- March 11, 2019
For golf enthusiasts, it’s the most wonderful time in Southwest Orange: the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Hosted for the first time in 1979, the first API served as a successor to the Florida Citrus Open Invitational. Today, it holds a name for itself — a professional golf tournament listed as a premier event of the PGA Tour played each March at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.
However, to make the invitational a reality, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that takes place spectators and fans seldom see.
More than 1,400 volunteers pour more than 50,000 hours of volunteer work every year to provide the Bay Hill community and other attendees — as well as PGA Tour players — the best experience possible.
“We have certain members that work on (the Arnold Palmer Invitational) year-round in leadership positions,” API Marketing Manager Cav Neutze said. “But, primarily, the volunteers start working the Saturday before the tournament.”
An example of this is St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. Every year, the Southwest Orange church offers shuttle services to help alleviate traffic within the Bay Hill community.
“It’s pivotal,” Neutze said. “We could not do the event without that. I think having that buy-in from local partners and the ability to be able to rely on local partners like that one makes the event possible. (It also) makes the event what it is, because we are a local event, and we call ourselves the Orlando Signature event for a reason. So being able to count on your neighbors is really important to us and I think it’s something that Mr. (Arnold) Palmer would be very proud of.”
The API also features a series of special events, such as a Throwback Thursday, a Wine and Dine on 9, Birdies and BBQ, Patriots Outpost and White Claw Fan Deck.
Not only will fans be able to enjoy unique events this year, but they also will be able to enjoy food from local restaurants that will provide munch bites to those who feel hungry during the tournament. At the small business marketplace, Miapa Latin Cafe and DF Bakery will have a tent set up, and at the White Claw Fan Deck, local food truck Treehouse Truck will feed the bellies of the hungry.
This year, player commitment is unprecedented, as 27 out of the Top 30 golfers in the world are competing for the coveted API trophy.
“The best players in the world are going to be here,” Neutze said. “They come to Bay Hill, and I think that’s an opportunity for the local community to get to see something really special. These guys are the best of the best in what they do, and they have been coming to Bay Hill since 1979. I think that legacy and that opportunity should be a badge of honor to the local community, and I think they wear that proudly.”
Neutze said the event offers something for everyone — whether it’s families with kids, a group of adults with friends, first-time visitors or longtime fans.
“Everything we do it top-notch,” he said. “We are a premier event on the PGA Tour, and we try to conduct ourselves accordingly. Everyone dresses really nicely when they come out here, and everyone is very respectful.”
All proceeds benefit the Arnold and Winnie Palmer Foundation.
Several local organizations partake in the event through concession tents and stands to fund money to their respective programs and activities.
Since 2020, the Windermere High School marching band has been offered a spot at the API, an opportunity the Wolverines are excited to see through as it provides funds that go toward the band — either for the purchase of new instruments, uniforms or any band related expenses.
“We receive a percentage of the sales from the lodge, and we receive credit card tips or cash tips, and they’ll send us a check,” Windermere band mom Tracy Rivera said. “It’s a pretty big fundraiser for the band, all parent-run. … Some of the spectators that come by (the tent) come see the kids work in the event … and are able to get an idea of why they are so excited to being in the band.”
Horizon West Middle School also will be one of the local schools participating in the API — and has been a part of the event for the last three years.
“This year we have a larger booth,” Horizon West Middle PTSO President Beth Siegmann said. “We average about $5,000 (or more), and that money goes to providing necessary resources for our students and teachers. And, this year we want to give back to the community as well, so we have partnered with (All Saints Lutheran Church) to help assist with the food pantry that they do twice a week, and so we are going to give a donation to them for the food pantry to buy supply from Second Harvest (Food Bank) and pick up the necessary needs to provide food to local families.”