Golf is Everywhere – Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge

Like many golf fans, I’m infatuated with the life of Arnold Palmer. There is so much about his story that I find interesting, inspiring, and thought-provoking. I never had an opportunity to meet the King, but it is hard not to feel like I have a relationship with his brand – a feeling shared by millions no doubt. Palmer’s larger than life persona, outgoing disposition, and insistence on treating people with a high level of respect are all qualities I strive to emulate. As someone who has spent a career studying brands and placemaking, I’m also highly interested in how Palmer extended his personality into the businesses and experiences which bore his name. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see that side of his legacy up close and personal when I was invited to spend a day at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

My invitation to Bay Hill was largely by accident. While visiting the Orlando area for the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show I had scheduled a variety of meetings and hangouts with some of my favorite golf personalities. One of which was a nine-hole walk with Tom Coyne at the fabled Winter Park Golf Course. Unfortunately, Tom never made it out to the course because he came down with the flu and had to make a quick return trip home to Philadelphia. As much as I hated to hear that Tom was under the weather, he was kind enough to suggest I take his place at another golf outing scheduled for later that day.

At Tom’s suggestion, I was invited to fill in for him at Bay Hill for a round of golf with Roy Saunders. Saunders is Vice President at the club, father to PGA Tour player Sam Saunders, and also Arnold Palmer’s son-in-law through his marriage to Palmer’s daughter Amy. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to see Bay Hill and get to know Saunders over a round of golf.

One of the most noticeable qualities of the Bay Hill Club & Lodge is the hospitality extended to guests. It is obvious that the Arnold Palmer mentality is not just a talking point but a true compass for the staff at the club. From the minute I walked on the property I was treated like a lifelong member and that is undoubtedly a reason why people still visit Bay Hill even after Palmer’s passing. Many clubs could learn from the example set at Bay Hill.

Staring down the final green at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge

During my visit, the championship golf course at Bay Hill was in spectacular condition. Being only a month and a half out from the PGA Tour’s annual Arnold Palmer Invitational, the preparations for the event were well underway. With grandstands up, scoreboards being installed, and other infrastructure being brought in there was a real sense of pride permeating over the grounds. Throughout the round, Roy Saunders provided me with an insider’s perspective on how the club hosts its most important event. It was a cold and windy day for golf, but the good company and first-hand knowledge of the course from my host made for an exceptional outing.

Beyond the wonderful hospitality and energy of an upcoming PGA Tour event, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the golf course itself. Originally designed by Dick Wilson, the Bay Hill course has some exceptional holes that provide for both drama and charm. The holes routed among the natural lakes on the property are among some of the most interesting in the Sunshine State. The Dick Wilson routing remains largely intact but there have been many renovations overseen by the Arnold Palmer Design Company over the years. The course is both challenging and scenic with plenty of opportunities to create memorable shots by playing boldly – just like the Kind prescribed.

Sitting at Arnold Palmer’s desk in his office at Bay Hill

After our round, my host was kind enough to invite me up to Arnold Palmer’s office and sign the King’s guest book. I must admit, the fan in me was overjoyed as I had the chance to sit at Palmer’s desk and affix my signature next to many other admiring members of Arnie’s Army. Looking around the room from behind Palmer’s desk served as a reminder for just how big his global reach was and still is. It was a special way to cap off my visit to Bay Hill.

With a new appreciation for Bay Hill and the legacy of its former owner, I’m excited to watch the worlds best compete in the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year. There is no doubt that Roy Saunders, the Palmer family, and everyone involved at the club will be putting on a first-class event and the story of the King will once again be on full display. I’ve been fortunate to have some great golf experiences in my life and getting to see Bay Hill and the world of Arnold Palmer as a guest of his family was among the more memorable days I’ve had in the game. If you get the opportunity to enjoy some time at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge I highly suggest you do so.

Cheers and long live the King!

-J

P.S.

If you make it to Bay Hill, don’t miss the Bay window chili at the turn! It’s the best golf course chili I’ve ever sampled!

The Arnold Palmer statue behind the first tee at Bay Hill Club & Lodge

 

 

 

 

Golf is Everywhere – Pinehurst #3

One of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I played in 2019 was at the often overlooked Pinehurst #3 course. While visiting the North Carolina Sandhills on assignment for The Golfer’s Journal, I had the opportunity to venture out and see some of the great courses that make the area so special. Because Pinehurst and the Sand Hills region is such a hub for golf activity, I was able to play with a wonderful assortment of good friends who had gathered there for various reasons. We took on Pinehurst #3 late one afternoon and played as a seven-some. It was a highly enjoyable experience that provided further evidence as to why the Pinehurst Resort is among the best places for golf in the United States.

Over the past decade, the Pinehurst Resort has undergone some incredible upgrades to its long storied collection of golf experiences. Among the most notable enhancements are the restoration of Pinehurst #2, the renovation of Pinehurst #4, the newly added Thistle Dhu putting course, and the creation of the Cradle Short Course. With all of those efforts gaining so much attention it is easy to see how an impressive overhaul of the #3 course could get lost in the coverage.

Pinehurst #3 is an original Donald Ross design that has been altered in a variety of ways throughout its existence. Said to be among his favorite works in the area, the #3 course still maintains much of the original Ross routing. Despite many changes over time, some holes were carved off to create the #5 course while others were lost to resort expansion, the course still has a ton of golden age charm. Now, after an extensive renovation led by architect Kye Goalby the Sand Hills aesthetic has been brought back and the course once again has a strong and attractive identity within the resort.

Finishing up at Pinehurst #3

As the shortest of the resort’s 18 hole courses, Pinehurst #3 is perfectly tailored for a fast-paced round of golf with friends. At just over 5,000 yards long and with a par of 68, the #3 course is reminiscent of some Brittish courses that don’t adhere to the more standardized scales of modern golf. Don’t be fooled by the small ballpark appearance though. With difficult greens, tight lies, native sand areas, and many dogleg holes, #3 still can pack a punch.

Built over an attractive hilly terrain and offering many delightful Donald Ross features, Pinehurst #3 makes for a great add-on round during a visit to the resort. With six par 3 holes on the course, a good day of ball striking is required to score well there and the course serves as a great introduction to play the more famous tracks on site.  In my estimation, a visit to the resort would be incomplete without spending a few hours tackling the #3 course.

To get a more full picture of the Pinehurst #3 experience, take a few minutes to enjoy the latest installment from my Golf is Everywhere Youtube series. With seven friends playing such a fun course, my afternoon there made for a few good memories and a real desire to come back soon. I think you’ll enjoy the scenes I captured from the round while gaining some insight into why the course is a must-play at the resort.

Shoutout to my friends Dave Baysden, Joe Zwickl, and Robbie Wooten along with others for recommending the course and making the walk so enjoyable.

Cheers,

-J

Golf is Everywhere – Palatka Golf Club

 

Some of my favorite golf course discoveries have been in small towns and obscure places. The Palatka Golf Club certainly fits that bill. Located about an hour south of Jacksonville, the small town of Palatka is home to a community golf course that has a curious story and a big personality.

Founded in 1925, the Palatka Golf Club has a wonderful golden age routing that falls over a delightfully hilly piece of property. The club proudly celebrates Donald Ross as its designer, but many historians and golf architecture aficionados have called that into question. Palatka is one of many golf courses around the country and a handful in Florida whose claim to be an original Ross design is a bit questionable. There is significant evidence that the architect may have actually been fellow Scotsman W.D. Clark, but the locals in Palatka are quick to dismiss that idea.

I have long heard about how enjoyable the golf was in Palatka and have also followed the story of its unproven design lineage. Earlier this year, I finally got the chance to make it over to Palatka to see the course for myself. What I found is a fabulous golf experience that packs a large amount of interest into a small package.

Coming in at just under 6,000 yards, the course looks far more getable than it really is. Small greens with great contours make for a real challenge and the land movement throughout the routing is highly unique for Florida. What I walked away with from Palatka was a big smile and a strong desire to come back soon. If you are anyone you know is traveling through Northeast Florida, the Palatka Golf Club is worth going to see and play. I believe that there is something special about the place regardless of who gets the credit for the course design.

If you want to see more from my day at Palatka Golf Club, then check out the latest episode of my Golf is Everywhere show on Youtube. If you enjoy what you find there then please be sure to subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode! 

Cheers,

-J

Golf is Everywhere – Tobacco Road

I fell in love with quite a few places in 2019, but nowhere has left as deep an impression on my golfing soul as Tobacco Road Golf Club. I spent the better part of six months working on a special project for The Golfer’s Journal in which we documented the history of this remarkable place. That story appeared in issue #10 of The Golfer’s Journal and included a companion podcast(see  below) featuring recordings of Tobacco Road’s designer, the late great Mike Strantz. While I was visiting the course for my story, I took a lot of video, but didn’t want to share it until after the piece had published in the magazine. Now that the story has been out in the world for a few weeks, I thought it would be great to share the video as part of my Golf is Everywhere series on Youtube.

I can’t think of a better way to close out 2019, then to share my video essay from Tobacco Road. The course, its designer, and certainly its owners and staff have had a huge impact on me and my writing career this year. That being said, I’m happy to share this latest video. Give it a watch when you can and if you haven’t had a chance to subscribe to my Youtube channel, I hope you will!

Cheers,

-J

Golf is Everywhere – Tobacco Road

The Golfer’s Journal Podcast – The Lost Strantz Tapes