The man known in golf circles as "The King" eager as ever for next edition of the tournament that bears his name
Having won seven major championships and competed in more than 150 in his illustrious career, Arnold Palmer certainly knows enough about what goes into making a golf tournament special. Palmer would never be so bold as to claim that the tournament that bears his name, the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, is a major championship. But that doesn't mean that the golf legend known as "The King" doesn't strive to make his annual PGA TOUR event at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge as good as it can be, with a world-class golf course to challenge the game's best players and as many nice touches as possible to make both competitors and fans feel welcome.
"I like to think that at the end of the day there isn't something we've overlooked to make this tournament as good as it can be," Palmer, 82, says of his event that is in its 34th year on Bay Hill's Championship Course. "What really sets a major apart from other tournaments is history and the prestige of the title, and we know the four events that mean the most in that regard. My goal for this tournament is to have a well-run, exciting and fun tournament that players hopefully want to come back to and keep playing. I want to see lots of fans, and good media support, and of course the participation of our sponsors is just tremendous, so you put it all together and it's great to see the game and our charities benefit.
"I think about this tournament all year, and it's something I get excited about every year, because every year is different and brings something new."
The 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard is scheduled for March 19-25 with Scotland's Martin Laird the defending champion. The purse in the final event in the PGA TOUR's Florida swing is $6 million.
If there is one thing that Palmer does try to emulate it's striving to get the Championship Course at Bay Hill in major championship condition.
"That's the thing that we look at more than any other, is to have our golf course be a major championship quality in its condition and its challenge," Palmer says. "We don't really strive to make it particularly difficult, because the course itself, to a degree, is naturally that way by its design. We want it to be a good test, a fair test. We have a good golf course, and we want to make it playable but also ask the players to hit some good golf shots. Our greens tend to be on the faster side and very firm, which is something that we now have the opportunity to do since we upgraded our greens. But what we've found over the years is that these players can score when hitting the proper shots and that's all we're asking them to do."
Palmer admits that if there is one major championship that has most influenced him in his approach to hosting the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, it would have to be the Masters Tournament, which he won four times (1958-60-62-64).
"I think when you look at the Masters, what you think of is something that is of high quality and consistent," he says. "Year to year you can look at what goes on at Augusta National Golf Club and you know what you're going to get. That's what we've always tried to do, and we think we're in a better position to deliver on that since we changed the golf course and made some improvements on our greens."
Consistency just happens to be a hallmark of Palmer's life. He has been a steadfast supporter not only of the game of golf, but also of the charity component that golf can champion. And, of course, that has meant primarily his devotion to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando.
But much of what Palmer does on behalf of the hospital in terms of charitable donations is generated through a successful tournament. And foremost in the conducting of the tournament is the Bay Hill course, which underwent a major renovation in 2010. Reaction among the players to those improvements was gratifying to the tournament host.
"The changes have been fantastic, and most of the comments have been good, very complimentary, and that's something we have worked hard on," Palmer says. "And the golf course condition throughout the winter has been about the best ever. If the weather cooperates throughout February and into the weeks leading up to the tournament, the players are going to find the golf course in fantastic shape."
Palmer adds that although he doesn't play Bay Hill as often as he once did - he still plays once or twice a week, though - his enthusiasm for the game and accompanying activities hasn't waned.
"I feel fortunate to still be able to do the things that I'm doing, and one of the most important is the work with the hospital," he says. "And the same goes for the other charities that we are connected with. Even though I don't play much golf anymore, I am excited about being involved in the game and what the game means for helping worthy causes. I definitely get a charge out of golf still, particularly the event we have here, and it's always something that's simply fun to be able to do."
For tickets to the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard or for more information, call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843, or visit us on the Internet at www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.