WGC's new life in Mexico City came at expense of Trump Doral

MEXICO CITY -- Nothing is forever; it only seemed that way as it related to golf in Miami and a PGA Tour stop that began in the early 1960s and attracted all the greats of the game for more than five decades.

That is but a memory now as the event has been relocated from Florida to become the newly named WGC-Mexico Championship, which is set to begin Thursday at Club de Golf Chapultepec.

Feelings are mixed as a tour stop that had such a rich history in a multicultural city has given way to Mexico, giving more meaning to the "World" part of the World Golf Championship event.

And, of course, there is the backdrop that can't be ignored: Did the PGA Tour decide last spring to move the tournament from Trump International Doral because of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's ownership of the resort?

"The people at Doral feel like they got caught in the middle," said Joel Paige, a former vice president and managing director at Doral. "It wasn't the venue. It wasn't the community. It was the politics. The political thing was a lot more.

"Did both sides really work hard on trying to work it out? I don't know what the timing triggers were, but did the guys in Mexico have a take-it-or-leave-it offer, and the tour decided they had to take it?"

If there is a bitterness today in Miami, it is understandable. Before becoming a WGC event in 2007 with a limited field, Doral was seemingly a must-play event on the way to the Masters. It kicked off the Florida swing for many years in early March and typically drew many of the game's top players. If was often the launching point for Greg Norman, who won it three times, and even Jack Nicklaus, who first started playing the tournament in 1964 and competed there well into his 50s.

There was a nice vibe to the place, the first signs of true warmth anywhere in the country, the Masters a few weeks down the road.

Some of that luster was lost when it became a WGC event -- no cut, limited field -- but it was still a staple of the South Florida sports landscape. Trump's purchase of the resort in 2012 meant a huge upgrade for the facilities and a makeover of the course. The "Blue Monster" remains an iconic name in the game.

But with sponsorship issues, the tour pulled the plug last June, taking the tournament to Mexico and leaving Doral without an event for the first time since 1961.

"The reason we're not there is because we couldn't find a sponsor," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who took over for Tim Finchem on Jan. 1, said earlier this year. "I spent a lot of time trying to find a sponsor for that tournament. To leave was disappointing. If we found a sponsor, we would still be there."

The tour will not confirm the details of negotiations, but it is generally believed that Cadillac wanted to stay on at a reduced sponsorship rate. The WGCs come with high price tags, typically in the range of $12 million per year. The purse this year is $9.75 million.

A conglomerate of Mexican companies stepped in to sponsor the event for seven years, and while it seems there could have been more of an effort made to come to some sort of agreement, the tour elected to take a sure thing.

"We're not just leaving Trump Doral," Monahan said. "We left volunteers that had been there for 50 years and a community that's been great to us. ... I think it's very well understood why we're not there, and I think like any relationship when something like that happens, we're committed to try and find a way to get back there, and we're sincere in saying that."

But with a full schedule, that doesn't seem possible in the short term. And a Florida swing that always included Doral and for 10 years meant an easy drive for players from Palm Beach Gardens to Miami will be missed.

"It's a shame not to have it (Doral) on the list, because it's been a big part of the tour for so long," said Adam Scott, who won at Doral last year. "And I played well there. I will miss it. [But] everything kind of evolves and moves on in the world, and I think golf's so stuck in traditions and things. I think we're a bit sentimental with some things, and we have to move on and let it go and take it for what it was. It was a pretty good run. Better than most courses."

The new venue has received praise, and it is completely different than Doral. A tree-lined course wedged into a busy city, Club de Golf Chapultepec opened in 1921 and measures 7,400 yards. At an altitude of 7,500 feet, however, the ball is soaring.

Dustin Johnson estimated hitting his pitching wedge up to 180 yards in some circumstances; he normally hits it 145. Scott said the greens are tricky, and without a lot of course knowledge, many players will find that a challenge.

"I've been quite vocal in the fact that I think we've got the name 'World Golf Championships' in there and it's great to be able to take them around the world. Obviously, it's great to have one in Mexico."
Rory McIlroy

By coming to Mexico, the PGA Tour restores the event's international stature. It began in 1999 as the American Express Championship, and the idea was to rotate sites, going to places such as Spain, Ireland and England and a couple of U.S. venues before settling in Miami 10 years ago.

"I've been quite vocal in the fact that I think we've got the name 'World Golf Championships' in there, and it's great to be able to take them around the world," Rory McIlroy said. "Obviously, it's great to have one in Mexico."

It was McIlroy who, at the time the move was announced, made light of Trump's campaign promise to build a wall separating Mexico from the U.S. "We'll just jump over the wall," quipped McIlroy, who nonetheless caught flak for playing a round of golf with Trump last month.

Trump, of course, was not amused by the tour's decision, saying when the news broke: "They're moving it to Mexico City, which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance."

The players seem to have few safety concerns. The tournament organized charter flights out of West Palm Beach on Sunday and Monday and will have another headed to Tampa after the tournament concludes. A player can get up to three seats free of charge. Transportation and lodging are also being provided for free, as well as police escorts to the course.

With a $9.75 million purse and every player guaranteed at least $43,000, this is a pretty sweet deal.

Meanwhile, Doral is left without an event and wondering if another one might ever come.

"It's a pretty serious blow," said Paige, who worked at Doral from 1989-2001, was at PGA National until 2015 and runs his own consulting business, Litchfield Enterprises. "I don't want to use the word 'devastating.' But in that circle it's pretty devastating and to the resort itself.

"For the first time in 65 years they're not getting ready for the tournament. The community misses it, and I think they feel cheated as far as wondering what is going to happen. And then you throw in the political twist, and if you believe that, it makes it a little tough."