Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge PDF Print E-mail


By Jason Bruno

Just about a month or so after the last putt dropped at the 2017 Arnold

Palmer Invitational, we returned to Bay Hill to experience what it's like

to be a guest at the club where Mr.Palmer called home every winter and

spring for nearly the last half century of his life.








We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational,

which was a celebration of "A Life well Played", and it was an honor to be on

hand to cover the event that won't soon be forgotten. It was a special week

dedicated to remembering Arnie.







On a beautiful spring morning in Orlando, the new statue of The King

forges an unforgettable symbol of an American icon that is missed by

all. The 13 foot effigy stands tall over the 1st tee in homage to the golf

legend that continues to inspire so many.








Palmer fell hard for the place when he first visited the club for an

exhibition match back in 1965 (photo above) and "began the quest to

make it his own". The quiet surroundings, abundant wildlife, and a golf

course that fit his eye was exactly what a 35 year old Palmer was looking

for. According to longtime assistant and friend Doc Giffin, "It appealed to

him because of the privacy, he thought he had found a nice, quiet, lovely

place (with a golf course)." In 1970, Bay Hill became his winter home,

and in 1979, the PGA Tour moved it's Central Florida stop permanently to

Bay Hill (which was originally designed by Dick Wilson in 1961).







To this day, remarkably, Bay Hill remains the serene place that Palmer

first laid eyes on over 50 years ago. Located on 270 acres along the Butler

chain of lakes between the ultra affluent communities of Windermere and

Dr.Phillips, the residences of Bay Hill itself are handsomely modest and

unassuming in a locale where gaudy gated mansions are the norm.

In fact, for many years, you could have driven through and seen the four

time Masters Champion coming out of his condo in the neighborhood to

take his dog for a stroll early in the a.m hours.


Despite all of the big time tourism development in the area over the last

45 years (Bay Hill is now bordered to the south by Walt Disney World and

to the east by Universal Studios), the place somehow has retained it's

quaint feel, so much so that when you turn west heading into the Bay Hill

neighborhood, it seems as if time has stood still and it's 1975.


The intimate charm of the lodge is felt from the moment you arrive. The staff

has a large role in that. It's almost as if Mr.Palmer has infused a micro-chip

of his own welcoming nature into every one of his personnel. While taking

notes during my stay, I constantly referred to it as the "A.P Effect".



As we learned, experiencing Bay Hill Club and Lodge as a guest is unique

to any other golf destination that we have featured. Yes, it has all of the

customary amenities that you'd expect at other well known world class golf

destinations. It is a private club for its members, but it also doubles as

a big time player in the golf resort industry, not in it's size, but in it's

stature. The seventy room lodge offers 3 restaurants, 3 bars, an aquatic

center, fitness center, spa, salon, Marina (bass fishing), tennis academy,

9,000 sq, ft of meeting space, and of course 27 holes of Arnold Palmer's

personal golf treasure. However, it's Mr.Palmer's culture and DNA that's

branded into the fiber of Bay Hill that makes it the gem that it is today. You

can't discuss a single element of the place without mentioning his influence

and presence here (even today some 9 months since his passing, and likely

for several decades to come). It's a really powerful positive energy that exists

here. It's old school manners, proper presentation and an abundance of kindness.








Little cool reminders like Mr.Palmer's "Umbrella" logo imprinted in the

sand ash tray give you an idea of just how well everything down to the

smallest detail is well thought out. The AP "Umbrella" logo is recognizable

worldwide, and perhaps has an even a greater significance to those here

and at Palmer's club in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.







If someone at the club bestows one of The King's signature pins to you

consider it an honor as I did when longtime lockeroom attendant Rick

Roberts was kind enough to pass a few on to me after spending some

time remembering his boss and friend that he still misses dearly. The

card table where Arnie and his group would gather each day is just about

a medium length birdie putt away from where Roberts' would serve up the

King's favorite - Ketel One. He introduced me to Arnie's close friend and

shootout partner Dick Ferris (who brought Palmer into the fold as a co-

owner of Pebble Beach along with Clint Eastwood and Peter Ueberroth

back in the summer '99).








Recently a $7 million renovation of the rooms was completed - resulting

in spacious and comfortable lodging, nothing ostentatious. The feeling

conjures up the vibe that you're staying in Arnie's spare room at Latrobe.

Photos from a "Life Well Played" don the walls of every room. In ours was

a black-n-white from the 1965 Ryder Cup Team deboarding at the airport

in England. (Unlike many resorts that rotate stock photos in their rooms,

every picture in every room at Bay Hill Lodge is a different moment in

Arnold Palmer's life - each selected by Mr.Palmer and his family).







The compulsion to pull the curtains away and observe the setting is too

much for any golfer to bear. What a great spot to spend a few days, now

it's time to grab the putter and wedge.







Another view from just outside the room - the practice putting area,

starters booth and 1st tee.








On your way to the Salon, Spa, Pool, Lounge, Cafe or Golf Academy

you traverse through this beautiful courtyard and gardens.







Mr.Palmer's personal table in the Bay Hill grill room. He would sit in the

chair closest to the door so he could see everyone in the room.






Palmer's Payne Stewart award is displayed in Bay Hill's grillroom




While on property I spoke with many of the key figures at the club

not only about Mr.Palmer, but also about the day to day operations

at Bay Hill. One of the great people in the industry to sit down with

is Roy Schindele who is the Director of Sales and Marketing.


LN How does the loss of Mr.Palmer impact the day to day operations at

the club, and how do you move forward as a staff considering how large

of a presence he was on a daily basis?


R.S: "The vibe here at the club comes from the staff that are so proud to have

worked with him (Mr.Palmer) directly - carrying on his legacy comes naturally.

That's indicative of the tenure of the people who have worked for him. We

have people that have been here 37 years, 34 years, 28 years and right on

down the line. Todd (Harris) our Tennis Pro has been here 46 years. If

anything we've stepped up our game and tightened things up a little bit to

his standards and wishes in a very unwavering way" Schindele said.

He continued, "The little things of respect and honor have been carried forward.

For example try walking down the hallway with your hat on, we're going to ask

you to take it off, because that is what Mr.Palmer would do. His philosophy

was consistency, customer service and if you take care of those two things,

the bottom line will take care of itself. It's just a step forward, not necessarily

a monetary decision but what's right for the guest or the member."







Dining in the grill room is another excellent experience. The full 180 degree

window view of the the practice areas and 1st tee set the mood for the day.

Sometimes the finest of details come in the pursuit of deliciousness, Schindele

gave us a minute example of one that you're sure to notice with your taste

buds. While in the grill room having breakfast before departing for home, I

made an observation about how spectacular the bacon was - so much so,

that I felt compelled to take this photo (above). The best way I could describe

the "Bay Hill Bacon" (as I now refer to it as) is not by it's texture or taste but

by what I would do for another serving. I'd make the 150 mile trek up the Florida

Turnpike from West Palm Beach just to get a another portion.

As it turns out, Schindele brought it up without me saying a word. "Our bacon

is never frozen from the time it's produced, to when it's delivered here, cooked,

and put on your plate - because we found that (freezing it) it diminishes the taste.

It costs the club nearly triple of what most resorts pay, but again it's not a monetary

decision, it's about quality." Right then I thought "Arnie must have loved bacon as

much as his guests." Once again I jotted down "The A.P Effect".








While a guest, work on your game all you want, the staff will keep you

supplied with pyramids of range balls all day long.







Mr.Palmer's spot on the range is still set up each day in memory of where

he enjoyed spending so much of his time each day before heading out to play

in the daily "Shootout" match with his regulars. During the PGA Tour stop in

March his golf bag was also on display here on the far right side of the practice

tee. Quite often he'd be seen back out here in the evenings tinkering with a new

club or swing thought. Many like Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player

have said that no one ever loved the game of golf more than Arnold Palmer.









My last evening at the lodge I had the entire shortgame area to myself,

oh what it must be like to be a member. Being a guest is the next best








In the photo (above), look beyond the statue towards the lodge - you

can see PGA Tour Pro Dicky Pride working on his putting. He later would

tell me "That is definitely my testing spot," Pride said. "I use the windows

of the dining room as a mirror to check my setup."








Close friend of Arnold Palmer and golf legend himself Dow Finsterwald is

a member and resident at Bay Hill. We spent a few minutes watching the

1958 PGA Champion make putt after putt from 8 feet and all he could say

was "they're not going in the center of the cup." Still a competitor at 87

years old. On any given day, you can bump into a golf legend like Dow

at Bay Hill.









Superintendent Chris Flynn's Agronomy Team moves through each

golf hole with remarkable precision.









The main attraction at Bay Hill is always the golf course and it lived

up to expectations, challenging a young tour player and a middle aged

grinder with every club in the bag. We had a magnificent day on Arnie's

championship layout. The 184 yd par 3 seventh (pictured above).








The 460 yard par 4 eighth was sporting a tucked championship Sunday

pin (even though it was a Monday). It played as our seventeenth (we

started on the back nine), it's also where I missed an 10 footer for birdie

to keep the match alive. The young pro (Michael Kartrude) had closed

me out 2&1.








The 438 yard eleventh has danger written all over it. There are no shortage

of right to left approach shots on Arnie's signature course. Afterall it was

the King's natural shot shape. You can see the water level in this photo,

Florida was in serious drought conditions in late April. Now, not so much.








A view from beside the 221 yards back tee on the gorgeous seventeenth.

The blue tees where I played from were 177 yards.









The 458 yard par 4 eighteenth is easily one of the more memorable

finishing holes on the PGA Tour. It has been the scene of so many

victorious Tiger celebrations that were shared with Arnie. In 2016,

it was Jason Day who celebrated here with Mr.Palmer one last time.








One of the really cool items inside the clubhouse is this guitar that ZZ Top

gave Palmer as a gift.









This timeless black and white image from the Masters Par 3 contest shows

Arnie and Tiger Woods playing to a magnificent throng of patrons. It might

be my single favorite golf photo. It was a gift from former Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Ridge to Sam Saunders. Today it hangs in the clubhouse just

outside the grill room.









This wall of Palmer golf memories in the grill room is a reminder of what a

full life he led and those he shared it with.



To be at Bay Hill is a treat in itself. It's a Lodge, a private golf club and

resort all in one. To be a Stay n Play guest taps you into that whole

experience, but first and foremost it is Arnold Palmer's (winter) home

and will always remembered and honored as such. Mr.Palmer's family has

done an outstanding job of carrying it forward. The staff here are truly an

extension of him and his legacy. So when you arrive and check in at the lodge,

soak it all in - we did.

When I pulled out of Bay Hill and made the right hand turn onto Apopka-

Vineland road heading for home, I had this hard to describe feeling, it was

as if I had just exited one era in my rear view mirror, and entered into

another looking forward. I thought "Wow, that's powerful. It's a one of kind

intangible sensation you have while on the grounds. I stopped at a red light

a few miles down the road, took out my note pad and one last time jotted

down: "AP Effect".




If you ask me about a lasting vision that I take away from Bay Hill

each time I'm on property - it is this photo. It requires no explanation.

It simply makes me smile . . . #ArnieWould



For more info or to book your stay at Arnie's Place: