The most important figure in the world of golf right this minute is not who you think it might be.
Tiger Woods? No, although he does wield the most leverage. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem? No, although he probably wields the most power.
Would you believe ... Donald J. Trump?
Who else is expanding his reach in golf during the middle of disturbing, ongoing declines in participation and the number of courses being built?
Who else is investing in properties—in the game itself, really—during an industrywide recession from which there is no apparent relief?
Who else is bullish on golf and talking up the game in a downturn and then walking the walk by investing millions on special properties such as Doral and Doonbeg and his own original track in Scotland?
Take a bow, Donald.
The spotlight found our hero last week as an all-new Doral Blue Monster hosted the world's best players at the WGC--Cadillac Championships in windswept south Florida. It was big news that the Monster was essentially rebuilt by designer Gil Hanse with Trump looking over his shoulder. That's how the project went from a simple restoration to a renovation and, finally, to a dazzling new layout. Trump doesn't do anything small. Even he admits that he had to be reined in on this one.
The bigger news, though, was how Trump's army of worker bees got this massive task done in less than 12 months. Bulldozers were idling their engines while Woods held up the trophy a year ago, and starting on that very Sunday night the overhaul began. Lakes were dug, forests were cut down, green complexes were moved and grassed. Less than a year later everything was ready. That in itself is amazing.
Who could pull off something so grandiose in that amount of time? The Donald.
Sure, he's an easy target. Blame some of that on his notorious reality show and his dallying in presidential politics. Some believe he's a self-important blowhard, confusing his public persona with what it really is: the performance of a tireless and brilliantly effective promoter. Last week he stumped for Doral by mentioning to a captive media audience that "Ernie Els called it a masterpiece" and that "one of the magazines in Europe just named it one of the top 10 courses in the world" and how his crew moved "well over a million yards of earth" during the reconstruction, among other things.
Meanwhile, the resort's infrastructure is undergoing a transformation of its own. Some of the guest lodges have been remodeled, and they have gone from the outdated style of a 1960s elementary school to the baronial splendor of Louis XIV, a classic look that Trump loves to replicate. His new-age chandelier glitz fits perfectly in Miami, the true home of new-age chandelier glitz.
The new villas are named for famous golfers, including Woods and Gary Player. That's slightly classier than their previous designations—Lodge 1, Lodge 2.... Did Trump overdo it? Well, Rory McIlroy stayed in the Tiger Woods Villa, loaded with Tiger photos, and texted Woods to tell him, "I can't go to the bathroom without seeing you."
Golf needs Trump's money (whoever it belongs to) almost as much as his positive outlook. Golf is great in Trump's eyes. He loves it. He's a seriously good player himself, and he's doing this as much for the good of the game—Trump National New Jersey is hosting the 2017 U.S. Women's Open—as he is for investment purposes. Laugh if you want, but Trump National Doral, once the work is complete, will again be a hot golf destination. Doral hasn't been hot since the age of double knits and hard collars.
During a practice round McIlroy was stopped by officials as he walked toward the 9th green. The problem? The helicopter of a certain VIP was about to lift off nearby.
Rory waited as the chopper rose quickly and paused in the sky, perhaps to let Donald Trump survey his newest kingdom. Then it roared away toward the Atlantic and the looming Miami skyline.
Trump doesn't do anything small. Even he admits that he had to be reined in on this one.