Doral Golf Resort and Spa: Blue Monster, Great White course top golf roster
DORAL, Fla. -- Tales of good rounds gone bad spill from the front door of Champions Sports Bar and Grill and into the sultry South Florida night in no less than five different languages. A casual observer, just stopping in for a beer and a bite, quickly concludes two things:
-- There's a lot of golf being played around here.
-- Double bogey sounds so much better in French than it does in English.
For more than 40 years, the Doral Golf Resort and Spa has held fast as one of the East Coast's most internationally flavored golf retreats. Duffers sojourn from Germany, France, England, and as far away as Japan to toil on one of the property's five golf courses and soak up the omnipresent sunshine and hipster Miami nightlife.
A throwback to golf-first resorts like Pinehurst and Pebble Beach, 72 of Doral's 90 golf holes are accessible by simply stepping out the back door and into a golf cart. The other 18 are just a five-minute shuttle ride away. Its little wonder the "Big D" is considered a haven for the 36-hole-a-day set, and 45 to 54 hole days aren't unheard of during the dog days of summer.
As heavenly as it sounds, Doral has had its share of ups and downs. Resorts with histories spanning four decades are bound to ebb and flow. The "house that Doris and Alfred Kaskel built" back in 1959 is no exception. Talk to someone who visited the property in the early 1990s and tales of tired old guest rooms and offensive 1960s décor are bound to surface.
A recent $30 million renovation has Doral's accommodations, conference rooms and restaurants back up to snuff with its halcyon days of the late '60s and early '70s. A series of lodges emanate from the main building, housing suites outfit with fresh new carpet, plush beds and slick new marble bathroom floors.
Architecturally, the highlight of the resort is the 148,000 square foot, Mediterranean inspired spa, with its 52 treatments rooms and 48 posh guest suites. Over 100 different treatments are available, including the "Blue Monster" massage, which targets the muscles taxed by obscene amounts of golf. Tired, poor, huddled masses of hackers never had it so good.
Recreationally, it's all about the golf. The Blue Course is the track most the khaki clad set has come to see. The Dick Wilson design was dubbed the "Blue Monster" by PGA Tour pros after the inaugural 1962 Doral Open when the 18th hole played to a total of 102 strokes over par after only three rounds. Today, the Monster still hosts the boys with the names on their bags each March at the (now) Ford Championship. As for the famed 18th -- it is better (and brawnier) than ever having been stretched to 467 yards.
As for the other 17 holes, consider them Blue Monster Light. All told, only six players who made the two-day cut at the 2004 Ford Championship finished over par. Winner Craig Parry, a 5-foot-6 Australian, was 17-under (See Blue Monster story). Traveling golfers, watching the tournament from comforts of home, no doubt began to lick their collective chops when the final leader board was posted.
Not so fast, dragon slayers.
Blue still has the fire to toast the average weekend warrior. The new-look Gold tees tip out at 7,288 yards with seven par 4s playing over 400 yards. And with two par 3s carding in at over 235 yards, playing the Blue's four one-shotters at even par is a feat worth memorializing.
Doral's other marquee offering is the Great White Course, design by (you guessed it) Greg Norman in 2000. The White course polarizes golfers like few other layouts in South Florida. Some golfers relish the precision required on every shot and the sheer "wow" factor of a course that contains 220 pot bunkers, 2,000 palm trees and acre after acre of crushed shell and coquina sand waste areas. Others chalk it up to being too tricky, at best, or purely satanic at worst. The two sides only see eye to eye concerning the par-3 sixth. The hole plays just 149 yards from the blue tees, but the green sits atop a 20-foot-high mound that drops off on either side like the pre Columbus version of the earth. Holding the putting surface is almost impossible. Recovering is just as grim. Suffice it to say, the remainder of the course is only slightly more forgiving but makes much more sense.
Doral officials are the first to admit that there's a fairly large quality gap between the Blue and White courses and the resorts other three offerings. They'll also be the first to tell you it won't be that way for long. Plans are underway to bring conditions at the Red, Gold and Silver courses in line with the Monster and the Shark. And the resort's undersized driving range could soon be transformed into a state-of-the-art practice range with a behemoth chipping area, putting green and additional driving stations.
But back to the Red, Gold and Silver. Taken collectively, the three tracks provide a much-needed woman/junior/senior friendly complement to the Blue and White's manly man experience. The Red Course tips out at just 6,146 yards and is the preferred play of the resort's female members. Little wonder it once hosted an LPGA event, the Office Depot Championship. We'll say this about the Red Course, too -- the greens may be the most severe on site, and there's no better example than the 561-yard par-5 opening hole.
The Silver Course, a Bruce Devlin/Bob von Hagge credit redesigned by Jerry Pate in 1998, is a tough test from the 6,500-yard cranks considering you're aiming at South Beach thong-sized fairways. But slide up a couple tees and it's down right enjoyable. Pate is known throughout the Southeast for building the proverbial shotmakers course, and the Silver Course follows suit.
One long time bartender at Champions, when pressed for his take on Doral's golf lot, opined that the Gold Course is the circuit with the most upside of the three. His rationale was three fold. First, Floyd completely retooled the layout in 1995. Second, at 6,602 yards but a par of 70, the course is capable of digging in and holding its own against low handicappers.
And finally, of the three lower tier tracks, the Gold's conditioning comes closest to the big boys. We'll throw in one additional raison d'être - a bowling alley of a par-5 finishing hole that calls for tee shot out of a tree lined chute and an approach shot over water to an island green. Eighteen on the Blue gets all the ink, but this three shotter will make you think.
Scores at all five courses stand to be lowered a bit by a session at the Jim McLean Golf School. School is in session at the far end of the driving range where disciples of Jimmy-Mac tutor eager pupils on the vaunted Eight-Step swing using state-of-the-art video equipment and training aides.
All golf and no mindless R and R doesn't make for happy guests, however. The tropical oasis that sits in front of the hotel lobby is actually the Blue Lagoon -- two mega size pools joined at the hip by a massive rock façade. Kids dig the waterfall; adults gravitate towards the hot tubs and the frozen drinks at Bungalou's poolside bar and grill. Adults that want to act like kids can opt for any combination thereof.
Where to Eat
Windows on the Green, situated just off the main lobby, is Doral's upscale eatery. And God forbid the Blue Monster be out of view during supper - the beast of the east is in plain view from almost every table. The aforementioned Champions Sports Bar and Grill serves above average bar food at above average prices. The back patio is THE place to be around sunset. For the Starbucks addicted (you know who you are), Terrazza Restaurant and Café is the place to get your java/high speed internet fix.
Stay and Play
If you're not on a golf package, you're just not doing your homework. As of this writing, Doral offers three levels of packages: The Blue Monster, Championship and the Golf Escape, which includes some spa action. Log on to doralresort.com or call (305) 592-2000 for more information.
Random, but hopefully helpful tips from a guy "stranded" at Doral Golf Resort and Spa for the better part of a week.
-- Self park, self park, self park. Valet is $8 a day and a $17 surcharge is tacked on if you leave your sled in the valet lot overnight.
-- Be a range ball freeloader. Despite the hefty greens fees, Doral still charges for a bucket of range balls if you're not on an all-inclusive package. But no worries -- most golfers rush off to their tee times and leave dozens of balls behind.
-- Check the check. Even if you're a big tipper, you may want to check the tab when dining on campus. Doral adds 20 percent gratuity to all checks, no matter what kind of service you received.
--- Get to the pro shop early. Doral has one of the best pro shops in the country. Good news is you can find just about anything you want. Bad news is, so can everyone else. Waiting in line for a few minutes to purchase wares and secure tee times is pretty common. (SS)
Doral's Blue Monster is home to the Ford Championship.
April 14, 2004