The Trump golf empire just got even more grandiose. Donald Trump, America's favorite boss, is the proud new owner of Florida's Doral Resort and Spa.
You probably didn't know The Donald was such a bargain shopper. Morgan Stanley paid $501 million to purchase Doral in 2007. Trump is getting the place for only $150 million, although he's going to spend at least that much on renovation and restoration. He's already hired golf course architect Gil Hanse to put the teeth back into Doral's famed Blue Monster, which has hosted a PGA Tour event annually since 1952.
For the money, Trump gets the 700-room Doral resort, its ballroom and meeting rooms, its spa, and four golf courses. Trump is so pleased with his new property that he fielded my call on Monday. Here's the Q&A, although it's mostly A –it's hard to get a word in edgewise with the energetic, fast-talking Trump.
Tell me about this deal. It sounds like you're robbing these guys blind if you're paying only $150 million.
You can write that, but I didn't say it. Basically, Doral is 800 acres smack in the middle of Miami, a phenomenal piece of land. There's no land in Miami, and this is a big piece. There's no place else in Miami where you could have a pro tournament. The Blue Monster has always been a great course; it's one of the players' favorites. The tournament is such an important event. It's got the top 72 players. Outside of the majors, it's right there. It's the third-oldest tournament on tour, I'm told, behind Colonial and Augusta.
This year is its 50th anniversary.
Really, the Blue Monster has a chance to be really great again when it's fixed. Wait til you see it. Maybe for your second story, we'll show you what we're going to do. We've already designed it. I took a chance on nobody else being able to outbid me … I signed a contract, what they call a "stalking horse," which means I had the right of first refusal. It's very expensive to go into a property like this. By the time you hire a law firm and do the due diligence, you're in for $2 million. And if Trump is going to outbid you, you're going to lose the $2 million on top of the millions you'd have to pay me, as the stalking horse, for the privilege of signing the contract. I went in, there were 18 other bidders who wanted it, but nobody wanted to go against me.
Why am I not surprised?
I'm a plus-five at this stuff. Other people are plus-five at golf, but this is what I do for a living. Even I'm a little bit surprised I got it for $150 million. So here's the good news: I got it. I will spend another $150 on making it great. Everybody has made money on Doral over the years. The first group bought it for $200 million, then sold it for $300 million. The group that bought it for $300 million sold it for $400 million. Then Morgan Stanley bought it for $501 million and, on top of that, built a $50 million ballroom. Then the Lehman Brothers collapse and a lot of other bad things happened. That ballroom is really big but totally unnecessary. I'm getting it for free, but I wouldn't have spent 10 cents on it. So they built this big room, they're in for $550 million, and they decide, we can't spend any more. So they never fixed up the rooms or put money into the courses. Can you believe it? So the game starts all over again now; it's like a game of musical chairs.
You're probably pretty good at musical chairs.
I'll be a good caretaker. I don't buy and sell. With me, it'll be in the family for many years to come, and that's good for golf, which is what you care about.
It makes a big difference having an owner who is someone who knows golf like you do, versus a bunch of bankers. I've covered that tournament since 1990, and a few years ago I quit staying at the resort because the rooms had gone downhill.
You might not stay there this year, either, but after that, we'll do an incredible job. We'll gut those rooms and redo them. The villas are beautiful, but with those stucco walls, forget it.
You obviously want to keep the Tour event there.
Yeah, we just signed a five-year extension. It's a big course, it can hold a big crowd. The 18th hole, they say, is the best finishing hole in golf. It's gotta be close, don't you agree?
There has been a lot of drama and exciting finishes there over the years, you can't argue that.
It's a hooking problem with the water on the left. A fading problem isn't as much trouble for the pros. For amateurs, a fading problem would be much worse.
Are you going to rename the resort?
I haven't made that determination. The name Doral will be in it in some form. My courses are all really successful. I don't know if you know my Palm Beach one…
I covered the LPGA event that was there several times. During the PGA at Baltusrol, I played your course in Bedminster.
We just got the Women's U.S. Open at that one, which is phenomenal. [Editor's Note: USGA representatives say nothing is official, yet.] The one in Florida is great. One of the other things I'll be having is a brand new Sikorsky helicopter that'll go between my course in Palm Beach and my course in Miami. I'm totally sold out in Palm Beach. That place is a real success. Having helicopter service between them will be fantastic. We're going to spend a lot of money and bring Doral to the highest levels of golf. I think it's the best location in the country. Miami is hot as a pistol.
Doral is an iconic name, a place you dreamed of playing once upon a time until they kind of let that slide. It's not iconic like Pinehurst anymore, but there's no reason it can't be again.
What do you think of keeping the name?
You've got to keep the name in the title somewhere. You've got so many properties now, you need Doral in the name to identify it from your other courses.
They're separated by the location. Trump International Bedminster. Trump National New York, Philadelphia. But somehow the Doral name, you just can't kill that sucker. It's just a great name, it's got all that history.
How much have you played the courses?
I've played the Blue Monster many times. I haven't played the others. We'll fix the others, too, but that's down the road a few years. I might not have the Blue Monster ready by next year. The 15th hole, the par 3, we're going to make that into an island green. It's sort of a boring par 3 now. The first hole, we're going to make longer, almost 100 yards.
Have you ever had any adventures on 18?
I've had a lot of adventures in the water on 18. I'm strong, so I tend to hook the ball, not fade it. I've played the Blue Monster many times. I think it's great. It's amazing that we have so much land, and there are no houses on the course, which you'd think there would be in Miami. You can't have greatness with houses. The Blue Monster is on 350 acres. For a great course, you usually need 180 acres. And we've got 350 for this one.
The Gold Course there used to be almost as tough as the Blue, and a lot of guys liked to play that.
What did you think of the White Course that Greg Norman did?
They spiced it up so they could justify jacking the price up. It was a boring and pretty easy track before, and the greens fee was relatively low. They wanted to charge $230 or whatever, so they had to jazz it up.
People don't like that stuff. They don't like the shells. It ruins their clubs. The balls bounce off that stuff like concrete.
Norman is known for designing difficult courses. Is the Silver course still there?
I bought that. That's included. It' s called the McLean Course now. Tom Fazio did it. It's a very tough course. The White Course may be gone, it may not. I have options. That's very valuable land that could be developed, which might be better than having one average course. So you think I made a good deal?
Are you shocked by the number?
Yes. You paid less than a third of what it was sold for five years ago. Even though you've got to spend a lot to fix it up, that's a stunning number.
I'm going to make this course great. If you say that in your article, I'll make it true. I do that. You look at Bedminster; there's nothing better. You look at the course I built in Palm Beach. I'm sold out on every one of my courses. I love land.
You're the one-man answer to the golf recession.
Well, I've helped. I've taken courses in real trouble … that in many cases didn't have the money to keep them up. I bought one next to Pine Valley. Tom Fazio did it, it was named best new course 12 years ago by the golf magazines. It had 90 members, and within two months after I bought it, it had 350 members because I fixed it up and changed the name to Trump National Philadelphia. It's been great. I do good with this stuff. It's not my primary business, maybe thank goodness. I'm good for golf, Gary, what can I tell you?