AT A GLANCE
• Year Established: 1962
Maybe it’s just destiny that a place built on swampland, with a golf course called a Monster and a pool called a Lagoon, would have a history full of back-from-the-dead plot lines.
That seems to be as good a way as any to explain how the Doral Golf Resort &Spa, after all it’s been through, is not only still standing today, but poised for a record year in 2007.
In the 45 years since New York apartment magnate Alfred Kaskel (“Donald Trump before there was a Donald Trump”) paid $4.8 million for 2,400 fetid acres on the outskirts of Miami to build the Doral Hotel and Country Club (a name he made up by combining his wife Doris’ name with his), the property has certainly taken a succession of stakes to its heart, but it’s never lost its pulse. To begin with, there have been the mounting challenges, starting from the day the Kaskels first began to muck out a part of the city no one else wanted, from unrelenting South Florida development that has literally surrounded the property (there’s even an incorporated town of Doral, population 25,000-plus, that now starts right outside the gates). But a succession of owners have never let the congestion and loss of a traditional resort locale stand in the way of the property’s success and growth (when there was no room to add another golf course within the original boundaries, a fifth one was created through acquisition of a nearby club).
Then there was the time in the mid-1980s when the first major sponsor of Doral’s PGA Tour event, Eastern Air Lines, went belly up. That would surely spell the end, everyone felt, for the invaluable network TVexposure the club had enjoyed since its first year, when Alfred Kaskel ponied up a then unheard-of $50,000 in prize money to put Doral on the golf map.
But after Eastern dropped out of the picture, a series of new sponsors stepped forward to keep the tradition alive.This spring, Doral will extend its unbroken string of tour events to 46 years, this time showing off its Blue Course as it hosts The World Golf Championships-CAChampionships.
Doral appeared to be doomed for sure in 2004, when it was put up for sale by KSL Recreation Corporation, an arm of
|New Director of Agronomy Doug Miller and his staff are now the keepers of an invigorated Blue Monster (right) and four other top-notch courses.|
the same company that caused jaws to drop this year when it paid $1.8 billion for ClubCorp.
If a company as bullish about the club and resort industry as KSL wanted no part of Doral, observers said, that had to be the signal that is was finally down for the count.
Hear Them Roar
But today, Doral is raised up to its full height again, and pounding its chest harder than ever. Now operated by Marriott Golf, last month it opened its new $25 million, 24,000-sq. ft. Legends Ballroom, to push the total available square footage of event space on the property to over 100,000.
The Legends Ballroom was opened just in time for Federal Express to put it to full use, along with a good portion of the rest of the property, for activities related to its sponsorship of the Orange Bowl postseason college football game. While those festivities are now over, it looks like Doral may be the site of one long extended party as the new year begins.
“The resort is thriving,” says Vice President and General Manager Tuni Kyi. “When [Marriott] took over the resort two years ago, it needed a lot of work. We are not where we want to be yet, but we’re already seeing the clear benefits of combining the unique brand and characteristics of Doral with the values and consistent standards of Marriott.”
While the new ballroom can accommodate much larger groups, Director of Sales &Marketing Chris Bielski says its real benefit will come from being able to help Doral have more of the typically sized events on the property at the same time. Much of the added business, he anticipates, will come from attracting more local weddings and banquets.
|Vice President and General Manager Tuni Kyi (above right) is directing the marriage of Doral’s unique brand with Marriott’s consistent standards.|
“Back in the day, Doral was the social hotel in the Miami area,”Bielski notes. “We got away from that, though, because we didn’t want to crowd out our [out-of-town] group and meeting business.
“Now we have the space for both,” he adds. “There aren’t many other hotels in South Florida with ballrooms this big, and as we’re getting that word out, we’re seeing our local catering business grow.
“At the same time, there aren’t that many resorts with this type of space that also have five golf courses,” Bielski notes. “That makes us even more attractive to [outside groups], which account for 65 to 70 percent of our business. We’re now in position to do more for both segments, and as a result, our bookings [for 2007] are already 20 percent ahead of last year.”
Breathing New Life
The extra activity generated by the opening of the ballroom is adding momentum and energy to all other aspects of Doral’s operation—many of which had already been revived by new management and their fresh ideas and approaches:
• Food & Beverage—Executive Chef Jean-Claude Lanchais, brought in two years ago from the Renaissance
|Golf General Manager Darrin Helfrick (left) and Head Golf Pro/Golf Retailing Manager Nathan Stith are boosting a pro shop operation that’s already at a $4 million annual pace.|
Westchester Hotel in White Plains, N.Y., says when he arrived at Doral he felt its restaurant and banquet operations had lapsed into “very typical resort menus, with a lot of frozen foods.” Lanchais has concentrated on restoring an “all-fresh [approach], with a Miami flavor.”
He also is making good use of a special chef’s table and “sale-closing” room that he built into the center of his small in-kitchen office (see photo, pg. 22). Lanchais serves five-course meals here as menu options are discussed with
meeting planners and other potential banquet clients. “It’s a good tool,” he says.
|Executive Spa Director Donna Christoffersson|
• Spa—Donna Christoffersson arrived this year from Spain to become the new Executive Spa Director for Doral’s well-known spa, which opened in 1987. “It was a spa before there were spas,” Christoffersson says. She is now preparing to close it for two months for a $2 million interior renovation that will provide new “soft touches” and enhance its Mediterranean-style look and feel. As part of that makeover, she is also working with Chef Lanchais on a new menu that will complement the theme.
Christoffersson also wants to introduce more special services for men, such as “martinis and manicures,” and thinks that the next big trend in spas may be packages of services that are oriented toward improving sleep quality. “It’s a theme you can tie through a lot of services,” she notes.
Christoffersson has also seen the huge potential to be gained through gift certificate sales (the spa has to hire extra staff and set up special desks to accommodate demand before the big gift-certificate buying periods, such as Christmas and Mother’s Day, when lines spill out the doors). She’s also seen that 80 percent of gift certificates bought elsewhere on the Doral property get redeemed in the spa, creating a great opportunity to develop new customers.
• Pro shop—Darrin Helfrick, Doral’s Golf General Manager, and Head Golf Pro/Retail Manager Nathan Stith now oversee a $6 million retail operation at Doral, $4 million of which comes from the sale of golf-related goods. “We’ve grown sales substantially over the last three years by doing a much better job of measuring vendor performance,” says Stith. “We’re not just making decisions any more based on one trip to the PGAshow; we take a year-round approach to inviting vendor presentations and allocating space according to what can sell during the various seasons.”
This approach will be enhanced by intelligence gained through a new retail inventory and point-of-sale system that Stith expects will greatly help improve inventory turns, and reduce carrying costs, through better and more immediate data on what’s selling—and what’s not. The Doral team has also redesigned its main pro shop to move the sales counter closer to the front door, so better customer contact can be established. And in addition to the service provided by those behind the counter, extra staff are always positioned throughout the sales floor, to try to provide as much personal shopping assistance as possible.
|A “working lunch” in Executive Chef Jean-Claude Lanchais’ office (right) is a cut above your average delivery from the deli.|
• Golf courses—Doug Miller arrived as Doral’s new Director of Agronomy this summer. After a long tenure at PGA West’s La Quinta (Calif.) Resort &Club, Miller had shifted to Louisiana’s Koasati Pines at Coushatta resort, and in 2005 he had to help rescue that course from the wrath of Hurricane Rita.
After coming to Doral, Miller thought he might be in for a similar experience, when the property got hit with 35 inches of rain in 30 days. But that period was weathered with no lasting effects on Doral’s recently renovated signature “Blue Monster” course or its other equally well-known color choices: Red, Gold, Silver and the Great White, which was designed by Greg Norman and features a “desert-scape design” and crushed coquina-shell paths and bunkers.
With the courses in good shape, Miller says his primary focus since arriving has been on trying to consolidate Doral’s purchasing power for maintenance equipment and supplies. “For a facility of this size and scope, we weren’t making the best use of our buying power,” he notes.
• Private club membership—Alfred Kaskel started Doral as a country club, and many old-line Miamians still refer to it that way. Recent years have brought a revival of interest in club membership, which now totals 850—550 for golf alone. A separate clubhouse blends seamlessly into the property. Darrin Helfrick sees potential for further expanding membership as part of determining “who we want to be when we grow up.”
And if Doral comes back full circle in that sense, it would be in keeping with a key goal of getting back to “all of the old, traditional comforts that Doral was known for,” Tuni Kyi says.
“We don’t want this to be a flashy or ritzy place with a lot of glass and brass,” he adds. “We want to enhance its legendary charms.” As such, he hopes to ensure the property will stay a part of living history for a long time to come. C&RB