Tourism & Cruises

Massive renovations progressing at Trump’s Doral resort

The clubhouse at the newly christened Trump National Doral Miami is not looking like its grand old self these days. Neither is the Blue Lagoon pool, now a meandering ditch. The “Red” golf course, normally green, is more of a straw color.

A few months after starting in earnest — and more than a year away from being completely finished — the $250 million renovation of the old Doral Golf Resort is furiously under way.

And while the end result is being touted as a “return to grandeur,” there’s a lot of dust, bulldozers and construction workers in the meantime. The resort is still open during renovations, but the main entrance was shut down last week as work intensified. Part of the clubhouse roof has been torn off to allow for more ballroom space. Hundreds of the property’s 693 guest rooms are being renovated, with hundreds more still to go before work wraps up in the fall of 2014.

“This is not a makeover,” said Cari Farinas, marketing manager at the resort. “It’s a transformation.”

Real estate magnate and reality TV star Donald Trump bought the 50-year-old property and four of its five golf courses out of bankruptcy for $150 million last year and promised a massive overhaul. “When completed, Doral will be the finest resort and golf club in the country,” he said at the time.

That remains the goal, said managing director George Sotelo.

“The best golf resort in the country; there is no deviation from that,” Sotelo said. “Anything less than that would not be acceptable to any of us.”

In addition to the Red Course, the famous Blue Monster — home to the World Golf Championships - Cadillac Championship — is now closed. Golf architect Gil Hanse is redesigning the course, which is scheduled for completion in December, a few months before the March tournament.

Eddie Carbone, director of the tournament, said he’s “very confident that it’ll be in outstanding shape” in time for the PGA Tour event, pointing out that some of the holes already appear playable.

“This is going to be a tremendously improved experience for people to attend the Cadillac Championship,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to the changes.”

Carbone, whose office is at the resort, is also a longtime member of the golf club.

“Really where all the golf courses are going in the next few years is going to be a completely new level and experience for me as a member and for guests that I bring out to Trump National Doral,” he said. “Every aspect of the experience is going to be heightened and improved ... I’ve been here 10 years now and I’m giddy every day.”

Some recent reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor and Expedia were less enthusiastic, with some mentioning they wished they had known how extensive the renovations were in advance. Review headlines included “RENOVATION CITY” and the more measured “Interesting, lots of room for improvement.”

On those and other outside booking sites, information about the remodeling is limited to the reviews sections. But the resort’s own website includes mention of the renovations prominently on its home page; under the resort’s overview, a section called “transformation underway” details the areas that are open and closed.

“Although we do not anticipate these enhancements to affect your overall experience at the resort, it is our goal to ensure we communicate any and all activities underway,” the site says.

Guests check in at the spa entrance now and are shuttled to their rooms by golf cart. Hotel representatives say they have tried to keep the work from affecting people’s stays.

“We’ve obviously taken the guest experience in the forefront,” Sotelo said.

He said members and repeat guests are “super excited” about the upgrades and that the resort is ahead of pace for future group bookings.

While the entire project is expected to wrap up by fall of 2014, the pool, which will have more seating and new landscaping, is scheduled for completion by this November. Renovated rooms are done in neutral colors with mahogany furniture and gold accents. Each villa will be named for a golf legend and decorated with black and white photos of famous golfers. The clubhouse, which is set to be partially finished by the end of the year, will have four ballrooms instead of the previous three, a new signature restaurant and an outdoor veranda. The spa and spa suites will be renovated next year.

Sotelo said the Trumps, including Donald and adult children Ivanka and Eric, have been on site several times a month.

He said the family has been open to hearing from workers about the renovations — and come up with new ideas themselves. Sotelo said it’s not unusual for a new visit to bring a new idea about the project.

“They look at this asset as long term,” he said. “They’re not looking to beautify it and get rid of it.”