The Decider…Doral’s Uncompromising 18th Hole
MIAMI, FL.—In 1962 when Doral came into being as a mega golf resort the main attention centered around two key elements—the amount of water in play and the demanding closer that provided the quintessential ending.
The Dick Wilson-designed course soon thereafter was labeled quite aptly “the Blue Monster.” In the years that followed, countless tournaments were often decided on this stellar hole.
Yet, as gains took place in ball and club technology the previous fears the hole instilled became less so.
That is now changed with the World Golf Championships—the Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral.
The present 476-yard par-4 was given a slight makeover when owner Donald Trump took over the property following the 2013 event. Trump wisely decided upon architect Gil Hanse—the man responsible for the 18-hole course being built in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics, golf’s first time back in the games since 1904.
Hanse increased the yardage slightly for the hole and several palm trees were added to the right side—a favorite position for players seeking to bailout and avoid water which hugs the entire left side of the drive zone.
The fairway pinches in at roughly 290 yards and the strongest of players can opt to take in the corner of this dog-leg left. Beyond the physical dimension required, the slightest mis-hit invariably means a watery death for one’s golf ball.
Complicating matters is the varying wind patterns that come into play in March in the greater Miami area. Generally, players encounter the concluding hole with a southerly blowing wind—either from the southeast or southwest. In either case that means a headwind which only adds to the intensity required for the tee shot. Even when the wind switches directions and is behind the player the demands are still present.
Hanse did not alter the approach shot players face—a daunting element because the green is protected on its left side by the same water faced off the tee. The putting surface is extremely deep—roughly 60 yards—so gauging the correct club is always a test when the wind is blowing. In addition to the depth of the green, the target is set on a slight angle from where a good tee shot comes to rest. Bunkers guard the far right and the more you err to that side the more the green runs away from the player towards the water.
After Thursday’s 1st round, the hole played to a whopping 4.603 stroke average—with only three birdies made. In 2014 only half the players found the fairway and when one misses to the right—you remain dry off the tee but the second shot only increases dramatically the demands faced. Bubba Watson hit a superlative approach shot in the 2012 event from the far right side with his ball finishing up less than 10 feet away for a birdie to tie leader Justin Rose. Watson unfortunately missed the putt.
“The drive is about ten yards wide and if you miss, then you’re looking at double-bogey,” said former world number one ranked Aussie Adam Scott who is playing for the first time on the PGA Tour this season. “It’s just such a tough tee shot. It’s probably the iconic hole of this golf course.”
In short, there’s no place to hide.
Amazingly, the hole can be a much easier three-shot hole but the demands for the world’s finest professionals isn’t about sacrificing their position in the tournament with a closing bogey. Forcing the issue under intense tournament pressure is something Hanse has brought back in a big time way. Golf train wrecks are not easy to watch but the concluding play at the Doral event will no doubt bring plenty of frustrations to the surface. Winning in Doral in years past was a badge of honor. A personal statement that the winner had indeed handled an extreme trial by fire.
That same feeling is now once again returned to center stage.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.