MIAMI – Despite having five golf courses, 700 rooms, a huge spa, more than 110,000 square feet of meeting space and one of the country’s most famous golf schools, Doral Golf Resort & Spa for years has been defined by one thing: the Blue Monster Course. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Blue Monster has been the site of some of the PGA Tour’s most memorable duels and is anchored by one of the game’s most famous finishing holes.
But with a nearly six-year, $100 million-plus renovation winding down, Doral’s other assets will take on a much higher profile.
On Nov. 13, Doral officially opened its Jim McLean Signature Course following a $4.3 million renovation. The course had been largely an afterthought in Doral’s inventory; it was located off site and beleaguered by persistent maintenance problems. Famed teacher Jim McLean, whose golf school has been based at Doral since the early 1990s, was recruited to overhaul the course and give it a compelling identity.
McLean, who spruced up the Blue Monster in 1999, says he borrowed liberally from some of his favorite designers, hoping to replicate the fast, firm conditions that he grew to love while playing in Europe and teaching at some of the great Northeast clubs earlier in his career.
“My thought was, what’s going to make people get on a shuttle and go over to the course when you can walk out of the hotel and play right here (at the main resort),” he says.
McLean is particularly excited about a “Bermuda Triangle” of holes – Nos. 13-15 – that is highlighted by the par-3 14th, which might remind players of the Alcatraz hole at PGA West’s Stadium Course, one of McLean’s favorite tracks. Just as important as the design work will be the maintenance upgrades. McLean addressed irrigation problems by taking out peripheral mounding that funneled water into the fairways.
Architect Tom Fazio’s staff, which helped on the McLean Course, also oversaw a renovation of the tees, greens and bunkers on Doral’s Gold Course, which recently reopened. Doral’s Great White Course, the resort’s most controversial layout, has been undergoing some similar tweaking.
“It’s a lot more fair course now,” says Darrin Helfrick, Doral’s golf general manager.
The Great White’s bunkering now is more conventional and less penal, and the green on the par-3 sixth, which had been a lightning rod for criticism, has been lowered to make it more receptive to tee shots. And like the McLean, Gold and Blue Monster – now officially known as the TPC Blue Monster under a new marketing arrangement with the PGA Tour – the Great White’s greens now are outfitted with TifEagle grass, which Helfrick believes is the best surface given the location. Only the Red Course is yet to be refurbished, and that project likely won’t happen until at least 2011.
“Doral is a brand that always has been mentioned with Pinehurst and other large resorts, but the conditions weren’t up to those standards year-round,” Helfrick says. “Now they are.”
Perhaps more important for Doral’s long-term business is the addition of the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa, which it lured from nearby Turnberry Isle Yacht Club in Aventura, Fla. Pritikin, which will open for business Dec. 6, will establish a true destination spa with multi-week wellness programs at Doral’s large but underutilized spa.
“It gives us a marketable point of difference,” says Chris Bielski, Doral’s director of sales and marketing.
It also will help drive room revenues. Bielski projects that Pritikin will account for an average of 100 rooms per night, with two of the resort’s lodges used to house Pritikin’s clients. The Pritikin partnership also is likely to generate incremental golf and food and beverage sales.
With Pritikin taking over the spa, Doral is converting two meeting rooms in the main hotel into a fitness center and pilates studio for guests. And Windows restaurant is being overhauled, with the menu changing from conventional American fare to Latin American cuisine.
What’s left to do? There are some smaller projects, such as finishing the softgoods refurbishing in the lodges. But now, the emphasis is more on execution – for example, developing packages that incorporate the golf courses, Pritikin Center and Jim McLean Golf School.
Bielski says Doral’s business has been down 20-25 percent this year, due largely to “the AIG effect and having ‘resort’ in our name.” But he adds that the resort actually has experienced a slight uptick in leisure sales, and that he sees some signs of a rebound in corporate and group sales.