Even before the first round is completed it was obvious who the winner was at this year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship. They might as well already hand the trophy over to The Blue Monster. That’s because the newly rebuilt resort course, designed by Dick Wilson home to a PGA Tour event continuously since 1962, has come through a major overhaul and emerged dramatically improved.
Credit goes to resort owner Donald Trump Sr. and his vision for what had become a tired old resort. And kudos, as well, to architect Gil Hanse and his associate, Jim Wagner, for throwing themselves into a project that started the day after last’s year’s WGC and has now seen the place – including the clubhouse, grounds and landscape, as well as golf course – revolutionized in the process. The golf course renovation alone cost $13 million. That’s a lot of money. But now Doral-Blue Monster is a lot more golf course.
The players can just as well wipe out their memory banks of putts holed from years past. The caddies wisely didn’t even bother bringing their old yardage books. Everything has changed.
It helped having 60-70 unused acres in the middle of the old routing to work with. This gave Hanse room to shift fairways, move greens, expand ponds. The effect is of a whole new golf course, yet it also evokes the basic shape of the traditional course. And to honor the Blue Monster’s legendary finishing hole, Hanse basically left the 18th hole untouched.
Before we get to a hole-by-hole account here’s a quick run down of the major changes of this par-72, 7,481-yard layout:
• Expanded green surfaces with new contours designed to tie in better with surrounding bunkers and to create the need for carefully selected angles of approach from the fairways.
• Raised, sand-capped fairways for improved drainage and with more contour to require shot shaping off the tee.
• All new bunkers, with shapes more classically inspired and scruffier in look than the deep, rounded pits Doral used to have.
• A clearing out of the understory and a whole new planting scheme of large palms and live oaks to raise the profile of the course while improving views across the grounds.
• Dramatically expanded lakes.
• Viewing mounds for spectators designed to enhance views of the action, often on multiple holes. Fans of Doral who used to be stuck low along the side will now have much-improved vistas of the action.
• A practice range that’s more than double in size and has nightlights. How cool will it be to see players at the WGC Cadillac Championship working on their games at 10 p.m.? Check out Rory McIlroy’s picture from his room of the range last night.
• A course that’s longer, wider and requires more thought to play.
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Hole-by-hole breakdown of Trump National Doral
Now, for what you’ll see on TV this weekend from sunny South Florida:
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No. 1, Par 5, 572 yards
The first hole, playing downwind, used to be a waterless pushover of only 529 yards. The green has been pushed dramatically back and rebunkered entirely to create more angles. There’s now a mid-fairway bunker deep in the second shot landing area that has to be avoided, and a necked-down green perched over a new pond on the right. It combines to form a fascinating risk/reward first hole, a far cry from the virtual automatic birdie of its predecessor.
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No. 2, Par 4, 448 yards
The new hole has far more left-to-right flow and plays 72 yards longer now, thanks to realigned, pushed-back tees, as well as a new green and bunker pattern that rewards placement off the tee as close as possible to a yawning diagonal bunker on the right.
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No. 3, Par 4, 436 yards
This hole looks unchanged, but in fact it has been swung more to the left, with the trees along the pond running down the right side of the fairway eliminated to create a bolder, more forbidding line of play you have to guess at or at least commit to. And the green has been tipped slightly toward the pond, with the front central third of it sloped so precariously that approach shots hit here with a touch too much spin could come back down into the fronting pond.
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No. 4, Par 3, 203 yards
Very little editing on what has always been a notoriously demanding hole over water and into a cross wind from the right.
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No. 5, Par 4, 421 yards
Until now, Doral-Blue Monster sported hyper-active, bulbous cauliflower bunkering on what had been a dead flat site. It’s amazing what a little elevation can do to spice up a low-lying parcel, which is exactly what the big difference here is. The fairway has been lifted and more temperate bunkers placed at its base for more natural definition. And the green has been pushed back 40 yards and propped up to form a better defined target, with fore-shortened bunkers up front (that make you play a little long) and no room behind thanks to a putting surface pushed up against a pond.
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No. 6, Par 4, 432 yards
An entirely new fairway bunker scheme has created three distinct landing zones and now requires players facing the tee shot into a crosswind from the right to commit to shaping a shot into the preferred landing area. From there, the approach shot is right-to-left into the heart of a diagonal green (a Dick Wilson trademark), though a counterslope to the right in the back third of the putting surface makes the hole there all but inaccessible unless a bold approach shot is hit with a cut to hold up against the wind.
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No. 7, Par 4, 471 yards
One of the oddities of the old Blue Monster is that so little water was actually in play. That’s changed big time here, with the fairway nudged down to the right to meet an expanded, exposed pond, and the green pushed 70 yards back and set at water’s edge.
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No. 8, Par 5, 549 yards
Major changes on this and the following two holes create a dramatic theater and stadium affect. The green here was flip-flopped with the old ninth tee so that this downwind par-5, once easily reachable in two, requires a carefully controlled approach shot that threads bunkers right and water left. As with any good par 5, the interest now is on the second shot option – play safely right, for a very hard little short third shot; challenge the water left for a lay-up that leaves a relatively easy third; or go boldly for the green from the tee shot landing zone. It’ll be fun watching these players decide how to play the hole, trying to hold a green that’s downwind and sloped from sand to water.
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No. 9, Par 3, 200 yards
It takes a certain kind of nerve to decide to blow up a hole, but doing so unlocked the key that made the entire rerouting of Doral-Blue Monster work. The new tee is the back of the old eighth hole, and the new green is well to the right of the old, much-photographed hole. A deceptive fore bunker 15 yards short of the green makes the approach shot hard to judge and subtly promotes tee shots that end up longer than they should.
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No. 10, Par 5, 614 yards
A boring tee shot is now a dramatic one across as much watery space as you’d like, thanks to the tee being swung way left near where the old ninth green was and the drive is a forced carry across an expanded lake. The tee shift opened up ground for the once-cramped driving range to more than double in width, with its left side (heavy with trees) occupying the old 10th tee. It helped here having loads of land behind the old 10th green, so that the new putting surface is 80 yards further back. The carry across water on the shot is at least 260 yards, more for bolder players, and any bail out right will find deep sand.
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No. 11, Par 4, 422 yards
The hole used to be an enigma, with Dick Wilson’s only central bunker scheme on the course devoid of any obvious strategy – ShotLink data showed it didn’t matter which side players hit to. Now it does, thanks to an expansion of the bunker and shaping it more diagonally so that there’s some correlation between the hole placement and ideal tee shot – the approach is easier from the same side of the fairway as the hole is cut in the green.
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No. 12, Par 5, 601 yards
Little change here, though the drive has been toughened by the bunkers being pushed back and set diagonally more to cut into the landing area. The green, once defended like a fortress with sand moats, has now been opened up slightly at the front – less consequential for PGA Tour players than for the resort guests whose green fees will ultimately pay for the renovation.
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No. 13, Par 3, 238 yards
Always a tough hole because of length, elevated green and the prevailing headwind. The back of the green has been made a bit more receptive through a modest upslope and behind it, a new spectator mound – one of many added throughout the golf course – will provide a fine viewing perspective.
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No. 14, Par 4, 484 yards
Probably a hole that didn’t garner much attention before, as it was landlocked and over treed. Now it has been opened up, the green pushed up and closer to the expanded lake behind it.
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No. 15, Par 3, 153 yards
The old, short par-3 15th hole has been radically transformed by a tripling of the green’s size, with water now wrapping around three sides of it, and surface contours comprising sweeping decks that are hard to transit from one to the next. This green will see more dramatic action than any other on the course.
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No. 16, Par 4, 341 yards
This sharp dogleg left was not even thought of as drivable hole until the 2005 showdown at Doral between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Hanse has stripped out all the trees down the left side, expanded the lake edge to within 20 yards of the green, and bowed out the right side landing area to create distinctly alternative paths to the heavily-defended, elevated green. Reaching (and holding) the green off the tee, a carry of some 305 to 320 yards (depending on tee placement), will be tempting but rarely successful; one option might simply be the front left greenside bunker. The safe bail-out right will get a lot of play and leaves these players with a half-wedge in from an ideal vantage point.
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No. 17, Par 4, 425 yards
One of the mysteries of Doral is why Dick Wilson’s original plans on paper were never fully implemented in the ground. Hanse took many elements of that plan, including the intended fade tee shot here to a high side fairway that left an ideal line into one of Doral’s original, unique features – a lengthy (50 yards long), narrow green. All of that is in play here.
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No, 18, Par 4, 471 yards
Still the same hole, with drainage much improved, but changing this would have been like changing the recipe for Coca-Cola – and we all know what happened when they tried that. This is perennially one of the toughest par-4s in tournament golf because it plays into the prevailing wind and the left side, along the water, is tempting but just a killer. And there’s not much room for bailout, not with sand and a forest of palm trees on the right.