Will Zalatoris: “Arnie's smiling from heaven watching the carnage.”

If there’s one thing PGA Tour players at the Arnold Palmer Invitational are in agreement about, it’s the difficulty of the course setup at this Signature Event. Not that it was easy before it had that designation. You only have to go back and watch Tiger Woods slash out of the rough with what looked like a fist full of long grass wrapped around his club to get an idea of the penalizing nature of it.

Bay Hill Invitational X
Bay Hill Invitational X / Craig Jones/GettyImages

“It's just hard, and it just gets harder as the week goes on. It's borderline. By Sunday it's major championship toughness,” Will Zalatoris said about Bay Hill’s tournament course.

Zalatoris has great regard for the tournament, the course and the man who got this tournament started, Arnold Palmer, because he went to Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer scholarship.

“My decision was kind of made for me at that point,” he admitted. “Unfortunately, never got to meet him. I got a signed letter from him, once I accepted his scholarship.”

The course is apparently the kind of tough test Palmer enjoyed and felt a winner of his event should be able to handle, no matter how difficult.

Patrick Cantlay noted that the course has a history of being difficult to play, at least the way it is set up for the tournament.  

“The fairways are hard to hit, and there's a big penalty if you do miss the fairways,” he explained. “The greens look like they can get really firm, especially if there's no rain this week.”

Like Zalatoris, he enjoys the test of the course and the fact that hitting fairways is important.

“There's some really tricky hole locations, and if you get out of position it's really important to get the ball to the correct spot if you want to have a chance at scoring,” Cantlay noted. “It's definitely one of the harder stops on TOUR, and I really like golf courses that are more on the challenging end.”

When it comes to Palmer, Cantlay was luckier.  He met The King in 2011 when playing in the Palmer Cup, an event for collegiate players.

Xander Schauffele said the hardest part of the course is the water. 

“The wind picks up a little bit, it gets a bit intimidating out there,” he noted. 

There is water on the third hole along the left side all the way to the green. 

The sixth hole makes a half-circle around water. It’s the one Bryson DeChambeau drove over in 2021, when he was still a member of the PGA Tour.  

The eighth has a second shot over water.  The back nine, however, is more waterlogged.

The 11th has water along the left side of the hole. The 13th has a pond in front of the green. 

Then there’s the really fun wet stuff at the finish. The 16th is a par 5 with water in front of the green. The 17th is really too long a carry for most humans over water to a par 3 green that appears to be both unhittable and unholdable, at least by Sunday.     

And of course, there’s the famous 18th at Bay Hill where the drive needs to find the fairway because the second shot is a forced carry over water to an angled and shallow green. Tiger Woods was able to make friends with it, but not many people have.

Zalatoris spoke to what lies ahead for the best golfers in the world.

“It's a beast of a golf course,” he said. “We always joke about how the week gets harder and harder. We always, kind of by Sunday, everyone's always kind of joking about how Arnie's smiling from heaven watching the carnage.”

However, Schauffele had a more romantic take on the property and the tournament. He thinks the atmosphere and the aura of Palmer remains today.

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“When the playing on Arnie's property, seeing all the fans, seeing the iconic umbrella. Pretty wild to think about his last win coming in, someone told me actually in '73,” Schauffele said. “We're 50, 51 years removed from that, and it still feels like he's sort of, not just here with us, everyone supports him and talks about him and he's definitely the talk of the town. So, I think that part's really cool about being here.”