MIAMI–A record snowfall back home meant an extra day at the acclaimed Doral Golf Resort and Spa and, even after a nightmare at the Miami airport due to the cancellation, being the guy stuck in the sun definitely beat the alternative of shoveling the white stuff up north.
“How sweet it is,” was the dominant thought as the cab pulled up in front of the Doral lobby, but truthfully, that catchphrase had stuck in my mind since meeting Randy Weber, director of golf at the Miami Beach Golf Club, the day before.
Shortly after we arrived in the clubhouse, Weber pointed across the street to a home once occupied by legendary funnyman Jackie Gleason, a one-time renowned citizen of Miami Beach and the man who made the “how sweet it is,” line famous.
Al Capone once lived in another home near this public course that has seen actors Halle Berry and Matt Damon and football celebrities such as Don Shula, Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor walk its fairways.
Forgive Weber for being a name-dropper, for it’s hard not to be in Miami. A couple of nights earlier in the elegant piano bar at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort and Club, actor James Caan wandered in and started joking around with the off-key guest who was singing and tinkling the ivories.
The star of the show in Miami golf courses, through brand recognition alone, is Doral with its five courses including the infamous Blue Monster, home to the CA Championship, one of the prestigious World Golf Championships events.
While Doral has rightfully earned its spot among the premier golf resorts in the United States, the historic Miami Beach Golf Club, which sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay and only a chip shot from South Beach, played an important role in creating the unique flavour of the game in this area.
Originally known as the Bayshore Golf Course when it opened in 1923, it has been updated and renovated over the years, including a recent facelift by Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates. It’s little wonder why Gleason and other celebrities hung out here over the years.
Large, colourful iguanas scurry across the lush fairways, including one that apparently wanted a closer look at the swing mechanics of one fellow in our group. Conditions were outstanding this day on a par 72 that stretches from 5,039 to 6,813 yards.
It may be intangible, but there’s something special about playing in a natural setting that blends in so nicely with its urban surroundings that offer a delicious taste of the colourful history in this vacation playground, famous for art deco style, electric night life and off-beat characters that come out at night whether there’s a moon over Miami or not.
Playing either of two Raymond Floyd redesigns at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle resort, about halfway between South Beach and Fort Lauderdale in Aventura, offers a similar experience in a tropical setting, even if it doesn’t have the same extensive history as the Miami Beach Golf Club.
No iguanas were spotted as we played the Soffer Course, but various species of birds highlighted a picturesque trip through an outstanding par 71 resort layout that features elevation changes, colourful trees and immaculate conditions along its 7,047 yards from the tips that finishes off with an island green on 18.
The two courses recently underwent $30-million in renovations and it shows. With waterfalls popping up from time to time on both layouts, the Fairmont Turnberry Isle will be front and centre in April when it hosts the Stanford International Pro-Am on the LPGA Tour.
What the top female players in the world will discover is one of the most under-rated resorts in Florida. Opened in the early 1970s, this Mediterranean-inspired resort has recently undergone a $100-million makeover that includes not only the golf courses, but a new pro shop and renovated guest rooms and suites.
Other improvements include renovations to its Willow Stream Spa, a new Bourbon Steak restaurant from California creator Michael Mina, a lagoon-style pool, lazy river, 180-foot long waterslide, new tennis facilities, redesigned resort entrance and remodeled resort pool, among other touches.
The children’s activities and the pampering Willow Stream Spa and fitness centre at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle, not to mention the world-famous spa at Doral, suggest that a golf vacation in the Miami area need not focus exclusively on the golfer.
The same holds true at Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club in Miami Lakes, named after the Hall of Fame coach. Not only does Shula’s offer the Senator Course, as well as a par three executive course, but the spa at Shula’s has a variety of treatments, as well as an impressive state of the art fitness centre and outstanding cuisine.
Of course, it’s difficult to determine whether pampering or putting takes priority at Doral, a Marriott resort.
That decision really depends on the perspective of each individual guest, but the tight fairways, swirling winds and deep rough of the Blue Monster are legendary.
While the entire stay in Miami can be spent at each of the resorts, we discovered some delightful dining alternatives with the eclectic offerings of Michael’s Kitchen and the northern Italian fare of Grazie in Miami Beach.
For more information on golf vacations in Miami, see the website, www.gmcvb.com.