There's a familiar feeling to the drive into Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge. The sleepy, country club setting reminds me of a course where I spent much of my youth learning the game from my golf professional Grandfather. This is my first visit to the winter home of "The King" and the annual PGA Tour event bearing his name, so my heart beats a little faster than its normally elevated rate.
I arrive at the lodge during a wonderful Florida thunderstorm, and was too hard headed to park in the portico while I checked-in. After running through the raindrops, I chuckle at the irony of Mr. Palmer's umbrella logo, and slosh into the lobby like a dog fresh from the pool. Naturally, the rain stops about 90 seconds later...
It's barely 9am, and thankfully my room is ready, because not only am I wet, but I'm also starving. I delay the customary nickel tour of my room and resort grounds and head straight for The Grille. There's an empty table overlooking the putting green and Rolex clock, and I almost immediately spot the Bay Hill French Toast on the menu. I've had more than my fair share of French Toast, and this might have been the best ever.
The walk back to the room was no more than a few hundred feet, but it took me over half an hour. I was distracted along the way by all of the memorabilia from Mr. Palmer's career. Countless photos of The King with fellow golfers, heads of state, and other celebrities adorn almost every inch of wall space throughout the lodge. As a golfer and a lifelong admirer of Mr. Palmer, I felt like I was visiting a museum, not a hotel.
In addition to the golf memorabilia, there's a masculinity that's evident in the decor of the entire lodge. As I made my way to the room, I couldn't help but think that the resort was actually one giant man cave. Fine by me, I've always wanted one of those...
Standing outside the door to room 406, I wondered what I would find on the other side. Something equal to the expectations for this prestigious club, or a dated relic from my grandfather's era. The beloved sound of a releasing hotel lock brought the answer.
I was impressed, maybe even a little surprised. The travertine tile entry flowed into a well appointed bath, while the rest of the room made me wonder if I'd actually stepped inside of Ralph Lauren's master bedroom.
The view of the 9th green was also a highlight, and I spent much of the afternoon enjoying it from the balcony. Is there anything better than a hotel balcony during a rainstorm?
Since this was a solo trip, the spa and full service salon weren't much use to me, and swimming in the rain didn't seem like much of an option, but they are no doubt an oasis for wives that have been ditched by their golfing husbands.
Perhaps the biggest thing that struck me throughout my visit, was the devotion the staff seemed to have to the Lodge. It's rare to find a place where so many employees - without prompting on my part - sing the praises of the company cutting their paychecks. It was genuine, and I'm pretty sure that culture starts at the top.
At Bay Hill, it all begins and ends with Mr. Palmer. He is so much more than a name on the sign out front. Bay Hill is his home, and it's clear that beyond the memorabilia, photos, and clubhouse stories, he is the heartbeat of everything that goes on here. While I've had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Palmer in the past, by the time I checked out of the Lodge, I felt as if I were one of his closest friends. Strike that...a member of the family.
I've long believed that great hotels have a soul, and at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, his name is Arnold Palmer.
Long Live The King.