This week, the PGA Tour honors a legend of the game as a star powered field pays a visit to the Bay Hill Club and Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, FL.
Unlike last week, there is no shortage of big names that will tackle the 7,400 yard Champion Course. With the passing of Arnold Palmer, the biggest names in the sport make an effort to ensure this event is on their calendar so they can pay tribute to one of the most beloved golfers in history.
Here’s everything to know before placing wagers on the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The biggest fish in the field was Tiger Woods, who was scheduled to make his fourth start of the season at a place he’s one eight times in his career. However, he withdrew from the tournament with a neck strain. R.I.P. final round ratings on NBC.
With Tiger’s withdrawal, the big favorite at Bay Hill is defending champion Rory McIlroy, who’s form is red hot. Rory has placed in the Top 5 in all four events he’s played this year and is playing his best golf in over two years. He’s seen big improvements in his wedge game as well as his putting, areas that has prevented him from returning to his dominant form in 2014 when he won two majors. If he stays sharp from within 125 yards, he could once again hoist the trophy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Other notables in the field include World #1 Justin Rose, three time major champion Brooks Koepka, defending Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari, defending Masters Champion Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and last year’s runner-up Bryson DeChambeau.
The Golf Course
The golf course at Bay Hill was built in 1960 after a group of businessmen from Nashville, TN purchased the land from a man named Dr. P. Phillips, a noted citrus grower in the Orlando area. The land that now makes up the Bay Hill Lodge and Club was largely infertile due to a lack of nutrients in the soil, so because it was unproductive it was sold and repurposed as a golf course. Dick Wilson was the original architect of the golf course, and the course was sodded with Tiftway Bermudagrass, which was a first for golf course architecture in Florida.
Arnold Palmer came to Bay Hill for the first time in 1965 and fell in love with the land and the golf course. He was so enamored with it that in 1970 he leased the golf course from the owners, and in 1975 purchased the golf course outright. Then in 1979, he successfully negotiated with the PGA Tour to bring an official tournament to the club, where the Arnold Palmer Invitational has been played ever since.
The golf course has undergone a few renovations and changes throughout the years, but unlike others that sought to increase the difficulty, Arnold Palmer sought instead to increase the playability of the golf course. His goal was to make it more welcoming for amateurs, yet still challenging for the PGA Tour pro’s who make a visit to the club every March.
There’s nothing all that spectacular about the layout of the holes. It doesn’t show off with deep rough or forced carries over hazards like last week at PGA National did. Nor are there spectacular oceanside views, elevation changes or other topographic eye candy that makes the playing experience a memorable one for a golfer. But the golf course is impeccably maintained, as the Bermuda fairways are in immaculate condition and the greens roll true and smooth. And over time the golf course has widened fairways and cut down trees to make it a more enjoyable playing experience for the high handicappers. The subtle changes to the golf course are a model for those who want to make a golf course more enjoyable for amateurs, and the friendly design rings in the spirit of the affable Arnold Palmer, the true People’s Champion of Golf.
The amateur friendly changes weren’t the only thing done to the golf course. The yardage of the course has been increased from 7,100 yards to over 7,400 yards to respond to the increased length of the players on the PGA Tour. The lengthening was one of the only ways to keep the golf course challenging after the fairways were widened and trees cut down to make it more wide-open. This also forced the club to create some fairly awkward tee-boxes, such as the 15th. This tee-box shares with the 11th, is located across a street and has a row of hedges directly in front of it.
Unfortunately, lengthening a golf course tends to favor longer hitters even more. Modern big hitting pros are so long off the tee that they’ll still have a short iron in hand, in contrast with a shorter hitter who’s trying to go flag hunting with a mid or long iron. It’s not much of a coincidence that the top of the leaderboard annually has some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, and generational drivers like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have such a strong track record at Bay Hill.
A long golf course without a lot of reasons to give a player pause about pull the driver out of the bag favors a longer hitter off the tee and those who rank highly in the relevant ball-striking strokes-gained statistics. Unlike last week at PGA National where a more cautious approach was needed, Bay Hill is a shot-makers golf course that gives players plenty of green lights to go for the flag. Bettors will want to target longer players who’ve struck the ball well over the last few tournaments and have great control with their mid and short irons to be able to access some tough pin placements on Bay Hill’s challenging greens.
Speaking of the greens, they’re one of the faster greens on the PGA Tour, with stimpmeter speeds around 12.5. The greens also have interesting and challenging sloping to them, which would lead someone to think great putters have the advantage over weaker ones. That’s a little bit of a misguided hypothesis – fast greens with difficult sloping are challenging for any golfer, skilled or not on the greens. Only use putting statistics and recent trends to break ties this week, especially in DFS.