While in Orlando for the PGA Merchandise Show last week, my business partner Jason and I had a little time to kill on Saturday afternoon so we did a little golf sightseeing. We checked the map and determined that Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s personal playground for many years and site of one of the PGA Tour’s prestige events, was just a few miles from our hotel.
We drove over, expecting to see a gated community with mansions for the uber-rich. We fully expected to be turned away at the gate. Instead, we cruised down a quiet, neighborhood street lined with what looked like upper middle class houses and arrived at a modest-sized parking lot with a low-key clubhouse and a beehive of busy golfers. We got out and strolled around for 15 minutes without ever being asked… “do you belong here?” The driving range was packed… we spent a few minutes watching a thin-as-a-rail teenager with a smooth as silk golf swing bang 280 yard drives one after another right down the middle of the range. The gentleman in the starter’s hut was greeting golfers with a friendly smile and cheerfully announced a new group on the tee every few minutes.
The whole place had the vibe of a high quality public golf course. The only signs of fame and fortune were the large bleachers being erected across the street in preparation for the upcoming Bay Hill Classic.
We should have known that the kid from Pennsylvania whose charisma put the PGA Tour on the map but who never forgot his blue-collar roots would create a place like this. Arnie had class. We miss you, Arnie.