, being schooled a certain way, have a hard time laying up with a short iron on a par-5 and so are often tempted, beyond sound reason, to have a go when they ought to know better. And sometimes they just make bad swings under pressure.

Short par-5s that everyone can reach are a great equalizer on Tour. They also make for great viewing by fans.

Show Hide