Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Doral an enduring icon of South Florida sports

The Blue Monster course has drawn the world’s best golfers and legions of fans every spring since the first tournament in 1962.
The Blue Monster course has drawn the world’s best golfers and legions of fans every spring since the first tournament in 1962. Miami Herald Staff

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning that day in 1993 when a wrecking ball systematically crushed Miami’s greatest claim to boxing history, the famed, splendidly dilapidated, original 5th Street Gym where began the metamorphosis of a young Cassius Clay into the butterfly that stung like a bee. The Fight Doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, stood at my elbow as we watched plumes of chalky dust rise like old ghosts.

The same sort of emotional chord was struck when a few years later the venerable Orange Bowl Classic, the annual college football tradition, left its namesake Orange Bowl stadium for a newer home — a good, long marriage crumbling. In 2008 they demolished the old OB, too, rendering to rubble the repository for 70 years of memories.

Those things matter to some of us. The tradition and constancy found in our most iconic sports landmarks are things to cherish because they are South Florida touchstones. They let our history live and breathe, linking past, present and future.

That is why Doral matters. And of course “Doral,” to many of us, doesn’t refer to the city situated near Miami International Airport some 12 miles northwest of downtown.

Monster venue

Doral means golf — specifically the famed Blue Monster course that hosts an annual PGA Tour event, the latest edition, the 54th, running this Thursday through Sunday.

Only the annual Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, preparing for its 64th running, is a more enduring locale for an annual South Florida sports tradition.

The Derby is appreciated as a major precursor to horse racing’s Triple Crown season, but I might argue Doral’s place in golf lore is even greater. Only one course in America has hosted a tournament continually for longer than Doral’s 54 consecutive years:

Augusta, home of the Masters.

That’s it. Nobody else, nowhere else, has a longer uninterrupted run on the PGA Tour.

The world’s luckiest athletes — imagine playing golf for a living with a manservant carrying your clubs? — have toured the Blue Monster every spring since 1962, an era when a golfer in pistachio Sansabelt slacks drew no double-takes, a time before the Miami Dolphins existed. Billy Casper (who passed away just last month at 83) won that very first event, pocketing the then-gold-mountain sum of $9,000.

Money is what made Doral an instant attraction and established a footprint built to last. Polish immigrant Alfred Kaskel arrived in Miami in the late ’50s, bought 2,400 acres of far-flung swampland for $49,000, and built a golf resort he named after he and his wife. Doris and Al. Doral.

That inaugural tournament won by Casper offered a $50,000 total prize pot at a time when most other tournaments offered less than half of that.

Trump’s influence

Over the years the PGA Tour stop here has had nine different official names and six different corporate sponsors, from Eastern Airlines to (currently) Cadillac. The Blue Monster has undergone several tweakings or redesigns. In 2007 the event transitioned from a standard tour stop to become one of four prestigious World Golf Championships events.

Much has changed, but the umbrella has not: It’s always been Doral and the Blue Monster.

Now the caretaker of Kaskel’s dream is Donald Trump, whose company took over in 2011. The resort is now called Trump National Doral, and arriving fans can’t miss a helicopter emblazoned TRUMP, because The Donald was elsewhere closing a deal when God was handing out humility. With typical grandiose bluster, Trump has festooned and grown the tournament; this week’s auxiliary attractions include a Dolce & Gabbana fashion event and a concert by Carlos Santana.

The hub of it all has never changed, though: It still is the greatest golfers, in Miami every spring, accepting the challenge of Doral’s Blue Monster.

The event lucked to be born into an era that popularized golf like never before. In 1962 the majors were won by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, a sport blossoming before our eyes as black-and-white TV bloomed to color.

The PGA Tour in 2015 is harder to characterize. It is in transition. The era of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson is fading, replaced by degrees by a vanguard led by current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 2 Bubba Watson, the popular American. Mickelson, now No. 19, also will be here. In fact the field of 74 includes all top-50 ranked players

Tiger is not playing this week, and, although he is presently ranked No. 70 and last won a major in 2008, he remains a fan favorite always conspicuous by his absence.

Eras in sports peel gradually away like layers of an onion. The players are always changing. Everything is but this:

As winter segues to spring every year, the best golfers in the world and tens of thousands of fans make a pilgrimage to Doral’s Blue Monster and replenish a great and enduring Miami sports tradition.

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