Inside look at Doral's changes for players, fans

The 18th hole of The Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral Miami after Gil Hanse's renovations.

The 18th hole of The Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral Miami after Gil Hanse's renovations.

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1:36:02 AM ET. 04/18/2014




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Behind the hype that we have come to expect from Donald Trump, there a lot more substance and attention to detail than anyone would imagine. He cultivates the bluster for show. Meanwhile, his focus and willingness to spend time and money on projects and his confidence to hire fine people to work with that make him excel at business, and now at golf.

That’s also why, despite sitting on a pretty compromised site with little to recommend it for golf other than location, Trump National Doral Miami-The Blue Monster has turned out really well.

The soil is heavy and poorly draining while offering no elevation change, and the 800 acres comprising the Doral resort is surrounded by commercial, residential and quasi-industrial sprawl. At least it has a good location, 13 miles northwest of downtown Miami and six miles from Miami International Airport.

What The Blue Monster also had was an inflated reputation that was wearing thin. Enter Trump, and with him, his unlikely golf counterpart, the modest, soft-spoken Gil Hanse. Gil’s the kind of guy whose first instinct at Doral was to go back and study the plans of the original design, Dick Wilson, from 1962. Trump’s inclination was simply to turn it into the best resort course possible. “I could have fixed it up and made it work,” he said last week at the gala reopening of The Blue Monster following a nine-month renovation. But I thought we have a chance to do something special. His instructions to Hanse were pretty simple, as it turns out. “Let’s do it right. Do what you need to do to make this the best possible course.”

That meant a total transformation, not some cosmetic fix of bunkers or drainage. And the strange thing is that together, along with $13 million, they achieved what might be the hardest thing to do in golf design – a complete renovation in place, one that makes the course look totally new and upgraded, and yet one that occupies basically the same routing in place.

As Hanse remembers it, a crucial moment came early in the design process, when Trump and Hanse were walking the property. “We’re standing on this unused area behind the 8th green,” says Hanse. “We’re looking towards the 18th green, the 9th green, the clubhouse. It was the best vantage point for seeing so much but was being wasted. And Trump simply started seeing things, how we could open it up, create this vast spectator amphitheater.”

The pieces fell in place. Move the eighth green, put a new ninth tee looking toward that vast open area, move the ninth tee, swing the 10th over, create all of this space for a practice range that would be twice the size of the old one. They took out a boggy area behind the ninth green and created better access, so that now the whole area from the 18th green, across nine and including the tee and drive on the 10th hole, all fall within a massive envelope. The effect is dramatic and makes for great spectating.

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. The fairway got the same sand capping for improved drainage as all the other holes. And the green was rebuilt with the same substructure as all the other holes. Other than the addition of a few trees in the left corner of the dogleg and along the right side to block off bailout, it’s the same hole, the least changed of any at Doral.

As for the rest of the course, here’s a quick run down of the major changes:

  1. 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.
  2. Raised, sand-capped fairways for improved drainage and with more contour to require shot shaping off the tee.
  3. All new bunkers, with shapes more classically inspired and scruffier in look than the deep, rounded pits Doral use to have.
  4. 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.
  5. Dramatically expanded lakes.
  6. Viewing minds 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 gain much-improved vistas of the action.
  7. A practice range that’s more than double in size and has night lights. How cool will it be to see players at the WGC-Cadillac Championship working on their games at 10 p.m.?
  8. A course that’s longer, wider and requires more thought to play.
  9. The first hole, a waterless, downwind, pushover par 5 of only 529 yards, is now a 578-yard hole with 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 that will combine for a fascinating risk/reward first hole.
  10. 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.

The PGA Tour is preparing a detailed memo to WGC contestants that will explain each change and each hole. It will also contain the not-so-subtle proviso to learn what amounts to a new course and not simply criticize the new one for being different.

Some will like it. Others will not. Expect the new Blue Monster to be a hotly debated topic. But there it is, the product of an unlikely merger of two differently talented people. And give Trump credit, he gets things done, on time. Which is not always the case, as Hanse knows full well from the tortoise-like pace of work he’s mired in with the 2016 Olympics Course in Brazil – a year behind schedule. Small wonder Hanse tossed out the line of the day at the Doral opening. “I wish we could bring him [Trump] to Rio,” said Hanse. “We’d get a lot more done more quickly.”

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