Appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of LINKS.
Ordinarily, when a golf course gets a makeover, the only ones affected are those who play it on a regular basis, maybe two or three hundred people. But there’s almost nothing ordinary about the Blue Course at Doral and absolutely nothing ordinary about its new owner, Donald Trump. Enter the brand-new Blue Monster, a course that is about to impact hundreds of club members, thousands of resort guests, the game’s 70 best players, and a worldwide TV audience of millions.
No matter which of those groups you fall into, brace yourself for a completely new experience, courtesy of Gil Hanse (with major input from The Donald). All but four holes have been changed, several of them dramatically, and none of them in a way that makes them easier.
Where one year ago water came into play on six holes, now it’s a factor on 14, beginning at the first, a former pushover par five that now plays nearly 100 yards longer to a green perched perilously beside a pond. The next three greens also have been moved or reshaped and at the 3rd and 4th the greenside banks now slope more precipitously than ever toward water. Number 7 has morphed from a relatively benign hole to the toughest on the front nine, 472 yards to a narrow, raised target fronted by water.
Two sectors of the course have seen major transformation, the first at holes 8 through 10. At the par-five 8th, the green was shifted nearly 100 yards to the left, creating a zigzag path from tee to green and bringing water into play much more than before.
The par-three 9th also has been stiffened—it’s now nearly 220 yards from the tips, all of it over water—and Hanse gives Trump full credit for this change, saying, “he saw the positive chain reaction that could be created by moving the green to the right and creating an amphitheater with the 18th green.” Blessedly, no changes have been made to that formidable finisher except for the addition of a couple of palm trees at the edge of the lake: In all, more than 5,000 trees have been added to the course.
Trump needed to shift the 9th green to make room for a much needed larger practice range. The new range is triple its former size and equipped with floodlights that allow ball-beating at any hour. Another consequence of the range enlargement was an all-new 10th hole, now a massive dogleg of 608 yards with water all the way, similar to the 6th at Bay Hill.
The other major changes took place at 15 and 16, where a once nondescript par three has been converted to a charmer with a peninsula green, and a drivable par four is still drivable but now the assignment is 90 percent over water. Both holes should provide plenty of drama in the finale of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
The course stretches to just over 7,500 yards from the back tees, but the true test may be in the approach shots, as greenside banks have been steepened and many will be shaved for the pros—spin control will be a big issue, especially if the wind kicks up. Expect the winning score this year to be at least five strokes higher than the 20 under par it has averaged over the recent past. For tournament spectators, on the other hand, managing the course will be easier than ever as dredged earth from the new and enlarged water hazards was used to create mounds around tees and greens to give everyone a clear view.
The changes to the Blue Monster are part of a $250 million transformation of Trump National Doral Miami (its new name) that also will include redesigns of the resort’s Red and Gold courses by Hanse and associate Jim Wagner, renovation of all 700 rooms and suites, and a new 80,000-square-foot clubhouse (twice the size of the old one). As of early January, the clubhouse was still a shell but several hundred construction workers were laboring virtually around the clock to have it ready by the first week in March when the pros arrive.
Meanwhile, the Trump touches are everywhere: faux Florentine fountains, suites full of gilt and marble, 55-inch flat screens tuned to a reel of The Donald trumpeting the transformation, and rooms that thoughtfully offer an “aromaticpillow selection.”
The menu at the poolside Cascades restaurant includes an Ivanka Salad that may be washed down with a glass of Trump Chardonnay.
Of course, none of this comes at a bargain price. The green fee for the Blue Course is now $450 plus $50 for a caddie, while rooms begin at $315 a night.