By Ann Liguori
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ORLANDO, Fla. (CBSNewYork) — When it comes to fun for the entire family, hospitality and an overall “feel-good’ atmosphere,” there are no better tournaments back-to-back on the PGA Tour than the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort & Spa in Palm Harbor, Florida., and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Golf Club in Orlando.
The Valspar is often cited by the players as being a favorite family venue. The tournament sets itself apart from others with its colorful branding, represented by the title sponsor’s paint colors. The organizers take pride in special additions such as hospitality suites for military veterans around the 16th hole, a concert set up on the driving range the Saturday of tournament weekend (Toby Keith performed this year), and a beach area with bright-colored Adirondack chairs set up for spectators in front of a sand sculpture called “Chameleon Cove” overlooking the 3rd green, to name a few.
There was a huge painting of Arnold Palmer by artist Sebastian Coolidge on display at the Valspar Championship. The painting helped promote the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which will take place this week, about two hours west of Innisbrook Resort.
Add in the fact that The Valspar raised over $2.1 million last year for over 50 charities on the west coast of Florida, with more expected to have been raised this year, and it’s hard not to be impressed with what tournament chairman Les Muma and his “Copperheads” team contribute, and how tournament director Tracy West and her team come up with new ideas every year to make improvements.
“It’s ‘a happening’ in Tampa Bay,” Muma said. “And I think it’s the most exciting single sports event in this area. The crowds are growing 20-25 percent a year.”
This past week, situated in the University of South Florida (my alma mater) hospitality suite overlooking the 18th green on the tournament course — the Cooperhead course, (one of four courses on the Innisbrook property), I watched the players finish and interviewed a variety of individuals associated with the PGA Tour event and the venue.
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, came in for a visit, despite not making the cut to play the weekend. Saunders, who impressed with a most memorable speech about his grandfather during Palmer’s memorial service in Latrobe, Pennsylvania last October, will also be playing this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, thanks to a sponsor’s exemption. He will take part in many of the remembrances of his late grandfather, including the opening ceremony on Wednesday morning, as well as helping out with Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation activities.
Four of the top five players in the Official World Golf Ranking, including No. 2 Jason Day, the defending champion, and No. 3 Rory McIlroy, will be playing the Invitational. Henrik Stenson, who is ranked No. 4 and is the reigning British Open champion, and No. 5 Hideki Matsuyama, one of the hottest players in the game, will also be competing.
Adam Hadwin, the 29-year-old Canadian who beat Patrick Cantlay by one shot to win the Valspar Championship on Sunday, will also be in attendance.
“It’s going to be a special week,” Saunders said. “We’re going to have a great field, many who are there to pay their respects to my grandfather and really what he did for all of us out here.”
This past Saturday, a 13-foot bronze statue of the late Palmer was unveiled at Bay Hill. Palmer’s signature golf cart will be parked behind the tee on the par-5, 16th in memory of “The King” and some of his memorabilia will be on display. On Wednesday morning, Saunders will take the first ceremonial tee shot on the driving range to kick off the official opening ceremony, followed by other players in the field hitting tee shots. The Arnold Palmer Invitational should prove to be a very special week as Arnie’s presence will undoubtedly be felt.
Whether honoring our veterans or the legacy of the great Palmer, and giving back to the community, Valspar and Bay Hill are two very special stops on the PGA Tour.
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