With seven golf schools to run and enough books and DVDs to fill a wing of an Amazon warehouse, Jim McLean wasn’t exactly looking to plug holes on his calendar by taking on a new project.
Then Doral Golf Resort & Spa, his home base the past 15 years, enlisted him to renovate its rundown Silver Course. This was akin to asking the noted swing doctor to turn an 18-handicap chop into, if not a PGA Tour player, at least a respectable Nationwide Tour journeyman. The Silver Course, located a short shuttle ride from the resort, needed more than just a spit-shine. It played just 6,557 yards from the back tees, its greens had shrunk over the years, and there were severe drainage problems.
“It was kind of like the fifth rail at Doral,” McLean says.
So he asked himself a simple question: “What’s going to make somebody leave the hotel and come over here?”
McLean decided to play against type. The mention of Doral inevitably conjures images of the Blue Monster, one of the quintessential Florida courses with its demanding, forced carries.
By contrast, at the renovated Silver – which reopened June 1 under a new name, the Jim McLean Signature Course – the ground game is very much in play, though there’s a heavy sprinkling of pot bunkers.
“This is going to be a running course,” McLean says. “The old-timers say you could play the Old Course with a putter, except for (the berm on) No. 1. You can’t do that here, but you can run it.”
McLean approached the job with a healthy amount of humility; he makes no pretense that he’s transforming the medium. When he took the assignment, he immediately sought advice from Tom Fazio, whose son, Logan, assisted on the project. And McLean presents himself more as an architectural cover band, paying homage to the masters.
That 57-yard-deep green on No. 1 that funnels approaches to the back left corner? “I copied my favorite green in the world, No. 4 at Spyglass Hill,” McLean says.
That elevated green on the short 15th? “A complete steal of a Donald Ross green,” he says. “I love this little (Ross) course called Agawam (Hunt) in Providence.”
The lack of rough? “Kind of like old Augusta,” he says. “I still miss that.”
And the emphasis on visual intimidation, particularly on the back nine? Need you ask? McLean: “Pete Dye is probably the best at making a hole look ridiculously tight, and then you get out there and you see it’s not that bad.”
While McLean has reservations about the distances modern-day Tour players hit the ball, he still takes a fan’s delight in watching bombers like J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson swing for the fences. When he renovated the greens and bunkers at Doral’s Blue Monster in 1999, he didn’t want to pinch the landing areas. He thinks that decision has been vindicated by the quality of recent winners there, including three straight by Tiger Woods from 2005-07.
“I like to see people play. . .” McLean says. “But I think the (green) committees don’t want people to shoot a low score on their course, and they narrow it up further out for Tiger, and he wins the tournament by 10 shots anyway, and you ruin golf for everybody else. You can make it so Tiger has to hit an iron off every hole. That’s not what I want to watch, and I don’t think that’s fun for him either.”
The driver definitely will get more play at the new McLean Course. It’s been lengthened about 600 yards, to more than 7,100 yards, and now plays to a par 70 rather than 71. Playing it from the tips means starting your round with nearly 1,500 total yards of par 4s on the first three holes. Feel free to move up to the members’ tees.
But the stretch of holes that likely will define the course is Nos. 13-15. It opens with a 240-yard, nowhere-to-bailout tee shot – “This is not for children,” McLean says – and closes with a delicate approach to the 15th. Sandwiched in between is the island green at the par-3 14th (pictured), which will remind golfers of two of Dye’s most famous creations – No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass and, even more so, Alcatraz at PGA West, which McLean describes as “one of my top five courses in the world.”
Like No. 16 at Sawgrass, McLean took out mounding along the 13th fairway so that players will get a good look at 14 well before they reach the tee box. “It starts to make you a little uneasy, like it does at TPC,” he says.
The result, he hopes, is a course that satisfies a cross-section of his students, whether it be some of the world’s top players or the mid-handicappers who drive Doral’s business.
“I want the course to be hard from the back tees,” he says, “but I also want the resort guests to come here and have a fun day where they’re not just tortured on every hole.”