In March, players start preparing for the Masters by taking on a pair of Dick Wilson’s best designs: Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, and Doral’s Blue Monster for the WGC-CA Championship. Both are great tests for tour pros and resort guests alike, with plenty of length, sand, water and tricky greens.
Like most Florida layouts, Doral is flat. Wilson used hazards to great effect, giving the course its character. Even so, while bunkers and water may intimidate average players, they have little effect on tour pros; wind is what makes the Blue a true monster.
Bay Hill has more elevation changes, but the fairly straightforward layout has enough hazards to make players sweat a bit before pulling the trigger on many drives and approach shots, as at the 558-yard, boomerang-shaped 6th. This is the hole where John Daly made 18 in 1998, when he kept trying to drive the green, more than 300 yards from the tee.
Tiger Woods had no problems driving the green of the 372-yard 16th at the Blue Monster on his way to winning at Doral the past three years. A lot can happen on this short par 4—as well as on the closing hole of each course. Doral and Bay Hill offer two of the most exciting, unpredictable finishes in tournament golf.
The 18th holes have seen two of the best shots in golf history: Robert Gamez holed a 7-iron to win the 1990 event at Bay Hill, while Craig Parry slam-dunked a 6-iron at Doral in 2004 to defeat Scott Verplank in a playoff.
While both closing holes are challenging, Bay Hill’s finishing stretch offers more interesting—and more dramatic—golf, starting with the 485-yard 16th, which was converted to a par 4 for the 2007 tournament. That decision reduced the hole’s risk/reward factor, but it’s still exciting to watch players going for the water-guarded green.
Bay Hill’s 219-yard 17th elicits a wide range of numbers, from birdie to double bogey, the score Greg Owen made in 2006 to lose to Rod Pampling. But no matter what they make on the 17th, players need to focus on the 18th hole. Only after walking off that green can they reflect on the gauntlet they have undergone.