I played Bay Hill on Tuesday May 2, 2017 with my father-in-law. After doing some research on the club, I discovered that access to the golf course can be obtained by staying at the lodge. That was a no-brainer!
The days leading up to Bay Hill were a rollercoaster of anxiety as I constantly tracked the weather forecast. Storms were in sight. The night before the round, I remember looking at my phone and seeing a 100% chance of storms starting at 7:00AM, lasting all day. I crossed my fingers for good luck, said a prayer, and went to sleep.
The morning of Bay Hill when my alarm went off I immediately looked outside and checked the forecast. It was not raining, and it showed only a 50% chance of storms closer to noon. I cannot tell you how excited I was!
We arrived at Bay Hill an hour before our tee-time. Driving in I had goosebumps knowing that these were fairly sacred grounds that the King himself frequented for many years. After getting checked in and situated, I headed to the practice range. I hit about a dozen 8-irons, and was absolutely puring them. From there I started hitting 50 degree wedges and was feeling great. We were hitting off of an artificial surface which I wasn’t too comfortable with at first, but got used to it eventually. As I took a step back to take a breather I found myself looking at the end of the driving range where Mr. Palmer himself used to setup and hit balls. It was surreal. Just as I grabbed my driver I felt the first raindrop.
The rain arrived early, but it was just a light sprinkle. It was the storm clouds looming in the distance that had me concerned. I spent about 10 minutes on the practice green, to get a feel for the speed, and then I heard my name announced over the microphone that I was next on the tee.
As I approached the tee box, I was happy to meet our Forecaddie, Hector. He was a great guy with a fun sense of humor. He says to our group, “First hole, par four, easy hole”. I stepped up to the tee box with a ton of confidence because I was ripping driver on the range. I stuck my tee in the ground and placed a brand new ProV1X on top of it with the logo “Jack’s Dad” happily in view. I looked up to the sky for a brief moment during my practice swings as a sign of respect to Arnold Palmer and said a quick prayer dedicating the first shot to my grandfather “Papa” who would’ve been thrilled to hear about this day.
I hit a big drive down the left side where some sparse trees come into play. I wasn’t in the middle of the fairway but I was in decent shape. Then the first horn blew.
After hitting our tee shots we were called off for thunder and lightning so we headed into the clubhouse to kill time. The staff in the golf shop let us know that it could be noon before we got back out (our tee time was at 9:30AM). Although bummed to be off the course so quick, my father-in-law and myself spent a lot of time walking through the Club & Lodge and taking in all of the history that covered the walls.
Arnold’s contributions to the game of golf couldn’t be summed up by what hung on the walls and remained in the clubhouse, but to say it was a special experience to walk the halls and take it all in would be an understatement. I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan, so to see this picture hanging was pretty neat!
The delay was shorter than expected and we were back on the course in about an hour. I’m sure the pro shops at famous clubs love rain because we did spend a little extra money on logo merchandise! We resumed play with our group and moved on. I was just starting to get in a rhythm and then while on the 5th green, the horn blew again. We returned to the clubhouse for round 2. This round included a couple Kettle and Cran’s while we talked with other players that were anxiously awaiting their return to the round. After about another hour, we headed back out to hole 6 to resume play. Luckily this was the last delay we would have to experience. After a few more holes we regained our rhythm and made the turn feeling excited and grateful to be on the golf course.
One of the things that stood out to me about Bay Hill is how “in play” the water can be on some of its famous holes. The design creates some definite “risk/reward” holes and I’m not going to lie, I lost 3 balls in the water that day. Holes 3 and 6 are a lot of fun to play, but I was the victim of water on hole 3 after pulling my approach shot. The water is just a couple of feet from the green, so playing to the center is critical. We had a pin that was back left and I went for it aggressively and paid the price.
I’m proud to say that I made par on hole 6 (par 5). That is a pretty intimidating and exciting tee shot to hit. I blasted a drive down over the water and was the only one in our group to find the fairway.
The highlight of the day was on 18 when I made bogey. Yes bogey. Bear with me. 18 is a par 4 that many would recognize from pictures and TV. It is a 461 yard par 4 with massive water along most of the right side of the hole. The green wraps around the back end of the water, and depending on where the pin is, can create a pretty stressful “all carry” shot. I hit a bad drive off the tee and left myself a long shot, all carry about 225 yards into the wind over the water. I hit it short about 10 yards and dunked it. I had to take a drop back about 150 yards out and hit my 8 iron to about 20 feet. I had that putt for bogey. The rest is history. I hit the best putt of the day, with a perfect pace. Thanks to the great read by Hector, it found the bottom of the cup for bogey. We all celebrated greatly as nobody was making long putts that day. The pictures below show the putt that my father in law caught on camera, right as I hit it and just before it was about to drop. I love how you can see Hector starting to celebrate as the putt is ready to go in.
Hector’s sense of humor can be summed up in his statement after I dropped the putt: “Great Putt… Better Read!”
The day was made even better by driving back to our rental house in Orlando to see my 18-month old son and bring him his first Bay Hill sippy cup. I traded my father-in-law for my wife and headed back to the Lodge for our evening stay.
Staying at Bay Hill Club & Lodge was just as great as golfing there. The lodge is simple, humble, classic and refined all at the same time. Hanging out at the club was amazing and the staff were very welcoming and accommodating. Our room was very nice and it overlooked the practice green (picture below).
My wife and I enjoyed heading into the bar and grabbing some cocktails and walking the grounds. The statue of Arnold Palmer that graces the first tee is a sight to be seen, and the atmosphere of this club in the evening is hard to put to words.
Our bartender was a nice lady who was just coming up on her 20th year with the club. She told us stories of her interactions with Mr. Palmer over the years, and even served us some of his personal favorite drinks. I was definitely caught off guard when she invited us to come back after dinner for a “hummer”. A hummer was Arnold Palmer’s favorite night-cap drink, and basically tastes like a chocolate milk shake, but of course is loaded with Kettle One. The bar is exactly what you would want a bar at a golf club to be like.; comfortable ambiance, welcoming leather chairs, and a warm fireplace.
When we returned to our room I turned on the tv and set back to relax and fall asleep. The “lodge channel” is set to play hours of different specials and documentary programs about Arnold Palmer. I never had to even switch to the normal TV channels. I passed out watching the story of Arnold’s life, and fell asleep a happy man.
I cannot wait to go back.