A Blimp's Eye View of Trump National Doral's Blue Monster
Whether desiring more cash or less of Donald Trump, the PGA Tour announced Wednesday it’s yanking its annual star-filled event away from the city of Doral after 55 tournaments.
The new location: Mexico City, in a country Trump once stated sent “rapists” to the United States over a border on which Trump wants to build a wall.
What began in 1962 as the Doral Country Club Invitational and has been the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship since 2011 will be the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship starting in 2017. The PGA doesn’t know which course it’ll use. Only Augusta National, home of the Masters; Pebble Beach; and The Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, have hosted tournaments for more consecutive years than the Blue Monster, the nickname for Trump National Doral’s Blue course.
In a statement released through The Trump Organization, Trump said, “It is a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf, to have the PGA Tour consider moving the World Golf Championships, which has been hosted in Miami for the last 55 years, to Mexico. No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans who make the tournament an annual tradition. This decision only further embodies the very reason I am running for President of the United States."
The leading Republican candidate, passionate about golf, bought the course in 2012 and renovated it after the 2013 event. Though the renovations received more uniformly positive reviews from fans than players, Trump’s opinions on humans gritted teeth at the image-conscious PGA Tour. The PGA said in December that it would “explore all options regarding the event’s future” in the wake of Trump’s controversial proposal last year to ban Muslin immigrants from entering the United States. But PGA commissioner Tim Finchem stated at a Wednesday news conference that money talked louder than politics.
“It is fundamentally a sponsorship issue,” Finchem said. “We are a conservative organization. We value dollars for our players. We have a strong sense of fiduciary responsibility.”
Cadillac had requested significantly less money to renew at the Trump Doral, said Ed Williamson, owner of a local Cadillac dealership who said he was mingling with Trump and top Cadillac executives during the final day of this year's tournament. Williamson said the original deal cost Cadillac about $14 million a year, but the luxury auto maker offered $6 million to renew at Doral.
Cadillac and the PGA Tour reached the first agreement while Tiger Woods still fueled rocketing PGA finances despite crashing his Cadillac Escalade on Nov. 26, 2009, while running from a wife who’d discovered his infidelities. The past few years, dealing with injuries and an erratic game, Woods has barely played.
"We don't have the Tiger effect right now," Williamson said. "It's an extraordinary event, and we get a lot of exposure for it. But the whole event is not worth $14 million."
Not so in Mexico, when business leaders put together a package that had the capital city snagging the most prominent tournament in Trump's golf empire. Grupo Salinas, a Mexican conglomerate, will become the title sponsor in 2017 in deal Williamson said was worth $18 million a year.
Trump's Mexican remarks had the tournament bracing for a possible PGA break with Doral. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the tournament reached out last year about the possibility of moving from Trump National Doral to the county-owned, waterfront course at Crandon Park. Rules against commercial activity there caused the plan to fizzle, but it was a sign of the trouble Trump's politics was causing Miami-Dade's signature golf event.
"There was a time when Donald Trump was kind of toxic, and maybe toxic to the PGA. They thought they may have difficulty in getting sponsors," Gimenez said. "At the time, they thought Cadillac was going to pull out. By moving the venue, they thought it would be easier to get sponsors and raise more money."
But whatever concerns Cadillac might have had with Trump's comments, the luxury automaker wanted to renew at Trump’s course. Money was the issue.
Gimenez said he received a call last week from the PGA's deputy commissioner, Jay Monahan, asking for last-minute help to bridge a gap between what Cadillac was willing to pay and what was waiting for the tournament in Mexico. But Gimenez said he took Monahan’s call as basically a sign that the PGA's time in Doral was over.
“I said I'm having a conversation with you on Friday at 3 o'clock on Memorial Day weekend and we've got until Tuesday?” Gimenez said. “They were gone.”
“Obviously, if there were trying for a long time, I didn't think I was going to have any success in getting a sponsor,” Gimenez said. “Maybe the Donald Trump people, or Trump himself, could come up with more money. That's up to them.”
The mayor and Trump have a long-standing relationship. Trump has briefly talked to Gimenez and his administration about taking over the Crandon Park course and donated to Gimenez’s 2016 reelection campaign. One of Gimenez's sons has done lobbying work for Trump and the tournament outside of county government. But on the heels of Trump's comments on Mexicans last summer, Gimenez returned the $15,000 donation and, though Miami-Dade's senior Republican, has declined to endorse Trump.
“It's strictly money,” he said. “It has nothing to do with who owns the resort.”
Well, Finchem did say, “Donald Trump is a brand, a big brand, and when you're asking a company to invest millions of dollars in branding a tournament and they're going to share that brand with the host, it's a difficult conversation.”
Trump actually streamed out the news Tuesday night in the midst of an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“I mean, I just heard that the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico as an example,” Trump said. “They’re moving their tournament. It’s the Cadillac World Golf Championship. And Cadillac’s been a great sponsor, but they’re moving it to Mexico. They’re moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance.”
Finchem said, “One of our people told us this morning that we already have kidnapping insurance. I haven't inquired about the details, but I made a point it's something we might not want to advertise.”
What’s sad to local golf fans is losing a tournament that drew the world’s best golfers to the resort’s Blue Monster course since the days when Doral consisted of a few businesses and fewer homes.
Hall of Famer Billy Casper, often underrated in the 1960s shadow of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, won the first (1962) and third (1964) tournaments, the second time by outlasting Nicklaus. Nicklaus won in 1972 and 1975 and finished second four times. That’s how many times Woods won at Doral, most memorably in a 2005 final-round dual with Phil Mickelson.
With The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, the PGA enjoyed two weeks in South Florida during late February-early March as players began honing their game for The Masters.
“They’re called ‘World Golf Championships’ events for a reason,” said Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, at his Memorial pre-tournament news conference. “I always thought having three of the four in the U.S. isn’t really spreading the game.”
McIlroy cheekily said, “It’s quite ironic that we’re going to Mexico after being at Doral. I guess we’ll just jump over the wall.”
Also ironic: Doral councilwoman Sandra Ruiz cast the lone dissenting vote on a March resolution asking the PGA to stay in Doral. She issued a statement Wednesday condemning the departure.
“The loss of the Doral PGA tournament is a huge blow to our community,” Ruiz’s statement read. “The tournament brought Doral millions of dollars that our residents and small businesses relied upon for income and opportunity. I believe we could have prevented this move had our Mayor (Luigi Boria) not handled this situation so poorly, by giving Trump a key to our City despite widespread community opposition. By not condemning his remarks, Mayor Boria has made it clear, that as Mayor of Doral he stands behind Donald Trump's divisive words — and the PGA has responded in kind by leaving our city. As Councilwoman, I am requesting a meeting with the PGA and I will continue to do everything I can to let the PGA and the international business community know that Doral is a welcoming city, that is worthy of international investment.”
The loss of the tournament robs Miami-Dade of a nationally televised sporting event that claimed a prominent role on golf's calendar.
“For almost three generations, it's been an anchor on Miami's sports scene,” said Jeff Bartel, who runs a private-equity firm in Coral Gables, the Hamptons Group. “It existed before the Miami Dolphins.”
A 2009 economic-impact study commissioned by the tournament said the March event generated about $24 million in direct spending and drew roughly 110,000 attendees.
“It's a legacy event. It's a Miami event,” said Bill Talbert, the county's tourism chief. “It's sad. It's just sad.”
That’s the word used repeatedly in the South Florida golf community Wednesday.
Charlie DeLucca Jr., 74-year-old director of Miami’s First Tee program based at International Links-Melreese Country Club, played in the then-Doral Open Invitational in 1965 and 1966.
“It will hurt a lot of charities,” DeLucca said. “I can only guess how many millions of dollars it brought into the community.”
In an e-mail to fans, the tournament claimed raising $17 million for local charities since 1962. This past year, DeLucca’s First Tee program received $150,000 from the PGA Tour and its “Cadillac Championship Charity Ride Out” program. The United Way received $250,000. That money won’t be there next year.
“This will hurt a lot of kids, and not just in terms of golf, but in terms of the education we combine with golf,” DeLucca said. “This is a horrible day for Miami.”
Finchem said, “We are keen on coming back to Doral. We need to find the right property to resume our long-term involvement in the community. We're proud of being there for over 50 years, and we'd like to come back.”
Herald sportswriters Barry Jackson and Bill Van Smith contributed to this report.
Top 10 moments of the Doral tournament
1. Tiger vs. Phil, 2005. Phil Mickelson went into the last day of The Ford Championship with a two-shot lead after Tiger Woods’ scorching third-round 63. Mickelson lost the lead when Tiger eagled 12, then tied it back up with birdies on 13 and 14. Tiger’s 30-foot birdie putt on 17 provided a one-shot lead that survived Phil’s chip around the lip on 18. It was a return for Tiger, both to Doral after two years of absence and to the top of the world golf rankings.
2. It’s in the hole! 2004. In a sudden death playoff with Scott Verplank, on what played as the PGA Tour’s toughest hole that year, Craig Parry stood 176 yards from the cup on the par-4 No. 18. Parry swatted a 6-iron that landed about 8 feet from the pin, then rolled in for a tournament-winning eagle.
3. Chip Ahoy, 1980: The setup doesn’t get much better: a sudden death playoff between Hall of Fame golfers Raymond Floyd and Jack Nicklaus. The payoff: Floyd holed a 23-foot chip to win the first of two consecutive Doral Eastern Open Invitational titles.
4. Great White Shark > Blue Monster, 1990: Greg Norman’s so known for majors collapses, it’s sometimes forgotten that he usually brought more game than shame on Sundays. Such as his final round 10-under 62 that tied the course record that got Norman into a playoff with Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia and Tim Simpson. Which Norman won with a 24-foot chip in on No. 1.
5. Phil Guts It Out, 2009 – If Nick Watney had been named “Tiger Woods,” this would rank right behind No. 1. Heat exhaustion and dehydration hospitalized Mickelson briefly Saturday night while he shared the lead with Watney. In the final round, the lead changed hands seven times in the first 11 holes. Watney’s final 30-foot putt on 18, like Mickelson’s 30-foot chip on 18 in 2005, just missed to leave Mickelson one shot ahead.
6. A Green-Bean playoff, 1986: On the fourth playoff hole, Andy Bean dropped an 8-foot putt to beat Hubert Green, who had held a two-shot lead with four holes left. Green said he was happy a birdie won it: “It wasn’t very good to see professional golfers scrambling around like we were doing, three-putting and hitting into water.”
7. An Almost Senior Moment, 1992 – Ray Floyd’s Biscayne Bay house had burned down two weeks before the 1992 Doral-Ryder Open. Floyd was 49, closer to the Senior Tour than his prime. But Floyd still had enough magic to come home eased up and still two shots better than good friend Fred Couples and Keith Clearwater.
8. Feels Like the First Time, 1962: Paul Bondeson nearly got his first PGA Tour win in the first Doral Country Club Open Invitational. Then, Billy Casper, four back with eight to go, shot by Bondeson five holes later with a birdie on 15 as Bondeson bogeyed. Casper won by a stroke.
9. Great Scott, 2016 -- Rory McIlroy held a three-shot lead over Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson going into Sunday. Scott double-bogeyed two of the first five holes. After nine holes, he remained two shots behind a leading quartet of McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Danny Willett. Scott tore through the next five holes and took a one-shot lead into No. 18 on Watson. Scott’s approach landed on the slope but, stunningly, stayed out of the water. He got up and down to become the first since Lee Trevino in 1973 to win the two South Florida PGA events the same year.
10. The Crash of ’88, 1988 – Ben Crenshaw, four shots back when Sunday began, because the first to take a Doral event by birdying the last regulation hole. Lanny Wadkins’ brother Bobby led after each of the first three days, but had an all-time immolation one round from his first PGA Tour win. His 76 included double bogeys on Nos. 4 and 10 after shots swam with the fishes.