Doral's Blue Monster still has some bite for the average golfer
DORAL, Fla. -- If the Blue Monster is such an ogre, why was it recently slain by a 5-foot-6 Australian with a swing NBC analyst Johnny Miller likened to that of a 15-handicapper? Could it be that yesterday's monster is today's sleeping beauty?
As Craig Parry and other members of the field at the 2004 Ford Championship will attest, the Blue Course at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa has lost some of its teeth. Once revered as one of the most tumultuous tracks on Tour, the Dick Wilson original/Ray Floyd revamp now serves as the first of three warm-ups for the ultimate stop on the Sunshine state swing, The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.
"I could see how those guys would play well here. It was challenging but it was fair," said a member of a foursome of Japanese tourists walking off the 18th green. "The par 3s were long and hard but the par 4s were playable."
The exception being the 467-yard par-4 18th hole.
The famed two-shotter hasn't lost any of its bite, especially after the Tour tees were pushed back 24 yards. Parry's shot heard round Doral - a frozen rope of a 6-iron from 176 yards that found the cup for an eagle and a stunning first-hole playoff victory over Scott Verplank in early March - was the exception, not the rule on a hole that has played as the Tour's most difficult to date.
"Five is not necessarily a bad score there, four is a very good score and three is like stealing one," PGA Tour veteran Joe Durant told USA Today after the first round of the tournament back in March. "It's a very demanding tee shot. There's not much room to bail out."
Turns out Durant didn't need any help. He was one of the few players to birdie 18 and went on to finish 15-under par, good enough for third place. All told, only six players who made the two-day cut finished over par. 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.
The big ole course that hosted its first PGA event back in 1962 still possesses 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 over 235 yards, playing the Blue's four one-shotters at even par is a feat worth memorializing.
"Two of the most difficult par 3s in South Florida, hands down," says Doral' s director of golf operations, Desi Howe, an expertly coifed, deeply tanned fellow who could only be a Miami area golf pro.
Par 3s and 18th hole considered, Blue can still be worth the price of admission ($250 in season for those scoring at home) for a cadre of other experiences:
-- The par 5s. Easily the best collection of three-shotters in Miami/Dade, led by the 563-yard 8th -- a classic risk/reward hole with the resort and 18th hole fountain as a backdrop. For sheer aesthetics the 12th is tough to top. The 603-yard rambler features about every type of tree known to Doral and a unique bunkering technique that includes small grass islands amid a sea of sand.
-- History. Blue has continuously hosted a PGA Tour event since 1962 and has seen its fair share of drama. Except for Parry's heroics on the 18th, most of it seems to have either began at or occurred on the par-4 16th. In 1980, Floyd chipped in for birdie from 23-feet to defeat Jack Nicklaus in the then Doral Eastern Open's first playoff. In 1986, No. 16 was the first of a four hole playoff that saw Andy Bean defeat Hubert Green.
-- Conditioning. Blue is Doral's baby and they treat it as such. Catching the course before the Ford hits town is a treat, what with the fairways stripped up with rye grass and the greens overseeded with poa triv. Post tournament, Blue fades to Bermuda grass quite seamlessly.
There are two schools of thought on the Blue Monster. The first one says it is a classically designed golf course that is fair, challenging and straightforward. The hole variety is about as good as it gets for South Florida, and a handful of holes approach greatness (see eight, No. 12 and No. 18). The other school of thought says the Blue Monster isn't all that different from your typical South Florida layout -- it's flat, lacking any real scenery, and because of its parkland style layout, other golfers are visible at all times.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Strategically, the Blue Course doesn't rate up there with Pinehurst No. 2 or Harbour Town. In terms of scenery, it lags well behind the Pebble Beaches and Troon Norths of the world. Yet, the fees for all the aforementioned courses are about the same. The overall experience on the Blue is also tainted by the legions of airplanes taking off and landing at nearby Miami International. Bottom line -- if you want to experience a bit of golf history, play where the pros play and aren't concerned about value, then by all means -- do the Blue.
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.
Doral's Blue Monster is home to the Ford Championship.
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.
April 14, 2004