This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill will be the first since the death of its namesake. Accordingly, event staff have several things planned to make the occasion memorable.
BAY HILL This year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational is the first playing of the event following the death of its namesake last year. And as golfers and fans celebrate another year of one of golf’s signature tournaments, it will be the little things about Arnold Palmer many people miss the most.
Volunteers at the tournament — some of whom are local residents of Southwest Orange — will miss the way he made a point of seeking them out to thank them.
Fans will miss the effort Palmer made to sign every autograph he could.
Groundskeepers at Bay Hill will miss observing his morning rides around the course in his golf cart with his dog.
And spectators will miss the way Palmer had a go-to spot to sit in his cart —behind the 16th tee, overlooking the 18th green — and watch his tournament.
Still, despite that element of sadness because of Palmer’s absence, tournament organizers are working hard to make this a special week in Southwest Orange.
“Because there wasn’t an official (memorial) service here in Orlando for Mr. Palmer, we kind of feel like the tournament, as a whole, is serving as that,” tournament COO Marci Doyle said. “Specifically, there will be an opening ceremony that will really serve that purpose.”
“The way we view this event, it is absolutely a community event. It starts with Orlando and the Central Florida community, and it’s important to us that folks get to participate and embrace this tournament as their signature event.”
— Marci Doyle, Arnold Palmer Invitational COO
Among the many things that will take place, or have already taken place, include the unveiling of a 13-foot bronze statue of Palmer near the first tee. Throughout the tournament, Palmer’s golf cart will be parked at his famous vantage point where he liked to watch the tournament.
There also will be signage scattered around the grounds during the event with “Did you know”-esque information about Palmer. And on Friday, March 17, green “Arnie’s Army” shirts will be sold in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.
In addition to the memorial themed upgrades to this year’s tournament, Doyle said the fan experience will be enhanced this time around.
“We’re doing a number of things, just in general, to take the tournament to the next level,” Doyle said.
Those upgrades include additional seating and the relocation of Palmer’s Patio from the fairway of the 18th fairway, where guests said the view of the action was poor, to the 14th hole, where they can now enjoy a view of five different golf shots.
“We try to listen to the fans and what they want,” Doyle said. “If they want a better view of the golf, then they’re going to get it.”
Players competing this week in the API also will be part of the memorial theme. Upon checking in, players will visit Palmer’s office and each will autograph some of the items that were sent prior to his death that he had not had a chance to sign.
Similar to how golfers competing will be playing in Palmer’s memory, the volunteers for the API — widely regarded as some of the best among all the PGA Tour’s events — are determined to make this year’s event special.
“Our 1,400-plus volunteers have taken this on, and they see this as the opportunity to carry on his legacy,” Doyle said. “They take that very seriously.”
Of those volunteers, Doyle estimates at least 80% are from Central Florida, with many hailing from Southwest Orange.
And so, while the playing of this year’s API is a special occasion for the golf community worldwide, it will be especially so for the community that became Palmer’s adopted home.
“The way we view this event, it is absolutely a community event,” Doyle said. “It starts with Orlando and the Central Florida community, and it’s important to us that folks get to participate and embrace this tournament as their signature event.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].