Next week, the PGA Tour rolls through Orlando for their annual visit to Arnold Palmer's winter home; the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Aside from hosting the world's best golfers, Bay Hill recently provided my brother and I with a long sought solution to a nagging problem: what to get our dad for Christmas.
You see, our dad isn't an easy fellow to buy gifts for, because naturally he never claims to "need" anything. Every year he asks for things like socks and picture-a-day desk calendars, which has to make Christmas morning for him about as exciting as going for an oil change. Frustrated with endless rounds of "So what did you get dad?" text messages, RJ and I combined our considerable intellect and hatched a plan to solve this issue once and for all. We decided to make dad's annual Christmas gift a golf trip for just the three of us, with the surprise each year being, not the gift, but the destination.
First up: A visit to The King.
For any fan of the game of golf, and the universally beloved Arnold Palmer, Bay Hill is a truly special place. Everywhere you turn throughout the decidedly masculine Lodge, memorabilia from The King's storied career is on display. After a while, it's easy to wonder if the Lodge is equal parts hotel and museum - and maybe even a little self absorbed - but as someone that has Mr. Palmer on a pedestal somewhere between Yoda and the Dalai Lama, I most definitely didn't mind.
After checking-in we started the festivities with a visit to the lounge in the Bay Window restaurant for a casual dinner. Aside from serving a delicious Old Fashioned and some of the best chicken wings I've ever experienced, the atmosphere was far livelier than you might expect from an old stodgy country club. The place was packed, probably a little too packed from a service perspective, and was a far cry from my last visit here when the restaurant was dead empty.
RJ and I talked a big talk before dinner - we were going to ditch dad and head to the Member's Lounge for a couple beverages and to watch our Gators play Kentucky in basketball. Alas, we are far older and more boring than we used to be, because that plan turned into ordering dessert from room service and both falling asleep 4 minutes into the game. It also led to the awkward encounter with the room service guy, who was delivering dessert to a pair of dudes, one of which is under the covers of his bed in pajamas. No doubt our wives would have had a field day with that one.
My only non-negotiable demand on this trip came the next morning in the form of french toast in the main dining room. It was just as awesome as I'd remembered it from my previous visit, and a great preparation for what I had a feeling was going to be a challenging day on the golf course.
Boy was that an understatement.
It's one thing to play a PGA Tour venue on just any random day - it's an entirely different story when the tournament is less than a month away. The Bay Hill I played two summers ago was a completely different animal than the one we experienced. The rough was thick, the greens were fast, and the atmosphere of a course with grandstands going up all around only served to add to the intimidation factor. Not to mention that I was playing with my dad and brother - losing was not an option.
But lose I would, and with dignity in short supply.
There were a few highlights - tap in birdies on #4 and #13, plus a stunner of a 4-iron on #9. These were offset by far more lowlights - an 8 on #8, hitting a house on #10, an 8 on #15, and finding the water on the famed 18th. Meanwhile my brother played a solid, well thought out round of golf that avoided the big numbers that can obliterate a round in one fell swoop. Although, it's worth noting that he did careen one off the VIP spectator boxes being built on the 16th hole, in a shot that can only be described as epic.
And dad....well, no doubt he enjoyed our company.
As cliche as it will sound, I suppose that's really what it was all about. This was our second father/sons golf trip of the year, and really just the 2nd in our entire lives, and it added a host of memories to the old scrapbook. From room service dessert, to a playing partner from Chicago that we'll never forget, the weekend at Bay Hill was nothing short of memorable.
Of course, the venue had a heavy hand in that outcome. Bay Hill is the kind of place that every golfer should visit at least once, thanks to an incredible display of history, exceptional accommodations, and a golf course that will absolutely eat your lunch if played in February or early-March.
It certainly ate mine - with any luck, next year's Christmas present destination will be far kinder to me on the scorecard.
Enjoy Your Stay