MIAMI -- The great history of Doral Golf Resort & Spa, a Marriott Resort, continues to play out right before our eyes on TV.
The battle between Tiger and Phil in 2005; Craig Parry's eagle hole-out on No. 18 to win a playoff in 2004; Greg Norman's chip-in on No. 1 to end a four-way playoff in 1990 -- the memories go on and on.
Only Colonial Country Club in Texas and Augusta National have hosted the PGA Tour pros longer than Doral's storied TPC Blue Monster. This year, the Cadillac Championship -- a World Golf Championship in March -- promises to be even more special. The iconic resort celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2012.
Way back in 1959, Doris and Alfred Kaskel had a vision for acres of swampland in west Miami. The Doral Hotel and Country Club -- named from a combination of their names -- opened in 1962, welcoming golfers to a new clubhouse and the Blue, Red and Par 3 golf courses. That same year, the Kaskels hosted the Doral Open Invitational, Florida's first PGA event, benefiting the American Cancer Society. A tradition was born.
Doral has had its ups and downs over the past five decades. Some might call its current state a downward trend. The resort continues to operate in bankruptcy after its owner forfeited on a bond payment. Donald Trump remains in negotiations to buy Doral, with the exception of the Great White Course.
Amazingly, even through this uncertain time, Doral looks better than it has in years. There's a bigger commitment to top conditioning year-round at all five courses, not just tournament week on the Blue Monster. A $16 million renovation added elements previously missing and upgraded others in 2009.
Doral isn't getting any younger, but she's doesn't look like an old maid anymore.
The resort life at Doral
Doral's Miami address has always been its biggest selling point for guests. It's just a short seven-mile cab ride from the Miami International Airport to the resort, set on 650 acres smack in the middle of today's urban sprawl.
The nightlife of South Beach can feel like a bit of a haul (about 30-40 minutes away), but resort staff aren't shy about recommending it. They know, at some point, guests will eventually tire of all the late-night shenanigans and stick to the new comforts of the resort.
The renovation beefed up Doral's inadequate dining scene, no pun intended. The patio at the Champions Sports Bar & Grill remains a great spot after golf but not the place for a special meal. The new Latin-inspired Mesazul Steakhouse fills that void, giving off the classy vibe of a big-city restaurant with a great selection of saucy steaks, lobster pot pie and more.
The Brazilian Bossa Nova lobby bar cooks up a more casual setting with a tappas menu that serves excellent pizzas, mini-burgers and fun appetizers. Diners can hang out and munch while a live band or musician entertains the crowd.
Away from the action of Miami's guilty pleasures, a redesigned Spa at Doral offers more European-designed treatments in a classic Italian villa setting. More relaxation comes at the adult-only outdoor pool nearby. Separate chambers of cold cascading waterfalls feel revitalizing after a night on the town or a hot day of golf. This peaceful spot was purposely designed far from the family pool and 125-foot waterslide of the Blue Lagoon and Camp Doral. The spa's partnership with the Pritikin Longevity Centre has increased its emphasis on healthy living.
Should Trump ultimately buy Doral, he's promised $150 million in upgrades, a necessity for some of its 693 guest rooms, including 73 suites, spread out among 10 lodges. Covered walkways connect these lodges to the main clubhouse building -- home to the restaurants, a sprawling golf pro shop on the lower level and the newly renovated, state-of-the-art fitness center. Seven tennis courts reside on property.
Golf at Doral Resort
Celebrities and stars flock to take on Doral. When I was there last November, Urban Meyer walked off the 18th green and drove by in a cart.
Be warned that playing the Blue Monster won't wow you aesthetically. It's relatively flat, and the noise from the nearby gun range and the airplanes overhead hardly paint a picture of 'serenity, now.' Still, there's no doubting the bite of this original Dick Wilson design. After the first two holes, players will have their hands full with score-bruising bunkers, water hazards and gnarly Bermuda rough.
'This course is all aerial and knowledge,' Doral Resort Head Golf Professional Cory Head said.
Strong holes skirt trouble at every turn. The sweeping, par-4 third and the waterlogged par 5s at No. 8 and 10 come to mind. What's most interesting is the 245-yard, par-3 12th rates harder on the handicap than the more-famous, 467-yard 18th.
'It's not the most memorable course, but it is rock, rock solid. I like it more every time I play it,' said Doral General Manager Paige Koerbel.
Noted instructor Jim McLean, who still runs Doral's golf school after all these years, revamped the silver course -- now called the Jim McLean Signature Course at Doral -- in 2009. The McLean will always be the resort's stepchild since it is off property.
McLean softened contours and added subtle touches. The signature stretch, 'The Bermuda Triangle,' delivers tough par 4s at No. 13 and 15, sandwiched around a par 3 with an island green at No. 14.
Greg Norman did a similar upgrade to his Great White Course in 2006, although on a smaller scale, by revamping two holes and reworking bunkers. It's puzzling why Trump wouldn't want the second-best course at Doral.
The crushed-shell cart paths and swaying palms give the Great White some sex appeal compared to Doral's other more traditional Florida layouts. New TifEagle Bermuda grass greens highlight the recent changes on the Great White (opened in 2000) and the Gold Course. Next in line for a makeover is Doral's Red Course. But that will wait for another day and a new owner.
Darrin Helfrick, the resort's golf general manager, said Doral has a bright future.
'Everyone (who has offered to buy Doral) has talked about $30-$35 million dollars in upgrades. That's rooms, golf, hotel,' he said. 'Either way, we are excited for the sale to happen.'
In the meantime, Doral will celebrate its milestone birthday like it always has -- by rolling out the red carpet for the greatest players in the world.