INSIDE THE ROPES By TOM LaMARRE The Sports Xchange
Inside the ropes – When Justin Rose defends his title this week in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the TPC Blue Monster at what is now Trump Doral Resort will play host to a PGA Tour event for the 52nd consecutive year. And perhaps for the last time as we have come to know the course, which was designed by Dick Wilson and opened in 1962. It was retooled by Jack Nicklaus in 2002. After real estate mogul Donald Trump bought the property last year, he signed up course designer Gil Hanse to retool four of Doral’s five courses, the exception being Greg Norman’s Great White Course. The renovation will begin soon after the final putt is holed on Sunday. “We are obviously making some significant changes to golf holes, but I think within the spirit of Dick Wilson, we’ll try to recapture some of the stylistic elements,” said Hanse, who also is designing the course that will host golf in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “We’ll try to recapture some of his exciting green shapes, hole locations.
“We’ll try to create a golf course where angles are relevant again and where it’s important to get to a proper side to score as opposed to just hitting it as far as you possibly can. If we can do some things that can hopefully enhance the interest and character in the course, that’s really our first and foremost goal.” This is one of the iconic courses on the PGA Tour, so hopefully Hanse will not make it unrecognizable to players and golfers who have come to know and love the Blue Monster, so-called because there is water everywhere. After Billy Casper came from four strokes behind with eight holes to play in windy conditions and claimed a one-stroke victory over Pete Bondeson in the inaugural Doral Open in 1962, the course’s first director of golf, Frank Strafaci said: “This is a monster. A blue monster.” And the name stuck.
From 1962 until 2006, Doral tested the best in the game, often as the first event of the Florida Swing, and the names etched on the championship trophy would make any tournament proud. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Tom Weiskopf, Ernie Els, Ben Crenshaw, Lanny Wadkins, Steve Elkington, Andy Bean, Hubert Green and Jim Furyk were among those to win on the Blue Monster. In 2007, the World Golf Championships event replaced the regular PGA Tour event at Doral, and the winners have been Woods, Els, Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy, Rose and Nick Watney. Only Rose and Watney are not major champions, proving that Doral’s class clearly has survived the test of time. “I’ve always loved playing here in Miami at Doral,” said Els, who won at Doral in 2002 and 2010. The tradition will continue on the new course because Trump recently signed an agreement with the PGA Tour to keep the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral through 2023. And as great as Doral as been, the resort needed a facelift, and Trump is promising it will become even better. “It is a great honor to have such a long-term extension with the PGA Tour,” Trump said when the deal was announced. “They know how great this facility will become. It will be the finest anywhere in the United States.” The TPC Blue Monster has been stretched out over the years to 7,344 yards, featuring plenty of sand in addition to all the water. However, it’s the finish at Doral that everyone remembers.
“Because 17 and 18 are pretty challenging coming in, you want to take advantage of the birdie opportunities on 15 and 16, so you have to get aggressive,” said Mickelson, who won at Doral in 2009. The 419-yard 17th is tough enough, but the famed 467-yard 18th is a real, uh, monster, ranked consistently among the top 100 golf holes in the world and where tournaments are won and lost. Last year, the 18th played to a scoring average of 4.539, the second-toughest par 4 of the year on the PGA Tour. There is water all down the left side, with sand, trees and thick rough on the right. “The 18th at Doral one toughest par 4s you will ever play, especially if it is into the wind,” said Woods, who won at Doral in 2005, 2006 and 2007. ” .. You have to fit your tee shot into a short, little neck between the water and bunkers, or the rough. “And it’s one tough second shot. You can bail out right into greenside bunker, but most balls tend to roll toward the back end of that bunker to give you a some type of a downhill lie into a downhill green.” When it comes to the teeth of the Blue Monster, all Hanse has to do is sharpen them.