Whether sponsored by Eastern or Ryder, computer software company CA or iconic car makers Ford or Cadillac, a star-fat PGA golf tournament came to Doral each spring since 1962.
The PGA is moving the annual event, most recently the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, from Doral to Mexico City. Why the PGA chose to uproot the tournament — a desire for more cash or less Donald Trump — remains in question. A PGA spokesman said tour commissioner Tim Finchem will be addressing the situation Wednesday afternoon.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that the PGA — after exploring a way to leave Donald Trump's Doral resort for another Miami location — last week sent a last-minute request to Miami-Dade's mayor: secure $6 million for the yearly golf tournament or we'll announce our move to Mexico.
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Gimenez on Wednesday described the request as essentially an exit announcement, since the call came Friday afternoon leading into a holiday weekend and the PGA planned to finalize the Mexico move on Tuesday.
"I said ‘I'm having a conversation with you on Friday at 3 o'clock on Memorial Day weekend and we've got until Tuesday?’" Gimenez said. "They were gone."
His account of a call with PGA Deputy Commissioner Jay Monahan offered a more complicated departure scenario for the PGA, with the mayor saying he was told Cadillac was still willing to sponsor the yearly tournament. But there was a gap between the Doral sponsorship dollars and the sponsorship package awaiting in Mexico City.
"It's a question of money," Gimenez said. "Cadillac was going to spend a certain amount. The people in Mexico are going to spend a certain amount. The gap, I guess, is $6 million."
Gimenez said he declined to pursue the money.
"Obviously, if there were trying for a long time, I didn't think I was going to have any success in getting a sponsor," he said. "Maybe the Donald Trump people, or Trump himself, could come up with more money. That's up to them.
"I'm very disappointed we're going to lose this tournament we've had over 50 years," he said.
A Cadillac spokesperson said “We were in talks with the PGA to renew our sponsorship, but weeren’t able to come to terms,” but “there are no active discussions at this time” for sponsoring other events.
For the first time, Gimenez also described an earlier effort by the PGA to move the tournament out of Trump's Doral resort and onto Key Biscayne. The talk followed Trump's harsh comments last summer about immigrants who enter the United States illegally from Mexico.
Amid the backlash, Gimenez returned a $15,000 donation from Trump to his mayoral reelection bid and Miami-Dade commissioners passed a resolution condemning the presidential candidate.
"There was a time when Donald Trump was kind of toxic, and maybe toxic to the PGA. They thought they may have difficulty in getting sponsors," Gimenez said. "At the time, they thought Cadillac was going to pull out. By moving the venue, they thought it would be easier to get sponsors and raise more money."
Gimenez said the PGA explored move the tournament to the county-owned Crandon golf course on Key Biscayne.
That's the same course Trump himself pursued two years ago in an effort to win a management deal there. His donation to Gimenez came during his pursuit, and Trump also had hired one of Gimenez's sons, C.J. Gimenez, for lobbying work outside the county. The younger Gimenez is also listed as a lobbyist for the PGA tournament itself in the city of Doral, but he said Wednesday his contract expired at the end of this year’s event.
Though he's the senior elected Republican in Miami-Dade, Mayor Gimenez has not endorsed Trump or said who he will vote for in the November election.
The PGA said in December that it would “explore all options regarding the event’s future” in the wake of Trump’s controversial proposal last year to ban Muslin immigrants from entering the United States. Outgoing World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship chairman Butch Buchholz said he did not know whether Trump’s comments were the primary reason why the PGA was unable to find a sponsor to replace Cadillac.
“Cadillac was going to leave,” Buchholz said. “It had nothing to do with Trump. They said they’re changing their whole marketing strategy. The tour had almost a year to find a replacement.”
Buchholz said the PGA informed him Tuesday night that it decided to leave South Florida because it couldn’t find a title sponsor to replace Cadillac. A Golf Channel report puts the Grupo Salinas conglomerate as the main sponsor.
“I believe they are sincere when they said they didn't want to leave an event with a 54 year history,” Buchholz said. “They've got an obligation to their board and they couldn't find a sponsor so they had to move. They don't have a choice. The PGA Tour didn't have a choice, If you don't have a sponsor what can you do?”
But the Trump Organization denied Cadillac pulled its sponsorship.
“We have an unbelievable relationship with Cadillac,” said Eric Trump, a son of Donald Trump. “We have an outside relationship with them. They provide vehicles to our hotels. Cadillac is ready, willing and able to continue as a title sponsor for the tour. They’re a great American company who continues to be a partner with our organization.”
Losing a title sponsor, whether of a sporting venue or event these days, defines common. Being unable to replace one, especially for a popular golf tournament with international reach and a half-century of history, defines uncommon. Even in the economically stretched times of 2009-10, the PGA signed lucrative sponsor agreements.
Now, the tournament seems headed on the other side of a border on which Trump declares he wants to build a wall.
In a statement released through The Trump Organization, Trump said, "It is a sad day for Miami, the United States and the game of golf, to have the PGA Tour consider moving the World Golf Championships, which has been hosted in Miami for the last 55 years, to Mexico. No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans who make the tournament an annual tradition. This decision only further embodies the very reason I am running for President of the United States."
Trump streamed out the news in the midst of a Tuesday night interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“I mean, I just heard that the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico as an example,” Trump said. “They’re taking it — it’s at Doral, it’s at — they used one of my places. They’re moving their tournament, it’s the Cadlillac World Golf Championship. And Cadillac’s been a great sponsor, but they’re moving it to Mexico. They’re moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance. But they’re moving it to Mexico City. And I’m saying, you know, what’s going on here? It is so sad when you look at what’s going on with our country.”
What’s sad to local golf fans is losing a tournament that drew the world’s best golfers to the resort’s Blue Monster course since the days when Doral consisted of a few businesses and fewer homes.
Hall of Famer Billy Casper, often underrated in the 1960s shadow of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, won the first (1962) and third (1964) tournaments, the second time by outlasting Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus won in 1972 and 1975 and finished second four times. That’s how many times Tiger Woods won at Doral, most memorably in a final round dual with Phil Mickelson.
With The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, the PGA enjoyed two weeks in South Florida during late February-early March as players began honing their game for The Masters. Trump bought the resort and, after the 2013 event, renovated the Blue Monster. Before the final round of this year’s tournament, Trump claimed the PGA event brought less money to the resort than a normal late winter week would.
Doral councilwoman Sandra Ruiz cast the lone dissenting vote on a March resolution asking the PGA to stay in Doral, but issued a statement Wednesday condemning the departure.
“The loss of the Doral PGA tournament is a huge blow to our community,” Ruiz’s statement read. “The tournament brought Doral millions of dollars that our residents and small businesses relied upon for income and opportunity. I believe we could have prevented this move had our Mayor (Luigi Boria) not handled this situation so poorly, by giving Trump a key to our City despite widespread community opposition. By not condemning his remarks, Mayor Boria has made it clear, that as Mayor of Doral he stands behind Donald Trump's divisive words -- and the PGA has responded in kind by leaving our city. As Councilwoman, I am requesting a meeting with the PGA and I will continue to do everything I can to let the PGA and the international business community know that Doral is a welcoming city, that is worthy of international investment.”
With the Miami Open on Key Biscayne also threatening to leave because it has been blocked legally from making renovations to the facility, Buchholz — who started that tennis tournament — believes South Florida likely will lose its two spring jewels.
“We are probably going to lose tennis and golf,” he said. “It's not great for your community. They contributed greatly to our community's enjoyment and fans.”
Top 10 moments of the Doral tournament
1. Tiger vs. Phil, 2005. Phil Mickelson went into the last day of The Ford Championship with a two-shot lead after Tiger Woods’ scorching third-round 63. Mickelson lost the lead when Tiger eagled 12, then tied it back up with birdies on 13 and 14. Tiger’s 30-foot birdie putt on 17 provided a one-shot lead that survived Phil’s chip around the lip on 18. It was a return for Tiger, both to Doral after two years of absence and to the top of the world golf rankings.
2. It’s in the hole! 2004. In a sudden death playoff with Scott Verplank, on what played as the PGA Tour’s toughest hole that year, Craig Parry stood 176 yards from the cup on the par-4 No. 18. Parry swatted a 6-iron that landed about 8 feet from the pin, then rolled in for a tournament-winning eagle.
3. Chip Ahoy, 1980: The setup doesn’t get much better: a sudden death playoff between Hall of Fame golfers Raymond Floyd and Jack Nicklaus. The payoff: Floyd holed a 23-foot chip to win the first of two consecutive Doral Eastern Open Invitational titles.
4. Great White Shark > Blue Monster, 1990: Greg Norman’s so known for majors collapses, it’s sometimes forgotten that he usually brought more game than shame on Sundays. Such as his final round 10-under 62 that tied the course record that got Norman into a playoff with Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia and Tim Simpson. Which Norman won with a 24-foot chip in on No. 1.
5. Phil Guts It Out, 2009 – If Nick Watney had been named “Tiger Woods,” this would rank right behind No. 1. Heat exhaustion and dehydration hospitalized Mickelson briefly Saturday night while he shared the lead with Watney. In the final round, the lead changed hands seven times in the first 11 holes. Watney’s final 30-foot putt on 18, like Mickelson’s 30-foot chip on 18 in 2005, just missed to leave Mickelson one shot ahead.
6. A Green-Bean playoff, 1986: On the fourth playoff hole, Andy Bean dropped an 8-foot putt to beat Hubert Green, who had held a two-shot lead with four holes left. Green said he was happy a birdie won it: “It wasn’t very good to see professional golfers scrambling around like we were doing, three-putting and hitting into water.”
7. An Almost Senior Moment, 1992 – Ray Floyd’s Biscayne Bay house had burned down two weeks before the 1992 Doral-Ryder Open. Floyd was 49, closer to the Senior Tour than his prime. But Floyd still had enough magic to come home eased up and still two shots better than good friend Fred Couples and Keith Clearwater.
8. Feels Like the First Time, 1962: Paul Bondeson nearly got his first PGA Tour win in the first Doral Country Club Open Invitational. Then, Billy Casper, four back with eight to go, shot by Bondeson five holes later with a birdie on 15 as Bondeson bogeyed. Casper won by a stroke.
9. Great Scott, 2016 -- Rory McIlroy held a three-shot lead over Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson going into Sunday. Scott double-bogeyed two of the first five holes. After nine holes, he remained two shots behind a leading quartet of McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Danny Willett. Scott tore through the next five holes and took a one-shot lead into No. 18 on Watson. Scott’s approach landed on the slope but, stunningly, stayed out of the water. He got up and down to become the first since Lee Trevino in 1973 to win the two South Florida PGA events the same year.
10. The Crash of ’88, 1988 – Ben Crenshaw, four shots back when Sunday began, because the first to take a Doral event by birdying the last regulation hole. Lanny Wadkins’ brother Bobby led after each of the first three days, but had an all-time immolation one round from his first PGA Tour win. His 76 included double bogeys on Nos. 4 and 10 after shots swam with the fishes.