Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Embarrassing Coverage of the Bay Hill Renovation

The television coverage of the renovations at the Bay Hill Club during the Arnold Palmer Invitational bordered on ridiculous. Palmer is part owner of the Golf Channel, so the gushing of the redo of the course performed by Arnold Palmer Design could be expected up to a point during the Thursday and Friday broadcasts. Some of the talking heads at the GC, though, crossed the point of good taste and started sounding like they were being pimped out. The NBC guys weren't much better.

What no announcer dared asked The King was why were such drastic alterations necessary on a golf course redone by Arnold Palmer Design Company over two decades ago. Why did Arnold Palmer have to change Arnold Palmer after all this time?

The PGA Tour is just as bad in its failure to question why such modifications were necessary. "Bay Hill underwent a four-month renovation after the 2009 event that repositioned every bunker, moving fairway bunkers farther from tees, greenside bunkers closer to collars and making the half-blind bunkers clearly visible with sand faces pulled to the tops of mounds like cresting waves. Greens were regrassed with Emerald Dwarf bermudagrass, their corners squared off and edges flattened, creating more than 40 new pin positions," reads the website.

During a broadcast, Palmer said, "We changed everything on the golf course, except the fairways."

I have high hopes for Brad Faxon as announcer. He has a good understanding of golf course architecture and I'm hoping he lets that knowledge show so he can educate listeners, but even he failed to press Palmer on reasoning behind of the modifications. (Faxon wrote the introduction to my book, "To the Nines.")

When Palmer said rolls were taken out of greens to create 40 new pin positions, he should have be asked what suddenly made the rolls his company put into the greens 40 years ago wrong and why 40 additional pin positions were necessary.

The King went on about changing they bunker style so they were no longer blind or partially visible and how now they could all be easily seen. Someone needed to ask him why they were they other way for so long and what lead, in 2009, to the decision to change the look. No one dared.

Palmer can get a little wacky when he talks off the cuff. At one point on Thursday he said, "It's one of the easiest holes but very difficult." So, if you're in the booth next to him you let that go but when Palmer stated a major goal of the alteration was to bring fairness into the layout saying for "poorer players we try to make it easier. For better players we try to make it more difficult, given them something to shoot for," he needed to be pressed for an explanation. The fact is, the goal is impossible. Making a golf course easier for "poorer" players means widening fairways, removing hazards and smoothing out greens. To make a a course more difficult for better players, that means, among other features, adding hazards and putting movement into greens.


Former PGA Tour player John Maginnes penned and embarrassing column after the tournament concluded.

"Palmer is more than a figurehead, though. The King was the catalyst behind the revamping of Bay Hill and bringing it back to a par of 72," he wrote without bothering to let us know why getting back to 72 was important. "The players raved about the renovations and the greens, and they talked about Bay Hill being a favorite in the future. Interestingly, the two holes that were reverted back to par 5s played as the two easiest holes on the golf course for the week."

Palmer isn't more than a figurehead and everyone in the design and construction business knows it, as does Maginnes. He has little to do with the day-to-day operations of his architectural firm. Also, it wasn't interesting that two holes that went from 4s to 5s were the easiest, that's what's expected when you add a few yards to a hole and give golfers one more shot to play it.

Lost in all the renovation fawning was the fact that Bay Hill was a Dick Wilson design and, for many who have seen the changes through the years, the original remains the best incarnation of the golf course.

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