PGA Tour's future uncertain at Trump Doral

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DORAL, Fla. – Donald Trump was a distraction at golf tournaments even before he was running for president.

Go back 15 years when the LPGA Tour's final event was held at Trump International in West Palm Beach. It was bad enough that Trump walked down the middle of the fairways like he owned the place (which he did). In the second round, Karrie Webb hit a tee shot on the par-3 seventh that was short of the green and tumbling toward the water when light rough held it up.

Trump, who thinks golf isn't great unless it's hard, said that while Webb was a great player, that shot should have gone in the water. That night, his maintenance staff shaved the banks so severely that green spray paint was used to cover a few splotches of bare dirt.

Two years ago at Doral, Rory McIlroy hit 4-iron into the par-3 ninth during a practice round when he was asked to hold his position. Turns out The Donald was ready to leave, and his helicopter was parked near the walkway toward the green. McIlroy could only smile amid the roar of rotors and gusts as the helicopter took off.

At least it was a practice round. Trump caused an even bigger stir when his helicopter had players backing off shots at Turnberry in the first round of the Women's British Open last year.

Is he bad for golf?

Not at all.

But he might turn out to be bad for Doral, which has been part of the Florida swing longer than any other PGA Tour event.



Trump has been scooping up properties from Scotland to Dubai, from Los Angeles to New York and Florida, for more than a decade. They are good courses, enough that majors from three tours will be held on them over the next six years - the 2017 U.S. Women's Open and 2022 PGA Championship at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey, and the 2017 Senior PGA Championship at Trump National in Potomac Falls, Virginia.

Whether those championships will be played at his courses is still to be determined. The PGA of America last year canceled its Grand Slam of Golf at Trump's course in Los Angeles shortly after his comments about Mexican immigrants when Trump announced his candidacy.

The other golf organizations tried their best to say as little as possible, waiting to see how his bid for the GOP nomination would play out. Odds are none of them saw Trump winning primaries, leading in the polls and gaining momentum going into Super Tuesday.

What now?

Of immediate concern is the World Golf Championship at Doral this week. The helipad was vacant on Tuesday and likely will remain that way for most of the week, although PGA Tour officials have been told that Trump is likely to make an appearance at some point, most likely on Sunday.

This is the first time the top three players in the world - Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and McIlroy - have competed in the same event since September. That won't create a fraction of the buzz as when The Donald drops in.

That's not the problem, however.

Doral has been a popular part of the PGA Tour since 1962, and this could very well be the last one.

No one saw this coming in 2012 when Trump added Florida's most famous golf resort to his portfolio. He poured $250 million into the resort and had Gil Hanse redo the Blue Monster to make it more dramatic by bringing water into play more than it already was. It also has become too great an advantage for the long hitters, perhaps more than any other course on tour. Look at the top six from last year - Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.

Not everyone loves the redesign. That's nothing new, and it's not the issue.

It's Trump as a presidential candidate, and the bombastic dialogue that has become a staple of his campaign, which makes the future in Miami look bleak.

The PGA Tour has a contract with Doral through 2023, although there is a provision that a new title sponsor would have the right to take the tournament somewhere else. Cadillac is in the final year of its title sponsorship and is not going to renew.

The task is to find a new sponsor that doesn't mind the sideshow that Trump brings to a tournament.

If a new sponsor doesn't want to be at Trump Doral, there are not many other options in Miami with the property that can handle size of a World Golf Championship. The tour has looked at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, a strong public course that once hosted a senior event. But with only one road to the course, that might not be practical.

The end of the PGA Tour in Miami? Now that's a distraction.