Miami-Dade County

In Doral, Donald Trump had spotlight with his showcase golf event

When a furious Rory McIlroy hurtled his three-iron into the lake at last year’s Cadillac golf tournament in Doral, Donald Trump didn’t let the scorned club stay sunken for long.

Trump, the course owner, dispatched a diver to fish out the club and, with cameras rolling, presented it to McIlroy before the tournament’s final day of play resumed.

“Rory,” Trump said as the world’s best golfer took a pause from practice, “I don’t want you to play with 13 clubs. Thirteen is an unlucky number. I want 14 clubs.”

No property in Trump’s vast resort portfolio gave him the kind of central role in golf that he clearly relished while hosting the PGA’s yearly tournament in Doral. So perhaps no trophy offered the kind of revenge potential for the Mexican billionaire and Trump critic who, through an aggressive sponsorship deal, managed to end the tournament’s six-decade run in Doral in favor of a new home in Mexico City.

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On Wednesday, the PGA announced a new sponsorship deal from Grupo Salinas, a media and financial conglomerate based in Mexico City. The deal was reportedly valued at $16 million a year, roughly double what Cadillac was willing to pay to extend its sponsorship in Doral.

Hours after the announcement, Chairman Ricardo Salinas used his Twitter account to invite Trump to visit the tournament next year. “Only good things can turn out,” he wrote in English, “if you know the real Mexico.”

The June 1 announcement came just two weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of Trump’s presidential announcement, when he claimed Mexico was “sending” rapists, drug smugglers and others to the United States. He went on to promise a massive wall on the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants.

In a September blog post titled “The United States Doesn’t Need a Bigger Wall,” Salinas didn’t mention Trump but seemed to offer a pretty clear dig at the mogul-turned-candidate.

“Only an extreme and outdated myopia can prevent a true businessman from considering the infinite possibilities that [are] offered by the bilateral relationship,” Salinas wrote. “Mexico represents much more than drugs, crime, and irregular migration. A bigger wall benefits no one, except for a handful of contractors. What a true statesman should seriously consider is how we can take this economic relationship to its full potential to benefit over 400 million people.”

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Trump slammed the PGA’s Mexico City decision as a money grab at the expense of both the tournament and the United States, telling Fox: “I hope they have kidnapping insurance.” The Trump campaign sees the decision bolstering the candidate’s argument that Big Business can flourish in foreign markets at the expense of U.S. workers.

“It’s just another example of a company that is putting profits ahead of what’s good for America,” son Eric Trump, who helps oversee the Doral resort, told the Miami Herald on Wednesday. “That’s the epitome of my father’s message.”

With a global collection of golf resorts, other prominent tournaments, and the added celebrity that comes with winning a major-party presidential nomination, Trump won’t be hurting for attention from golf luminaries or the press when he hits the links.

But people close to him said the Cadillac tournament occupied unique ground in his portfolio. It was the most prestigious tournament played every year on a Trump property and showcased a $250 million upgrade of what’s now called the Trump National Doral Miami and its signature Blue Monster course.

“Donald has a tremendous passion for golf,” said Butch Buchholz, the longtime head of the local group that put on the tournament. “He obviously cared for the golf course. It wasn’t a renovation. It, literally, was a new Doral.”

Trump usually decamped to Doral for the entire run of the World Golf Championship-Cadillac Championship, which he essentially inherited in 2012 when he bought the old Marriott Doral out of bankruptcy for $150 million.

“Trump loved being there,” said Ed Williamson, the Miami-area Cadillac dealer who played host to the presumptive GOP nominee in the auto maker’s hospitality suite in what turned out to be the tournament’s final Doral in March. “All those pictures you see of him these days, he has a scowl on his face. He never had that. … You could tell he was having a good time.”

A stop in the PGA’s yearly championship tour, the Doral event vied with Miami Open tennis tournament and the Homestead NASCAR weekend as the preeminent date on Miami’s yearly sports calendar.

“Remember when Tiger Woods used to play at Doral? That was a big deal,” said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the local Super Bowl host committee. “Obviously there are a lot of issues going on with the Doral, and Trump, and Trump running for president. There are some issues that are out of our control.”

When the tournament returned to Doral during the first week in March, Trump took a break from the Republican primaries to make an appearance. But only on the final day.

He arrived to widespread speculation that his presidential run would mean the end of the tournament’s 54-year tenure in Doral. The PGA had already pulled one tournament from a Trump property — in July 2015, it abruptly yanked its Grand Slam of Golf event from a Trump resort in Los Angeles.

At the time, Trump’s office issued the kind of supportive statement that was absent after the Doral departure.

“Due to the controversy surrounding statements made by Mr. Trump having to do with illegal immigrants pouring into the United States from Mexico and other parts of the world,” the July 7 statement read, “Mr. Trump does not want his friends at the PGA of America to suffer any consequences or backlash with respect to the Grand Slam of Golf.”

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