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Making Over the Monster

The greens on the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral in Miami might have been in their very best condition ever only days before the resort’s new owner, Donald Trump, authorized course maintenance crews to begin killing them off with a combination of Roundup and Fusilade II Turf and Ornamental Herbicide. Three to four herbicide applications on most of the turf areas to burn down the top-growth, and Doral’s famed Blue Monster became a clean slate.

Just 40 days after 70 of the world’s top ranked golf professionals wrapped up play at the 2013 Cadillac World Golf Championship, the kill process was complete. By April 1, 2013, Houston-based Heritage Links Construction, a division of Lexicon, Inc., was at work on the course, partnered with a crew of shapers handpicked by golf course architect Gil Hanse.

Along the way, as so often happens with such projects, the vision for the Blue Monster began to take on a dynamic all its own. Conceived as a renovation, it quickly became obvious this project would become a full redesign that would begin on the Blue Monster, and include reworking the Red Course and the Gold, with touch-ups on the Jim McLean Signature Course.

In reality, the courses were overdue for a facelift. Built in 1962 by New York real estate developer, Alfred Kaskel, the resort originally was known as Doral Country Club, a name that combined Alfred’s name with that of his wife, Doris.

Although Donald Trump renamed the resort after closing on the property in 2012, he recognized the significance of the “Doral” brand in the world of golf and retained it as part of the property’s name, creating the new Trump National Doral. Trump, an avid and accomplished golfer himself, has a unique perspective on the resort’s history.

Developer Al Kaskel was a contemporary of Donald’s father, Fred Trump. From time to time, the Trump family, including young Donald, visited Al at his beachside Doral hotel , a sister resort located on Miami Beach. Trump remembers those trips and the sense of awe he felt, even as a child, in seeing the expansive property at Doral.

Acquisition of the resort by The Trump Organization followed a series of ownership changes the property has undergone in recent years, including title possession by Morgan Stanley and later by Lehman Brothers. However, maybe therein rested the problem. Can a financial holding company ever love a golf course for its great design? Does an investment bank understand a course that simultaneously begs you and dares you to tee up your ball?

Donald Trump is passionate about golf, which might make him the perfect owner. He loves to play, to create an idyllic environment for others to play and to experience the game when it is being played at the highest level. As one of the oldest PGA Tour stops, the Blue Monster has hosted a PGA Tour event annually since 1962; originally the Doral Open, and since 2007, the World Golf Championship. New owner Trump was quick to sign on to extend the tournament’s run at Doral for another five years.

Originally designed by golf course architect, Dick Wilson, the Blue Monster and the resort’s other original courses, the Red and the White2, received only minor updates over the years until 1996 when pro golfer Raymond Floyd was asked to make the course more challenging. Floyd reworked many of Wilson’s existing bunkers making them deeper and wider and adding another 27 bunkers in all. Floyd’s changes however, were not generally well received.

With the course no longer as well suited for resort play, in 1999, acclaimed golf instructor Jim McLean (who has maintained a highly successful golf school at Doral since 1991) took on the task of making the course more playable. McLean, inspired by Dick Wilson’s original renderings, eliminated 23 bunkers and widened many of the driving areas. Explains McLean, “We had seven acres of sand removed and we relocated all the bunkers, restoring much of the original Dick Wilson look. We added 200 yards of length, changed three greens and added 80 palm trees.”

McLean’s work served Doral well, carrying the course through to the current renovation. The Jim McLean Golf School will no doubt reap benefits from the new changes at Trump National Doral, which have included dramatic upgrades to the hotel and significant expansion of the range area. The resort’s double-ended driving range is now longer by 100 yards, is twice its original width and accommodates twice the number of tee-spaces it previously offered.

The addition of state-of-the-art LED lighting, strategically designed to light the range without creating glare, means golfers can practice and instructors can teach long after the sun has set behind the Gold Course. If you can hit a 380-yard drive, these lights will illuminate its ball flight all the way from your clubface to your landing zone.

Donald Thornburgh, Director of Agronomy at Trump National Doral says some golfers were skeptical that the practice area could be increased so significantly without detracting from the bordering Holes 8, 9 and 10, which he identifies, along with Holes 7, 11 and 15, as being the ones most dramatically changed by the redesign. Yet he never doubted the outcome.

Thornburgh, who was the Assistant Golf Course Superintendent at Trump International Golf Club West Palm from 2009 to 2012, describes Trump as a “wonderful owner and a passionate visionary who gets his head around the character of the land.” Says Thornburgh, “Donald Trump and course architect Gil Hanse really worked to maximize the assets of the land including features that were there all along, but weren’t being showcased or utilized to their potential.”

Although Trump is said to prefer the formality of Ficus trees as buffer plantings on his courses, and Ficus trees are used extensively on Trump International Golf Club West Palm, you won’t find Ficus hedges on the Blue Monster. The design aesthetic of their shiny, dark green leaves and crisp, formal shapes may appeal to Trump, but unfortunately, these leaves also appeal to Ficus whiteflies. Relatively new to the continental U.S., this insect has been a problem across South Florida, causing yellowing, leaf drop, wilting, plant death and major headaches for Golf Course Superintendents in the region.

Instead, the landscapers planted Areca Palms, which provide excellent buffer plantings. Areca Palms offer soft, wispy fronds, continual regeneration and dense cover, while adding to the tropical ambiance of the course. In some areas, such as between the practice range and the 10th hole, Areca Palms provide a hedge. On other parts of the course, they add density as base plantings between taller palms, such as Coconut Palms.

In all, approximately 2000 palms (including Green Malayan Coconut Palms, Royal Palms, Chinese Fan Palms, Washingtonia Palms and the Arecas) were added to the course, helping to define spaces, create visual interest on the property’s massive acreage and provide a vertical element of flow and movement to enhance select holes. Remarkably, the addition of more trees and buffer hedges has not resulted in restricted views. In fact, the enhancement of panoramic vistas was one of the course redesign objectives. Trump wanted to ensure better vantage points for the gallery during the World Golf Championship while generally improving the sweeping, majestic views across the fairways. He accomplished both.

Every vista tells you that the new Blue Monster has been thoughtfully designed and crafted with attention to visual movement, flow and strong artistic contrasts. Unlike courses that can feel overly uniform and monochromatic, the Blue Monster is highly differentiated in colors and textures. Celebration Bermuda, deep blue-green in color, marks the tee boxes and fairways; it is soft yet durable.

The vibrant green of Tiffway 419 Bermuda, planted in the rough, creates contrast with the darker green of the fairways. Fine to medium in texture, this hybrid Bermuda grass has a high tolerance for stress and thrives in the bright Florida sunshine that makes its intense color appear even greener.

TifEagle, a third-generation Bermuda, provides greens that can be mowed even closer than TifDwarf and other ultra dwarfs allow. Turf selections clearly reflect an optimal balance of high performance surfaces and the need for durability and quick recovery to tolerate both daily resort play and tournament requisites.

Of course, the question you have to ask as you read about this aggressive redesign is how much greater did the responsibilities of course maintenance become in the process? With the changes to the approximately 350-acre Blue Monster, putting surfaces have increased from a total of 3 acres to 4.5 acres, meaning much more TifEagle to manage.

Bunker area has gone from 5 acres to 7 acres. Not only has existing water been brought into play but also a full 7 acres of water have been added to the Blue–and this is only the redesign of one course. Changes to the resort’s Red Course and its Gold Course won’t be completed until November of 2014. In addition to a whole lot of manpower, Trump National Doral utilizes a $3.5 million maintenance package of John Deere and Toro equipment.

… A lot of money and a lot of work, even for a historic and worthy golf course. Yet Donald Trump recognized one additional asset that makes Doral stand apart from other venues.

In a thriving cosmopolitan city with ideal year-round golfing weather, a major airport, significant international business travel and very little land area, Doral offers some 800 acres of primo real estate, less than five miles from the Miami International Airport.

It’s a real estate cliché, but perhaps it really does all come down to Location! Location! Location!

Linda Parker has been writing professionally since the 1980s. With clients in finance, sports, technology, change enablement, resorts, and nonprofit global initiatives, Linda helps organizations communicate their stories in meaningful ways to the people they most want to reach. She has authored, ghostwritten or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books. You can reach her at: linda@glindamarketing.com

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