DORAL, Fla. -- There are no waterfalls on the redesigned Blue Monster at Trump National Doral, though changes to the site of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship are no less dramatic.
Even if there isn’t an island green at the 15th the way the new owner originally wanted.
Instead, course designer Gil Hanse convinced Donald Trump it wasn’t needed, and the hole is better served with a peninsula green that is guarded by a lake on the left on the previously-innocuous par 3. Now players will have to go directly over the hazard when the pin is on that side of the green, rather than simply attack the 471st most-difficult (read: one of the easiest) hole on the PGA TOUR last season.
It’s just one of the many major alterations to not just the golf course but the entire 800-acre property, which Trump purchased for $150 million in 2013.
While the resort won’t be completed for a number of months, the course was ripped up and redone in about four months, which Hanse said was his biggest challenge. "Do what you need to do to make this the best possible golf course," the billionaire real estate tycoon told Hanse.
“We could have just put up a couple of palm trees and it would have been acceptable, but it would not be the right thing to do,” Trump said. “Do we just fix it up for $2, or do we do it really right?”
Getting to play alongside the designer of course -- particularly one as talented as Hanse -- as I did a few weeks ago is a little like what I imagine it would be like to take guitar lessons from George Harrison or Jack White. Trump National Doral isn’t only done right, there’s creativity and it plays with a much more interesting feel to it -- and it doesn’t take long to see that.
The first hole used to be a 529-yard pushover of a par 5 where most players would hit driver, mid-iron. It has since been stretched 80 yards with the green pushed back and hard against a new pond that will swallow anything that misses to the right.
It’s a hole Hanse is actually concerned about with second shots now coming from well over 200 yards to a narrow, firm green. But there should be risk that goes with reward, although I figure most players in the 70-man field will be smart (read: good) enough to bail left and try to get up and down for birdie.
The fifth and 11th holes, meanwhile, are the architect’s personal favorites, with the former lengthened 40 yards by moving back the green, which is small and guarded by bunkers, including one that is short of the putting surface but appears to be right next to it. The latter has a split fairway with a visually appealing bunker complex in the middle (as much as the sight of bunkers can be appealing, anyway). Pin position will dictate whether to go left or right off the tee, and after we both made birdie there, it’s now one of my favorites, too.
It’s not just the actual changes that stand out here but how Hanse arrived at them. For example, he incorporated some of original designer Dick Wilson’s work back into a venue that undergone its share of re-dos. One example of that is on the eighth hole, where the tee shot calls for one shot shape, and the approach another. This is prevalent throughout the property and a nice ode to Wilson.
Said Trump: “When we bought it, we decided to do it right. We just stood out there and looked at the land and decided we were going to do the whole thing right.”
Other significant changes, in general, include expanded greens with new contours, bunkers that are more classically designed, the planting of literally thousands of palm trees along the course’s edge, viewing mounds for spectators and a practice range that’s double the size and has night lights.
It’s also the only PGA TOUR stop with a helipad, which sits next to the ninth hole, because when you’re Trump how else are you going to commute from Palm Beach to Miami? Certainly not on I-95.
“That was always part of the design,” Hanse says of Trump’s parking spot.
An island green nearly was, too. Trump was insistent about it, according to Hanse, until Hanse convinced him otherwise, in part because that look is already the signature of TPC Sawgrass and THE PLAYERS Championship, and because Trump National Doral’s 18th is connected to so much of the WGC-Cadillac Championship’s history. To that end, he basically left the finish alone.
Hanse, by the way, is delightful company and draws inspiration from classic architects like Alister MacKenzie and more modern minds like Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. But he’s most happy when he’s sitting atop a bulldozer pushing dirt around.
The latter is something that has been something of a slow going down in Brazil for his other big project at the moment, the golf course for the 2016 Olympics. He had a little less time here, getting this venue ready in just a few months along with his associate Jim Wagner and the rest of their team.
“We’re plus-10 in building, that’s what we do,” Trump said. Hyperbole aside, though, he’s right when it comes to Hanse’s handiwork. It really is, as Trump added, “a beautiful golf course,” which seems perfectly suited for Miami, a city noted for its beautiful people and stunning artwork.