DORAL, Fla. – In a counterintuitive development that is unique to golf, somewhere along the line “harder” became synonymous with “better.”
Those who build golf courses and run tournaments will tell you that the development of oversized club heads and nuclear infused golf balls begat longer and more difficult courses, not vice versa, and perhaps that’s true – to a point.
Where that logic becomes twisted is at PGA Tour stops like this week at Doral, where Donald Trump is set to unveil a bigger, meaner Blue Monster at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Under the guiding hand of Gil Hanse, an understated and inspired choice considering The Don’s propensity for the grandiose, the iconic South Florida layout has been given a complete nip/tuck.
“It’s definitely a different Doral,” said Justin Rose, who won the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship. “It is an entirely new golf course.”
“We are playing a brand new golf course,” figured Jason Day, winner of the last World Golf Championship two weeks ago at Dove Mountain.
But as the new paint dried and players started taking closer looks at the redesign, one common theme has emerged. “It’s going to be tougher, I can tell you that,” Billy Horschel said.
On paper, the new Doral is only about 150 yards longer than the old version, but the added real estate is only a part of the larger picture at The Donald’s new and improved Doral.
If Raymond Floyd’s infamous redesign of the Blue Monster in 1996 turned the layout into a sandbox, Hanse seemed intent to create a pond this time around. The 15th hole, for example, has been transformed into virtually an island green, while the expansion of the practice tee has made Nos. 8, 9 and 10 the epitome of target golf.
So, the question remains. Does harder equal better?
“I’ll tell you after the week,” Day smiled.
Perhaps Doral needed a makeover. Over the last half decade the Blue Monster has ranked squarely in the middle of the pack in difficulty on Tour (from a high of 39th in 2009 to 31st last year). And with Trump the status quo just won’t do.
“I would say that we're trying to get the Blue Monster sort of back to living up to its name,” said Rose, who walked nine holes with Hanse during a practice round last year at Doral to talk about the changes. “To me, the golf course, the Blue Monster, really only relates to the 18th hole in my opinion before.”
But then there was no cry to make Doral’s 18th hole harder. The par 4 ranked as the sixth toughest among all non-major holes last year on Tour and was the second hardest overall in 2012. Yet Trump & Co. had no problem adding a few new touches to the closer, including additional yardage and a collection of palm trees down the left.
“It’s a 300-yard carry over the water now (at No. 18),” said Day, who arrived at Doral last Friday to prepare. “That’s not including the wind. They have added mounds to the right there with a lot more trees . . . you really have to kind of hit a good shot down 18.”
As part of the redesign, officials said they planned to tone down some of the not-so-subtle slopes on the greens, but according to multiple players that’s not necessarily the case and Rose referred to the new putting surfaces as “busy.”
That combined with normally hard greens after a redesign and the inevitable South Florida winds seem likely to produce the toughest scoring conditions since the World Golf Championship moved to Doral in 2007.
Which returned most players to one of the most fundamental questions facing golf, is a harder course necessarily a better course?
“Not always, no,” Rose allowed. “Augusta (National), for example, you have a lot of slope in those greens and if you hit the right shot, the ball feeds close and if you miss your spot you’re left with a really tough two-putt or an impossible up and down. . . . I’m hoping that will be what this course dose.”
For this week’s event, Rose said he threw out his old Doral yardage books. Let’s hope officials didn’t throw out common sense with the redesign.