DORAL Memories

As I watch the World event at DORAL BLUE it brings back memories of great times spent there a few years back.

Pro Smith and Pro Slatter with Jackie Robinson

My first visit was a bit uncomfortable.  I was a young assistant pro working in Freeport at the King’s Inn Resort. I had finally got the nerve up enough to ask the finest specimen I’d even seen to accompany me for the day to fly to Miami and watch Doral, returning by 8:00 pm.  12 hours with my dream girl, walking around Doral, perfect!   Well, it didn’t go well.  We arrived at the first tee as they announced “Wayne Vollmer”.  I knew Wayne and we went to see him off.

“Slatts”, says Wayne. “I need your help, my caddie just quit”.   So, on my big date day, I spend 6 hours schlepping Wayne’s bag around Doral, in my Volare white alligator slip- ons !   Memorable though…

Then, for over ten years, I got to return to Doral for 4-5 weeks every winter as we (IGM) worked the annual incentive trips for, at that time, the world’s corporate leader IBM.   It was a form of nirvana for a young Muskoka boy, staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel and playing at Doral, in February!   Getting back to watching TV today, my son calls to say how great is it to watch Doral after spending so much time there as a kid, “thanks Dad”.  Then my boss at the time, Canada’s most successful golf pro, Mike Smith, emails me from Santa Barbara to make sure I am watching.  “We had a great run there eh Pro” he says.  “Those days will never happen again, there’s no more IBMs doing what we did.  But I’m glad we did it together.”  I thanked Pro Smith for the memories, shed a tear or three as I watch Tiger shred the Blue.

First, I am happy the Donald Trump has bought Doral.  It needs money and should be protected.  Hanse might understand.  Dick Wilson designed a great course in the Everglades, for Dorothy and Al Kaskel from New Yawk.  Over the years Raymond Floyd and others have tried to improve it, with no success.  Greg Norman rebuilt the White Course, not sure why.   We used to do 1-3 shotguns per day, 4 days per week, for 5 or 6 weeks.  Some flash backs:

“Sal, fire the gun!”     Joe Feebish, former haberdashery manager from New York, the acting GM at Doral, would say this every day at 12:30, the time our shotgun was supposed to go.  “Joe, they aren’t here yet” Sal Napoli, the chief Starter would say, every day!    The IBMers would come from the hotel by bus and traffic in Miami was usually tough.  Regardless, they always made it, and then played as many holes possible.

One day while our group was on the Gold Course, Doral was hosting the Italian Boys Club charity event on the Blue.  My son Mark was impressed as he watched his friend Sal Napoli get his hair cut by Perry Como, in the first tee starters hut.  Both Sal and Perry were former barbers.  Then they both cut Dan Marino’s hair.    It was always interesting that Miami Dolphins players Strock and Marino played most days with someone Sal said was the chief bookie in Miami. A friend of Shula.   Miami used to be where the Mobsters met the Lobsters.  A favourite restaurant we frequented in Miami Springs, Papagallos, was like a scene from the Godfather.  They had a private room where “Nate, from Chicago” would preside.  Outside the room sat many guys in black suits, waiting for a few minutes inside the room.  Fascinating stuff!

One day during our event a bald headed chap asked me where the CEO John Akers was.   Normally we kept people away from execs when they were playing, but this gent was “Stephen Covey, and I’m his major program”.   I drove Mr. Covey out to the middle of the course to meet John.   After intros, “So, Mr. Akers, if this is the top 5% of your IBM Team here in Miami, does that make the other 95% losers?” said Covey.   I noticed that he was only there for the one conference, someone else took over.   Another interesting trait I found.  One day I took a Sr VP to the range and then was driving him back to meet the CEO for lunch.  He asked me to pull into Burger King drive-thru where I bought him two whoppers with fries.   As we drove to the Fontainbleau I boldly asked why, if he was going to lunch with John Akers, would he eat so much?  “I don’t get to talk to the CEO too often, so if he’s eating I can pick away at a salad and do the talking”.  It worked, he ended up heading Asia for the company.

Mike asked me to give Akers a lesson one morning, at La Gorce GC.   We met there, had the lesson and then played 18 holes – total of less than 3 hours.  He asked if I had a car (yes) and since his driver was gone for another 2 hours could I drive him to the private airport on 36th Street.  No problem, I drove him there, we went onboard a super jet, and had our box lunches (“Out of the Blue” $35. each, nice sandwich).  Unknown to both of us, his driver reported him missing and all of Miami were looking for Akers.  This was before cell phones of course.  The lessons worked, he is now retired, and  a member at Augusta, Cypress Pointe and a few other nice tracks.

We needed golf balls to hand out.  Corey Pavin’s brother was with Titleist so we called him to get the price for 2 shipments of 800 dozen balls each.  He gave us the price and said it would take 6 days to deliver that many.  So we went to Don’s Discount Golf in north Miami.  For $2.00 less per dozen we got the same balls in 3 days.  I remember putting the large amount on Pro Smith’s credit card!

Dave Stockton was one of the “Pros” working with IBM.  He was great, at the time he was getting very comfortable on the Senior PGA Tour.  Every third night we did a clinic behind the hotel, right on Miami Beach.  We’d hit around 700 balls into the sea, it looked great with the lights behind us they looked like tracers.  I’d taken a stumble at Doral and picked up 20 stitches in my left hand, in the pad that held the club.   Normally I hit 6 shots straight, then some hooks and slices then finished with a high then a “wave burner” low shot. 12 shots.  Dave was a bit upset as I’d eaten too many shrimps at dinner,  his wife only allowed him two.  My balls were pre-set, the low ones and the hooks I had teed high, the fades were teed low.  That night, with Dave on the mic he had me hit 18 shots.  The low ones he asked me to high draws, off the rug.   It was fun, but all the stitches came out and my hand hurt for a season.  Stockton is a superb person and I’m glad to has become so successful as a teacher.

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Gary Slatter

Venerable Canadian golf pro Gary Slatter discusses his opinions on the state of golf, golf course design and construction, teaching and more, based on a lifetime in the business.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I just heard that another Pro with ties to Doral, Irv Lightstone, recently passed away. My condolences to the longtime Maple Downs Head Pro’s extended family. He’ll be missed.

  • Great story Gary but I would really like to know who Photoshopped your picture. You were never that good looking or that young.

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