The 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge is in the books – the second one without its namesake for those who are counting. Count me among those who do that counting because Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando holds a special place. It’s where The King greeted me on more than one occasion and his famous smile and strong handshake.
Palmer died Sept. 25, 2016 at the age of 87 – a life well-lived 10 times over. The last time I saw his smile and gripped his and was October 2015 at the beginning of my annual visit to Bay Hill – my favorite (and best) golf resort in Orlando.
“Steve, what have I always told you to call me?’’ Palmer said as he stood near the Lodge’s front desk.
“Arnold,’’ I replied.
“You’re damn right,’’ he said.
“Yes sir, Mr. Palmer,’’ I said.
I think of that moment each time I go to Bay Hill and each time watch the tournament that bears his name. Heck, you can’t play golf and not think about Arnold Palmer.
Bay Hill was his baby. Palmer lived just a few houses down from the Lodge and clubhouse, so it wasn’t unusual to see him walking his dog or heading to his office. I still expect to see him each time to go the Bay Hill. Palmer died at his Latrobe, Pa., home just a few weeks before was scheduled to return for the winter season. Nevertheless, Palmer’s presence is everywhere on this 270-acre property – from the 13-foot bronze statue between the first and 10th tees to the Lodge hallways that are adorned with pictures of the King’s aviation days, and with presidents, movie stars and rivals, including Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
The next time you’re at Bay Hill – whether it’s for the first time or 10th time – walk the halls. It’s a walk not only through golf history but through almost 60 years of American history – history that Arnold Palmer made and changed.
Check the name of the place. It’s not Bay Hill Club and Lodge. It’s Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Palmer’s name sets a high standard, and that standard still is met at the 70-room Lodge, which features three restaurants, three bars, a spa and pool, and of course the 27 holes of Palmer-designed golf.
The Champion/Challenger nines comprise the primary course, where Rory McIlroy won this past Sunday and where Tiger Woods has one eight times. It’s the best course – private or resort – in Central Florida. From the time you hear your name announced on the first tee (a classic Palmer dogleg left par four) to the 18th, where Robert Gamez holed a 176-yard, 7-iron to win the 1990 Invitational, the course gives you as perfect a round of golf as you get, whether you shoot par 72 or 92.
It’s the crown jewel of the club that carries the Arnold Palmer name. And course and club, like the man himself, never disappoints.