Monday, May 12, 2008

Sleeping Over With Arnold Palmer

A visit to Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando is like sleeping in Arnie’s spare bedroom and sneaking out to play a few holes before the members show up at his home course. That’s because it is Arnie’s spare bedroom and his home course. In 1976, Arnold Palmer purchased the lodge and it has been the winter home of the Palmer family ever since. As one of my golf buddies said, “I felt like Arnie was going to come walking down the hallway in his bathrobe.” It’s not a mega-course complex, but it’s a wonderful golf experience.

There are twenty-seven holes of fine golf here. They are the Champion and Challenger nines, which together make up the course for the Bay Hill Invitational, rated the tenth toughest on the PGA Tour, and the Charger course, with five dog-legs and water in play on four holes. For Florida golf, there are a surprising number of elevation changes and tree-lined fairways. There are also plenty of greenside mounds and bunkers that dictate long iron shots that must come in high in order to hold.

Both courses are private and you must be a guest of a member or staying at the resort's lodge to play them. It’s members-only on Saturday morning, too, so you’ll need a tee time at one of the other 168 courses in Orlando, if you want to play golf every waking moment, as you should on a buddy trip. The Lodge is small and homey, with 64 comfortable rooms, a fireside club-style bar, and an informal dining room where you can enjoy a sumptuous buffet three times a day or order from the down-to-earth American-fare menu.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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