Donald Trump Stakes a Claim on South Florida
by suzanne mcgee
With the acquisition and complete overhaul of the Trump National Doral Miami, Donald Trump continues to solidify his already sizeable presence in South Florida.
Donald Trump, in front of his exclusive Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, one of numerous properties the developer owns in South Florida.
There’s no doubt in Donald Trump’s mind that if you build it, they will come. The veteran real estate developer, whose exploits building grand resorts, luxury offices, and condominium and hotel towers nationwide have—in conjunction with his television series The Apprentice—made him a household name far beyond the real estate industry, these days is throwing much of his attention and effort into the renovation of the former Doral Golf Resort & Spa. Home to one of the kind of iconic properties that “the Donald” loves, it’s also the site of the golf course known as the Blue Monster, the venue that plays host to the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
When Trump snapped up the resort out of bankruptcy for $150 million back in 2011 (Morgan Stanley had paid $501 million in 2007), the plan had been to spend another $150 million on renovating the property. Instead, Trump, along with his daughter, Ivanka, opted to plow $250 million into turning it into what he intends to become “the greatest resort in the United States.” If that meant literally blowing up the Blue Monster—only one of Doral’s five golf courses, four of which were included in the purchase—and redesigning and rebuilding it, so be it, says Trump.
At first, he and his team were only planning—and budgeting for—an overhaul. Then they started digging and realized how good the sand-based soil was, and recognized how impressive the vistas over downtown Miami could be. Without pausing to think twice, Trump ruled that the Blue Monster would be completely re-conceived, a project to be overseen by one of the top golf course architects working today, Gil Hanse. “So we blew it up and built a brand-new course that is even more of a monster,” says Trump, who played his first round on the new course in early December. “The holes are longer; the lakes are bigger. We moved a million yards of sand to do it.”
Trump, with son Eric Trump, greets Tiger Woods after the final round of the World Golf Championships at the Doral last March.
For Trump, being good or great simply isn’t enough. There’s no point in stopping until everything is better, bigger, grander than it was before or than its rivals can offer; his world is one in which superlatives reign. “I didn’t have to blow up the course,” Trump says. “I could just have restored it and added a few palm trees, and people would have been happy.” The same, he adds, is true of the resort’s swimming pool, which also has been totally demolished and rebuilt.
Now it’s on to the hotel’s eight villas, each being gutted and rebuilt, to be named after a world-class golf star, such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. “Pretty much all that’s going to remain of the original is some of the steel and the I-beams,” he says. “All of the ballrooms are new. I personally wouldn’t have given a dime for the old ballroom that one of the previous owners spent $50 million to build.”
When the renovations are finally finished, the Trump National Doral Miami will look nothing like the resort that the young Trump first played golf at back in 1963, a year after it opened, when he was still in high school. “I have known it ever since,” he says. “I used to go there a lot with my father to play the Blue course.”
Although he’s a New York City native and his buildings there—Trump World Tower, Trump International Hotel, Trump Place—have reshaped that city’s skyline, the flamboyant developer has tied his fortunes and personal life more and more closely to Florida and Miami over the decades. “Florida is my second home,” Trump says, since paying $10 million in 1985 to acquire the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, built for Marjorie Merriweather Post. “I’m there a lot,” he adds, referring to the Sunshine State, where he spent this past holiday season traveling between Mar-a-Lago and Miami, and where he plans to spend a large part of his time overseeing the next stage of work on the Doral.
Ivanka and Donald Trump with golf course designer Gil Hanse (LEFT) on the first tee of the TPC Blue Monster course during the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral Miami March 2013.
For Trump, who is hardly unaccustomed to seizing on big development deals, the chance to acquire Doral was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Not only did it combine two of his passions in one package—luxury hotels and golf courses—but it did so with about 800 acres of land only 10 minutes from Miami’s airport, which some estimates have valued at as much as $1 billion. “It’s unheard of,” Trump says. “Every highway leads right to it; it’s a miracle site.” That’s why he feels comfortable putting so much money into renovating and rebuilding the facility, more than he spent to purchase the property and two-thirds more than he had originally budgeted. “Anywhere else, you couldn’t make this work economically.”
While it’s true that just as there currently is a lot of activity in the luxury real estate market, so there is likely to be a lot of competition. It’s just that when it comes to the Doral, Trump says he has a unique kind of asset: a property with the hundreds of acres required to sustain several world-class golf courses, smack dab in the center of the city. That’s something that no one can replicate these days, he adds. As for the rest of the city’s development spurt, “that just means that all those people in their condos will become customers of Doral.”
The Trump National Doral clubhouse.
Now, the race is on to add to the number of superlatives. “The pro shop is already the top golf pro shop in the country in terms of sales, and we’re going to double the size,” says an excited Trump. “All of the rooms and ballrooms will be in the ‘super-luxurious’ category. We’re closing the Red Course and the Gold Course, blowing them up, and redesigning them to be just as iconic” as the Blue Monster. That’s only fitting for a town like Miami, Trump says. “It’s the only place that could give Vegas a run for its money and surpass it” as a city for entertainment—and not coincidentally, he figures that it’s only a matter of time until casinos come to Miami. “Everybody is coming here; it’s the hot place of the world right now. I’ve never seen anything like it, and Doral makes sure that I’ll be a big part of whatever happens next.”
photography by Nathaniel Welch/Corbis Outline; DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES (HANSE); MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES (CLUBHOUSE); WARREN LITTLE/GETTY IMAGES (WOODS)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.