No question that the Arnold Palmer Invitational taking place this week at Bay Hill will be a living tribute to the lost legend. Mastercard, the sponsor the the annual golf tournament, released a heartfelt commercial this week, associating acts of courage and kindness, things “Arnie Would” do. ESPN paints a picture of his untouched office at Bay Hill. A thirteen foot statue now stands at Bay Hill and State Road 408 has been renamed the Arnold Palmer Expressway.
The Orlando Sentinel had a piece over the weekend about Arnold Palmer’s impact on Orlando and the sense of place he had at Bay Hill. Here’s an excerpt:
Back when Sand Lake was a two-lane road amid the Central Florida orange groves, the world’s most popular golfer stumbled upon this remote corner of Orlando.
“You almost had to get lost to find Bay Hill.” said Roy Saunders, Palmer’s son-in-law.
The 35-year-old Palmer immediately felt at home.
While visiting Bay Hill for an exhibition match during the winter of 1965, Palmer found a golf course that fit his eye, rugged natural surroundings teeming with wildlife and solitude that suited his western Pennsylvania sensibilities.
“It appealed to him because of the privacy,” longtime Palmer right-hand man Doc Giffin recalled. “He thought he had found a nice, quiet, lovely place — with a golf course.”
Tourism and 20th-century progress would reshape Palmer’s vision, but he didn’t fight it. Palmer’s business sense and ability to dream big would give him ownership of Bay Hill Club and Lodge in 1970. He soon transformed it into a high-end resort and one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour.
In the week ahead, many of the world’s top golfers and sizable crowds will descend on Palmer’s winter oasis for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Even as Disney World butted up on the Bay Hill’s southern border in the early 1970s, Universal Orlando squeezed the property from the east two decades later and hundreds of homes and condos sprouted up over the years within the community, Bay Hill remained Palmer’s sanctuary.
Many cities have sports icons, but Arnold Palmer was not just a sports icon. He was a businessman, philanthropist and ambassador for the community. The PGA will ascend upon Bay Hill this weekend, where Arnold Palmer’s presence and legend will remain for generations to come.