This week, the PGA Tour returns to a place that's been a staple on the schedule for years -- Doral. The only thing is, though, players may not recognize the new-look Blue Monster.
In 2012, Donald Trump acquired the property that hosts the WGC-Cadillac Championship and hired designer Gil Hanse to go in and make extensive changes to the course that had lost its bite over the years. Remarkably, all of this work was started after the 2013 tournament ended and completed before this week.
Based on everything we've heard, the renovations have given the Blue Monster its teeth back. Before the start of the tournament, we caught up with Trump National Doral PGA Head Professional Cory Head for a Q&A to hear about the changes.
PGA.com: Donald Trump acquired Doral in 2012 and has since hired Gil Hanse to make improvements to the property. For those of us watching on TV this week, will we recognize the course at all?
Head: While so many things have undergone an exciting transformation, you will still recognize the great course the Blue Monster has always been. Some of the signature features and holes are still very prevalent throughout the layout. You'll still notice the lush landscape throughout, the many varieties of palm trees that line the fairways and create an incredible visual for the player, and not to be forgotten the great 18th finishing hole.
One of the most significant changes in the golf course came by way of layout and elevation changes. Gil Hanse and Mr. Trump did an excellent job collaborating and creating spectacular viewing areas throughout the golf course. While this was achieved they where also able to add a lot of character to what was always a very flat layout. This will not only be great for the spectators, but also present some very thought provoking tee shots for the players.
The complete redesign took a great golf course and made it spectacular, the only way Mr. Trump knows how to do it! Everything Mr. Trump is involved in comes out incredible, and Trump National Doral is nothing short of incredible.
PGA.com: So far, the "new" Doral has received rave reviews. What specific change on the course sticks out most to you?
Head: As I mentioned before, the elevation changes and spectator view points are some of the most notable additions to the golf course. he elevation changes combined with the strategically placed bunkering will offer a true test of golf to even the most experienced golfer. The Blue always had water in play, but Mr. Trump wanted more. Mr. Trump and Gil Hanse where able to create and enlarge some of the lakes around the golf course to create some of the most exciting and scenic golf holes in South Florida.
One of the most notable you will see is the newly redesigned drivable par-4 16th. This hole is the the first of three exciting finishing holes. A tee shot that requires a carry of 285 yards+ to reach the green and a wide array of deep bunkers that surround the landing area in the fairway are what truly exemplify a "Risk-Reward" tee shot. This could turn out to be one of the most exciting holes during the tournament if the leaders are all together.
One bad shot could cost you the tournament, before you ever get to the famed 18th. The thought, creativity, and amazing vision that Mr. Trump and Gil Hanse had for this golf course are what truly make this golf course second second to none.
PGA.com: Is there any player with a decided advantage at the new Doral? For instance, Tiger Woods dominated for so long by overpowering the course. Is the Blue Monster still a place that rewards the big hitters? Or, is it more of a strategic set up?
Head: I truly feel that this year is going to be an amazing test of golf to the world's top players. I don't think anyone has a distinct advantage, because everything is brand new and much better than before.
The tour players are going to have to study hard to figure out what way the putts break, take into consideration how the new green complexes change the way they approach the greens, and see what is the best way to approach the course based on their style of play. This will be extremely difficult considering the devastating rough and the ever changing weather conditions. While the course was lengthened almost 400 yards, it is not one that can be overpowered. It's going to take a fine balance of power and finesse to tame the newly redesigned Blue Monster.
PGA.com: Over the last several years, the winning score at Doral has been in the high teens under par. Do you see that happening this year with the improvements?
Head: I would expect that winning score to be significantly lower (higher in relation to par) than in years past. With little course knowledge, additional yardage, and newly redesigned layout I feel like the players will have to remain focused in order to score. Great shots will be rewarded, but make no mistake, the penalty for a lack in respect/focus for this golf course will cost you dearly if you are not careful.
PGA.com: What has it been like for you to see such a change happen in such a short amount of time?
Head: Mr. Trump had a vision when he first became the owner of Trump National Doral back in June of 2012 -- return Doral to its original grandeur and restore the golfing worlds faith that this is the world's best golf destination.
In order to do this, he set out with a very aggressive renovation plan, so aggressive many thought it was unachievable. Let me tell you this, Mr. Trump is a visionary and is the best at what he does and Doral has turned out spectatular in short period of time. Being at Doral for the past seven years, it was special to watch the transformation take place. Every aspect of the resort is being upgraded and the attention to detail while doing this has been motivating for all of us that work there. Everyday that I go into work, I feel truly inspired to do the absolute best that I can. This is what makes working for the Trump organization extremely satisfying.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.