Course Review: The Blue Monster at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

MIAMI, FL - The Blue Monster at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa is easily one of the nation's most recognizable golf courses. Doral can thank the PGA Tour and television for that. The Blue Monster has held a PGA Tour event since 1962, making the course the third-oldest stop on the world's top professional tour. The lure of playing where the pros tee it up has long been a draw for golfers yearning to walk in the footsteps of their idols, but the Blue Monster is more than just a PGA Tour stop. It is one of the true dynamic golf gems in the country.

Golf Digest ranks it among the top 20 courses in Florida in its 2001 rankings, while Golf Magazine ranks the Blue No. 41 on its list of the top 100 public courses in the country in 2001.

The Blue Monster was designed by Dick Wilson in 1960, playing to 7,125 yards from the tips (with a slope of 130 and a rating of 74.5). Its blue (6,701 yards, 125 slope) and white tees (6,281 yards, 118 slope) are equally challenging.

With eight significant water hazards the size of small lakes splashed across its design, the name "Blue Monster" fits the bill, but there's plenty more trouble than meets the eye.

Usually when the ball finds dry land instead of crystal clear water, there's reason to celebrate, but only if you stay on the fairway. Once off the short grass, the Monster's thick, unforgiving rough can swallow your ball. Just be thankful it isn't nearly the length the pros are forced to navigate each year at the Genuity Doral Championship, formerly known as the Doral-Ryder Open.

To keep the course in tip-top shape for the TV cameras that invade the resort every late February or early March, the course has recently undergone two renovations. Local Florida resident and golfing legend Raymond Floyd restored the course in 1996 and Jim McLean, the head of Doral's golf school, revamped the bunkers to the original Wilson flavor in 1999.

Doral Director of Golf Michael Miraglia has seen his fair share of great golf courses, but he says Doral has a unique persona.

"The best attribute of the blue is great balance," he said. "You have long and short holes, long and short par threes, par fours and fives. You don't get beat over the head with five straight long par fours or two long par fives. "Why is it so hard? The bunkers are well position and the prevailing winds are always a factor. If you try to play this course too aggressive, it will bite you. If you look at players who have won (the PGA event on the Blue), they've been conservative, consistent players - Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Jim Furyk."

Indeed, the list of former champions is impressive. The event started as the Doral Country Club Open Invitational in 1962 and switched to the Doral-Eastern Open Invitational in 1970, when stars like Nicklaus (1972 and '75), Lee Trevino (1973), Floyd (1980-81), Andy Bean (1982, '86) and Tom Kite (1984) won titles. Interestingly during these years, with Eastern Airlines as a sponsor, all of the airlines' flights to and from Miami International Airport were rerouted to accommodate the tournament, making it a much quieter venue than it is today.

In 1987, Lanny Watkins captured the inaugural Doral-Ryder Open, followed by more big names like Ben Crenshaw (1988), Greg Norman (1990, '93, '96), Floyd (1992) and Nick Faldo (1995). Norman set the current 18-hole course record with a 62 when winning in '90 and '93. His four-day total of 265 in 1993 still stands as a record.

But if you get the chance to battle the big Blue, don't expect to challenge either of those standards.

Although Doral plays like a traditional golf course, the design varies from traditional by starting both the front and the back nine with par-5s, while the front closes with a par 3 of 169 yards. The front nine is much more forgiving on the back, so get started early.

After a straight, 529-yard par-5, the second hole plays a generous 376 yards and could provide an early birdie. Flexing its muscle as a championship course, Doral's fourth hole, a par-3, plays a demanding 236 yards over water.

Holes No. 5, a 394-yard par-4, and No. 6, a 442-yard par-4, have undergone many changes in the restoration. The large fairway bunker on the left has been sliced into four smaller ones on No. 5. One fairway bunker has been removed on No. 6 and another moved closer to the fairway, while the two greenside bunkers have been reshaped.

Hole No. 8, a 528-yard par-5, is a beauty with water coming into play on both sides from 250 yards and in.

After the long, yet fun, 551-yard par 5 10th hole, which bends left around a lake the entire way, the 11th seems so friendly. Think again. Although the hole plays just 363 yards from the tips, seven bunkers await any mistake. There is little fairway on this hole. Instead a gigantic bunker sits in the middle of the driving zone. The 13th, a 245-yard par-3, might be the longest par-3 you'll ever play.

The sixteenth, which plays 372 yards, starts a rugged finish of three tough par-4s. It doglegs left, framed by bunkers on either side of the fairway, to an elevated green. There have been plenty of wonderful tournament memories occur on this hole. A plaque near the tee commemorates Bean's win in a playoff in 1986 and Floyd's dramatic chip-in to beat Nicklaus in a playoff in 1980.

The 18th, a 443-yard par-4, annually plays as one of the toughest finishing holes on the PGA Tour, because of its difficulty, the wind and the pressure to finish strong at such a prestigious tournament.

To escape with par, players need a solid drive to the middle of the fairway, between a large waste bunker, home to several palm trees, on the left and four bunkers that climb toward the green on the right. The approach shot must carry a sliver of water fronting the green. Chances are you'll get wet from the majestic fountain in the middle of the water hazard while playing this hole, just don't let your ball suffer the same fate.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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