A closer look at Bay Hill's 11th hole and how it achieves intrigue and difficulty

March 03, 2021

Over the past four years, Bay Hill, the longtime home of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, has quietly become one of the most challenging tournament venues on the PGA Tour. In 2020 it was the tour’s toughest course, playing to a stroke average of 74.1 and holding the winning score, by Tyrrell Hatton, to 284 (-4). For perspective, only one major championship since 2014 has finished with a higher winning score in relation to par (the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, where Brooks Koepka won at +1). And the three years prior to 2020, Bay Hill ranked the ninth, 15th and ninth-most difficult course on tour, respectively.

The course’s firm surfaces and thatchy rough account for much of the scoring stringency, and gusty afternoon winds, coming from all directions up to 25 miles per hour (as was the case in 2020), can drive the numbers even higher. But Bay Hill is also quintessentially Florida with a routing full of holes that cross and dogleg around water hazards, and flanked by hungry bunkers with high faces. All of this describes the 11th, a demanding par 4 that’s just about as Florida as a golf hole can be.


Everyone is familiar with Bay Hill’s famous 18th hole with its slender fairway and water fronting the green, but just as challenging, though less notorious, is the 11th, where water threatens the drive as well as the approach. At less than 440 yards it’s just a medium-length par 4 by tour standards, bending left around a lake with the green banked immediately against the water and angled away from the line of attack. The lake begins approximately 250 yards off the tee and bunkers gradually pinch the landing area toward the 300-yard mark where the fairway is just 27 yards wide. Two bunkers at the green, one short right and the other center right, squeeze that target as well.


There are essentially three possible outcomes for each swing on the 11th: miss left and be in the water; hit a straight shot and be on dry grass; or miss right and be in the rough or bunkers, out of position. It’s actually a setup that professionals don’t mind—there are no tricks and a clear objective, and it’s up to them to execute the shot. Think of it as attempting to nail a difficult routine. Such a formula is simple but remarkably effective, a mix of strategic and penal elements.


Once players are in the fairway—and choice of clubs off the tee range from irons to driver depending on the wind and hole locations—they have a second choice about how aggressive to be on the approach shot. The difference between near front pins and back pins can be as much as 35 yards with the lake coming more into play the deeper the hole is placed. The green (below) banks right to left and can help maneuver balls to certain hole locations, but it can also work balls toward the steep embankment and into the water if played carelessly.


In 2020 the 11th hole was brutal (stroke average: 4.32), especially Sunday where it yielded just one birdie playing into the wind to a back-left hole location. Over the course of the week, drives hit in the right rough and bunkers suffered, effectively, a half-stoke penalty, while drives hit left, into the lake, set scores back nearly a stroke and a half. Pars are available for players in control of their ball, but the hole also renders double-bogeys and “others” at a pace second only to the 18th.

(Green-reading map: Courtesy of StrackaLine)