In a slumping economy and shifting marketplace, it's no small feat when a corporate-sponsored sports event lasts five decades.
But that's the story at Doral, where this week marks the 50th edition of the PGA Tour's annual stop, now dubbed the WGC-Cadillac Championship. It's the third-longest running Tour event, behind the Masters and the Colonial. The tournament - and its venue - have evolved dramatically over the years, but both have stayed true to their roots.
That Doral narrative begins with the husband-and-wife team of Alfred and Doris Kaskel, who built a fortune as New York developers before seeking out a piece of land in South Florida for a golf course. In 1959 they purchased a boggy, undeveloped 2,400-acre plot to create their vision of a world-class country club.
"Ever see photos of the Everglades?" says Ryan Hershberger, a golf manager at Doral and the resort's resident historian. "It originally looked like that."
The Kaskels named their new development "Doral," a combination of the names Doris and Alfred (Alfred, pictured at right, is said to have joked that he wanted to name it "Al-Doro," but it was his wife who called the shots.) The Kaskels were not only wealthy and ambitious, but also connected. Renowned architect Dick Wilson was brought in to design the first 36 holes, which today are the Blue Monster and the resort's Red Course. It wasn't long before family friends Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason became frequent guests at the new Doral County Club. Soon a whole city began cropping up around the resort, and in 1962, the PGA Tour decided to move its annual Miami event to Doral. Billy Casper won that inaugural tournament, which was called the Doral Country Club Open Invitational, and pocketed a cool $9,000. (The $50,000 purse was the highest ever at that time.)
The event has provided many great moments, including Greg Norman's Sunday 62 in 1990 which led to a playoff win, and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson's Sunday shootout in 2005, when Woods prevailed by one. Jack Nicklaus won this event twice. Raymond Floyd and Greg Norman match Woods with three titles. There's some serious history here.
There's also, of course, a resort, and it's a fine destination for folks who love a spa and a good round of golf. Doral has sunk more than $100 million into renovations over the years, and today the resort boasts 693 suites and five championship golf courses. The latest big additions are a trendy new lobby bar, the Bossa Nova, and a Latin-themed steakhouse, Mesazul. Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Jim McLean runs his golf school right off the driving range. While this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Tour stop, they're waiting until next year to throw a big 50th anniversary bash for the resort. Alfred and Doris would probably be quite pleased.
As for the tournament, Billy Casper's $9,000 winner's check from '62 is ancient history. The 2011 champion will snare $1.4 million out of an $8.5 million purse.
Now that's progress. (Images courtesy of Doral Resort)