Don't try to be a PGA Tour star at Doral's spruced-up new Blue Monster

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

MIAMI, Fla. - The Blue Monster at Doral is a tough golf course in and of itself. What makes it tougher still is that when you play it, you're going to try and play it like the pros.

The Blue Monster at Doral
The biggest game in town is Doral, home to five 18-hole courses, highlighted by the formidable Blue Monster.
The Blue Monster at DoralThe Blue Monster at DoralPalm-lined fairways at Blue Monster
If you go

All those years of watching the PGA big boys play here on TV will get you thinking those big-boy thoughts. If that doesn't do it, after seeing all the plaques detailing the pros' history here you'll swing away like there's no tomorrow.

On No. 18, for example, you are duly informed that the hole was once rated the toughest on the PGA Tour, with an average score over a three-year period of 4.66. "Can you match the pros?" the plaque taunts. "Good luck." (Yes, good luck. Just try to shoot a 4.66.)

The thing is, the pros don't play the Blue Monster that way.

"They use a lot of fairway woods out here," said Doral Golf Resort's B.J. Thompson. "It just shows you how differently they play the game than everyone else."

You may also be tempted to play it from the back tees. Don't.

"One of our biggest challenges, our biggest tasks, is making sure golfers pick the right tees," Thompson said. "I mean, it's a PGA Tour course."

Pick the wrong tees and it could be a long day for you, and those playing behind. The Blue Monster is a deceptively difficult golf course. It's South Florida flat. There's nothing tricky or wacky about the greens, which are relatively easy to read if you're at all familiar with Bermuda grass.

Miss those greens, though, and you're facing a tricky chip out of nasty stuff where balls sink like they've landed in quicksand. And forget flexing your biceps off the tee; save them for muscling long irons out of the thick rough that'll swallow shots that go only a few feet wayward.

The course has lost trees to the storms that have besieged Florida in recent years, but the landing areas are frequently squeezed by bunkers and/or water. You've got to be long and accurate - or, like the pros, wily. Thus the frequent use of fairway woods and long irons. Even Tiger Woods keeps his 5-wood handy out here.

Then there's the wind. Doral is wide open to the gales that come swirling in off the Atlantic. For the muscle boys and silicone vixens on South Beach it's a cooling breeze; for you it's a three- or even four-club difference.

Florida's longest-running PGA Tour stop, Doral recently lost the Ford Championship, but it picked up the WGC-CA Championship without missing a beat. The rough will be left alone to grow for the March event, which gathers the top 50 players from the official World Golf Championship rankings.

It'll be plenty healthy (read: long, green and even nastier) by March, a month that can be pretty beastly for those Atlantic winds too. Good thing the pros know when not to "play it like the pros."

The Verdict

The Blue Monster reopened in September after a four-month, $1.5 million renovation. The re-grassed greens are in excellent condition, if still very firm as of mid-December, which will likely be a big factor in the CA Championship.

The bunkers were also redone, and new cart paths and flower beds added. "There's a lot of big areas between holes," Thompson said. "The flower beds help break it up."

The course may be prettier than ever, but it's lost only a little of its bite.

By far the best-known and most prestigious of Doral's five courses, the Blue Monster gets the most play. If you walk in off the street a round will cost $210-$295 depending on the season.

Stay and play

Doral Golf Resort & Spa is classic Miami, a green, wide-open space with palm trees swaying in the tropical winds that blow off the Atlantic or from the Everglades to the east.

The biggest golf complex in South Florida with a whopping five courses (the Blue Monster, the Greg Norman-designed Great White and the Gold, Silver and Red), Doral is the oldest resort in the area, opening in 1962.

The boutique hotel/spa was added in 1987. The spa offers 100 different services, including my all-time favorite, Thai massage, as well as "Mother massage," Shiatsu, Reiki and all sorts of water therapy.

Fast Fact

Designed by Dick Wilson and restored by Raymond Floyd, the Blue Monster made Golf Magazine's Top 100 Places to Play in 2004 and 2005.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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