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.
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.
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!
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!