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2024 Arnold Palmer Invitational - Bay Hill Course Preview and Breakdown

Hello and welcome to my official course and tournament preview piece for the 2024 Arnold Palmer Invitational held once again at Bay Hill Club & Lodge located just outside Orlando, FL. The goal each week is to provide a comprehensive and in-depth look at the specs of the golf course to help you best understand historical trends and stat profiles that have proven to be indicators of success at this tournament in the past. The golf course is the ever-changing variable week to week on the PGA Tour and it is pivotal to understand the specs in great detail while researching the tournament.

We have a solid amount of data and course analytics to properly make some assessments regarding advantageous player skill sets and course setup specifics.  Since a modest renovation took place in 2009 by Mr. Palmer and Chris Flynn took over as Director of Grounds at the course, the Arnold Palmer Invitational has played as one of the most difficult setups annually on the PGA Tour schedule. It provides great prep for players gearing up for Majors season, and offers a true examination of player skill set from Tee to Green. Below if everything you need to know when assessing the golf course and how it correlates to player success rates and probabilities.

 

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An Introduction to the Course

Bay Hill Club & Lodge opened it's golf course for business in 1961 at the hands of course architect Dick Wilson, who was famous for his work, particularly in South Florida, and renowned for creating some of the most difficult finishing 18th holes in the world. Bay Hill is a true examination and requires an elite combination of power and accuracy off the tee that has been consistently rewarded over the years for those who possess this skill set.

At over 7,400 yards and standing at what is essentially zero elevation in central Florida, Bay Hill is one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour. The length is exacerbated by the severe penalty of a missed fairways that feature 3" high stick ryegrass oversees that plays as a significant hazard. Due to the severity of the rough and angles that come into play on several holes, players are going to be forced into a higher-than-average number of approach shots coming from 200+ yards.

Much like last week at PGA National, there is no masking deficiencies or a lack of confidence with your irons around Bay Hill. This course will expose your weaknesses quickly and you have to be mentally prepared to "grind" and handle bad breaks on the course. In 2020, Bay Hill played as the most difficult course all season, mostly due to heavy winds and firm conditions which could be somewhat mitigated this week due to the abundance of rain that Florida has seen in early 2024.

Bay Hill is perhaps best known for it's sidewinding par-5 6th hole which plays 555 yards on the scorecard. It's an infamous hole where we have seen disaster take place (ask John Daly) and also reminds me of more pleasant times in the world of professional golf when Bryson DeChambeau nearly drove the green and carried the entire massive lake a few years back. This was a really cool moment on the PGA Tour that had anticipation building for weeks. Cudos to Bryson for pulling it off in dramatic fashion.

 

Recent Winners

2023: Kurt Kitayama -9 200/1

2022: Scottie Scheffler -5 20/1

2021: Bryson DeChambeau -11 13/1

2020: Tyrrell Hatton -4 55/1

2019: Francesco Molinari -12 33/1

 

The Scorecard - Bay Hill Club and Lodge

 

Course Specs

The defining characteristic of Bay Hill in my opinion is how the course requires a player to be elite Off The Tee and rewards total driving with a combination of distance and accuracy. The rough is difficult to judge and much thicker than players will see at the other stops in Florida. You have to keep in mind that you are trying to judge a difficult lie, and then forced on many occasions to hit a long-distance iron shot that is well protected by water and difficult bunkering.

Thus, the greens in regulation percentage is nearly 10% lower than Tour Average, and we are once again talking about a signature event field with the best ball strikers on the planet routinely elected to play in this event. The course features 84 bunkers that are well placed and 8 water hazards. Many of the greens feature water on one side of the green, but the other side is no easy bail-out area. It's going to leave you with a flat bunker that has a steep face, but also carries the inherent risk of water behind the green should you blade one or catch it too well.

The greens and collars are TifEagle Bermuda grass that has run as some of the quickest on Tour, averaging about 12 on the stimpmeter. That said, one thing to keep in mind is that the same rainy system that caused delays at the Cognizant Classic, also significantly impacted central Florida with heavy rains this past weekend. Typically Central Florida tends to hold onto a lot more water in their grass, so it will be interesting to watch the player interviews to try and gauge if they think the greens are playing slower or more receptive this time around.

The greens themselves average over 7,500 sq ft on average which is the 4th largest greens on Tour. The fact that players are only able to hit them roughly 55% of the time speaks volumes about the difficulty of this course getting to the green. Anytime we see winning scores hover around -8 to -14 under par, players are going to be required to scramble and get up and down with avoiding bogey far more often. You can look into how players perform on the other PGA Tour tournaments held in Florida (PGA National, Innisbrook, TPC Sawgrass), but in my opinion Bay Hill is a different animal that requires much more power and prowess off the tee box than the rest.

 

 

Statistical Considerations

Bay Hill comes down to Total Driving which is a combination of Driving Distance and Accuracy. The length or the holes is manageable, but when you factor in that the fairways are narrower than Tour Average coupled with the severe penalty for missed fairways, you cannot ignore accuracy players and plotters. The penalty for a missed fairway is nearly half a shot, which is almost 6 times higher than Tour average for a missed fairway!

We also have this sort of strange conundrum where you don't hit a ton of approach shots with the middle of your bag. We have a high concentration of shots from long range that come from more than 200+ yards and then also a good bit of wedge opportunities (see chart below from Data Golf). I would advise looking into player approach shots proximately from 200+ yards and even further, if you have a database that will show you proximity to the hole from the rough from long range, that is definitely something I would consider.

I mentioned earlier how important short game was at Bay Hill, particularly if you are looking to find an outright winner. You are going to be presented with an above-average number of holes where you have to get up and down to save par. I will be honing in on strokes gained ARG on Bermuda Grass and also looking at bogey avoidance and sand saves as a more big-picture glimpse of how a player is performing with his short game.

The last thing that I would consider heavily is a players overall ballstriking metrics on courses with difficult scoring conditions. You can gather a bit of this intel by just looking at course history here, but I wouldn't go back too far beyond 2019 because the course has played significantly more difficult ever since then.

 

Approach shot distribution from 2023 at Bay Hill via Datagolf:

 

 

 

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