A whole new range of options at Bay Hill

The new practice area at Bay Hill Club lets golfers hit all the short shots.

Golf architects train for decades, learning the skills of their trade. Those crafts run the gamut, from fine-motor drawing to overseeing large-scale grading operations: refined sketching and drawing mass grading plans. The hope is to use those skills to create fabulous new golf courses and to fix up older ones so they have more appeal.

But sometimes the skill set is used in more focused ways, which can have a big impact on how a place is used. That is exactly what golf designers Brandon Johnson and Thad Layton have done at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.

In the last year, the two have overseen a complete transformation of the main driving range and its accompanying short game area. The result is a multi-use practice area that will engage the high-handicapper while fully testing the PGA Tour player.

Bay Hill gets tested like few golf resorts. It’s a popular spot for golf tourists and aficionados who stop in to pay homage to the resort’s longtime owner and figurehead, the late Arnold Palmer. It’s also home to the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard – and home to a handful of PGA Tour players as well. When the course was designed by Dick Wilson back in 1961, its practice ground was an afterthought – little more than a warm-up area. The range was shoehorned between the 1st and 9th holes of the Champion Course and aimed at a maintenance building that, increasingly, came within reach as driving distances increased.

Its teeing ground was also small, compromised to the rear by the need to provide a concourse for the kind of heavy traffic (both fans and service vehicles) that is common at a Tour event. It also only had one small practice bunker to the rear – not enough for the demands of modern pros, let along mid-handicap resort guests.

That’s all changed. Tree removal and reshaping have helped enlarge the main practice ground and tee to over seven acres, with a distance of 340 yards to that greenkeeper’s compound. A combination of strategic tree placement and feature shaping have created a whole slew of interior targets for players keen to aim their shots and judge the flight path and trajectory.

“We consulted with college coaches and Tour players, says Johnson. “With everything in golf becoming more technically sophisticated, we needed to make sure the range could meet the needs of players today.”

That’s especially the case on a nearby two-acre short game layout that is entirely new to Bay Hill. Here, Johnson created four different greens and seven diverse bunkers. The putting surfaces range in style from large (11,000 square feet) with strong contours to smaller, subtle greens with that are flat or even crowned.

They did the same thing with bunkers, building flat-bottomed bunkers in the style of Seth Raynor and deep, revetted bunkers modeled on the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews. They also experimented with the structure of the bunkers so that if they ever decided to rebuild the bunkers on the Champion Course they’d have some experience about what liners and drainage techniques worked best out there.

You don't have to go to Scotland to practice in a deep, revetted-face bunker.

“Someone could get lost in practice here for 2-3 hours,” says Johnson. “You can stand in one spot, hit 60-degree wedge; turn and hit a full wedge, hit every kind of golf shot – with uphill, downhill, sidehill lies.”

Former PGA Tour player and current Golf Channel analyst Robert Damron, a regular at Bay Hill, agrees with the assessment. “You can practice your entire wedge arsenal right there,” he says.

Now, attendees at Revolution Golf’s Bay Hill School, Jan. 14-15, 2019, will be able to do the same. Two elite teachers, Martin Hall and Martin Chuck, will lead the instructional academy, limited to 16 to 24 participants. The stay includes full 18-hole golf as well as extensive time on Bay Hill’s new practice facility.

Thanks to the redesign of the range and short-game area, it will be time well spent.

Listen to the full interview with Brandon Johnson, Bradley S. Klein and Tim Gavrich at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge


Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist, Bradley S. Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golfweek, Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Follow Brad on Twitter
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A whole new range of options at Bay Hill