You closed your eyes and it was the noise that struck you. There was so little. You heard a crow cawing overhead, the distant thrum of a maintenance man mowing. You heard the wind.
You opened your eyes and it was what you didn’t see that was jarring. No giant metal bleachers, TV towers or leaderboards rising across the emerald acres. No parade of PGA Tour stars striding imperially ahead of their bag-toting caddies. No fans.
Sentiment drove me to visit Doral and its famed Blue Monster course on Wednesday. We’ve known this was coming since last summer, but I wanted to see what the reality of it felt like.
A World Golf Championships event should be playing its first round on Thursday, making Doral and Greater Miami the epicenter of the sport. The place should have been packed for Wednesday’s pro-am round as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and fellow stars like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson got in their final tinkering.
Instead, after 55 consecutive years as an annual fixture on the PGA Tour, Miami is invisible. There had been a tournament on the Blue Monster every year at this time since 1962 — since before we’d ever heard the name Joe Robbie or uttered the phrase “Miami Dolphins” — but now there is only a void.
“It’s a shame,” said Doral’s former tournament director, a now-tournament-less Butch Buchholz.
This is what civic loss looks like.
Just one year earlier unsmiling Secret Service agents ringed a roped-off driving range because then-candidate Donald J. Trump was at the resort he has owned and has festooned with his name since 2013. The pros on the range tried to concentrate amid the carnival as a sea of thousands of golf fans parted to let through Trump, in a golf cart, in a red “Make America Great Again” cap.
Doral’s history and tradition went out not with a whisper but with cymbals and brass, say that much.
On Wednesday, no security ropes cordoned off that same driving range. No need. A handful of golfers, a few taking lessons, were on its far end. I waited for the first to finish. It happened to be a visitor from Canada, Gabriel Durand, 46. I asked him if it seemed odd there was no tournament going on this week.
“What tournament is that?” he asked.
Fifty-five years of history disappeared, and it’s almost as if it never happened. Only one tournament — The Masters at Augusta — enjoys a longer continuous run on the same course than the Blue Monster had. Now one of Miami’s great annual postcard-advertisement events is past.
Pardon the nostalgia of this, but it’s the time for a little of that in South Florida sports.
This week, we said a ceremonial farewell to the longtime former Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope, who passed away in January at 88 but Tuesday was given a Miami celebration that drew hundreds of luminaries and fans — and a mayoral proclamation of “Edwin Pope Day.”
Pope arrived in Miami just a few years before the Tour took up what seemed permanent residence at Doral. But nothing is forever, alas. Didn’t they raze the Orange Bowl?
The Pope era ended and then so did a Doral/PGA Tour marriage christened in 1962 when chubby Billy Casper won that very first tournament. I wish Pope was here to ask if he recalled that. It seems almost anyone of note won here, Nicklaus and Trevino to Tiger and Phil.
This week, our tournament is teeing off instead in Mexico City, of all places.
The PGA Tour officially dumped Doral for the lack of a title sponsor to replace departing Cadillac, but the talk only began after Trump’s disparaging remarks against Mexicans in 2015. If the move to Mexico was a well-aimed slap at Trump, it is Miami feeling the sting. A typical week of the pros at Doral generated about $25 million of spending across Miami-Dade County.
The PGA Tour has expressed an interest in returning to Miami and Doral “when the time is right,” said outgoing commissioner Tim Finchem.
And while we’re at it, to the annual Miami Open pro tennis event on Key Biscayne:
That men’s and women’s “fifth major” has been a fixture at Crandon Park Tennis Center since 1985 but sees its future in doubt following the 2017 event that begins March 20. A $50 million renovation that would keep the tourney here would be privately funded in an overhaul overwhelmingly approved by 73 percent in a referendum. But pointless litigation continues to stand in the way.
Our signature golf event left us. Will tennis follow?
There might as well have been tumbleweeds rolling across the Blue Monster on Wednesday. Let’s hope that something else gone missing won’t someday leave Key Biscayne feeling just as empty.