If not Doral, where? Players pick favorite courses

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. – To be clear, the new and infused Blue Monster at Doral is not going to be winning any popularity contests among the play-for-pay types.

Don’t take our word for it.

“I can't stand the golf course,” Bubba Watson said last week. “It's way too tough for me.”

And J.B. Holmes, after a particularly bad bounce on the first hole during Friday’s second round, was equally critical, “It's pretty bad that you can hit two perfect shots and the ball can go in the water because of just a ridiculous green design that’s really just terrible.”

That Watson and Holmes finished third and second, respectively, on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship is an indication of how deep the discontent with course runs. A large number of Tour frat brothers have offered even less measured assessments of TPC Trump.

There were even rumors last week that the severity of Gil Hanse’s redesign may lead some players to skip the Cadillac in the future, although it’s status as a World Golf Championships event with no cut and guaranteed money would make that unlikely.

In fact, in a wildly unscientific poll of Tour players this week, Doral was ranked alongside dental surgery as a means to kill a few hours. In a hypothetical exercise, your scribe asked a half dozen players what schedule they would play if the golf course, not an event’s status as a major or WGC, was the only consideration.

“Memorial (Muirfield), Colonial, Quail Hollow, Riviera, TPC Sawgrass, Hilton Head (Harbour Town), Pebble, Phoenix (TPC Scottsdale), Hartford (TPC River Highlands), Tampa (Innisbrook), Augusta ... Akron (Firestone), Crooked Stick, because it’s in my home state, and (TPC) Boston and East Lake,” said Bo Van Pelt with surprisingly little prompting.

Brandt Snedeker’s “dream schedule” would include similar stops, Augusta National for the Masters, Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage, East Lake for the Tour Championship, but there were exceptions.

Doral was not on Snedeker’s list. Doral wasn’t on anyone’s list.

“I do a pretty good job playing where I want to play, but sometimes it’s travelling, sometimes scheduling plays a big role in it,” Snedeker said. “If you have five great events in a row, you can’t play them all. Memphis (TPC Southwind) is a great golf course, but it’s the week before the U.S. Open.”

With the exception of Jason Bohn, no one mentioned Bay Hill, which hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational, any of their must-play lists.

In fact, some of those polled didn’t include Augusta National, pointing out that the golf course now plays much more difficult following a series of alterations in recent years.

That’s not to say players have anything against a difficult golf course.

“I play the Honda; it eats me alive, but it’s a high-quality test of golf,” Bohn said.

But it’s telling that some of the Tour stops that don’t draw the best fields - stops like Harbour Town, Colonial, TPC River Highlands and this week’s event at Innisbrook - nonethless showed up on every player’s wish list, while more high-profile stops like Doral and Torrey Pines don’t enjoy the same universal support.

Despite an impressive bump in field quality for this year’s event – five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are playing the Valspar Championship – the event traditionally struggles to attract top players. Still, it was included on every player’s “dream” list.

“It’s all based on golf course,” Bohn said. “All the golf courses I like are traditional-style golf courses that yield to shot making, tournaments where low scoring is not guaranteed to win. Harder and shorter, because I’m older.”

Lists also varied from player to player depending on individual styles. A player like David Toms, who won a PGA Championship on the strength of his wedge play, tends to steer clear of sprawling ballparks like Doral and Bay Hill.

“There’s not that many left for me and the type of player that I am,” said Toms, who rattled off a predictably short list of favorite venues - Colonial, Harbour Town, Innisbrook and Pebble Beach.

“Length is such a factor now, you saw it last week. You had the best players in the world and there were only a handful that could have won that golf tournament. It’s a small list for sure.”

By contrast, Lee Westwood – who ranks among the Tour’s top third in driving distance – would look elsewhere to expand his schedule given the opportunity.

“There would be the odd exemptions," he said. "I’d probably play Torrey Pines a bit more often. That seems to suit me.”

Based on exit polling on Sunday at Doral the new Blue Monster suits few but don’t expect a collective schedule overhaul anytime soon. It is, after all, a WGC.