Miami is a mix of old and new, pre-war Art Deco mixing with the shock of the new in a gleaming city. The same goes for golf, one of the principal tourist attractions of the Sunshine State. Visitors can sample classic courses laid out in the heart of the Roaring 20s to brilliant new layouts being opened every day in the city’s boundaries. Or venture to cyber courses hidden within the hotels of the refurbished downtown.
You can’t get more classic in golf course architecture than Donald Ross, the venerable Scottish / American pioneer who laid out classic courses such as Pinehurst No.2, Seminole and Oakland Hills during the first decades of the 20th century. For a game just gaining a popular foothold in the United States, Ross’ designs were the DNA of the sport in America as he created courses for communities, wealthy individuals and resorts.
One of the signature resorts in the birth of modern Miami in the 1920s was the venerable Biltmore Hotel located in George E. Merrick’s real estate fantasy of Coral Gables, the city’s first desirable neighbourhood developed in the ‘20s. A Moorish fantasy modelled on the theme of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the hotel was developed by the same architect responsible for the opulent Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, just an hour north of The Biltmore. It was intended to service the rich and privileged escaping the frozen blasts of winter up north.
Every resort worth its concierge in those days needed its signature restaurant, its piano bar, its beach and a golf course. In the case of the Biltmore, Ross’ golf course predated the hotel by a year, having opened for business in 1925. With very little elevation change in southern Florida (made worse when hurricanes devastated the trees in 1926, 1928 and 1935) Ross was obliged to create the 6,742-yard course through clever routing and placement of traps.
The layout was refurbished in 2006 by Ross specialist Brian Silva, with additional sand traps installed and others renovated, elevation of greens to expedite drainage. Plus the resort reverted to Ross’ original routing. But the original philosophy of Ross’ work remains as the holes weave though a canal built by Merrick to ferry guests to the Tahiti Beach via gondolier. As with any golf course in Florida, wind plays a large part in succeeding on the course, which boasts Tiger Woods as a winner of its Orange Bowl junior tournament in 1991.
The 17th is the signature hole, a 450-yard par four from the tips that doglegs right around a stand of trees. The long, undulating green, is protected in front by the canal, making the angle of approach critical to have a realistic shot at the pin. The Bermuda-grass fairways are receiving, but the approach shots require precision to the tight pin placements on The Biltmore’s challenging greens.
The hotel offers the Total Performance Golf training program where visitors can undergo a complete array of tests and instruction usually reserved for the best players in the world. Golf and stay packages are listed at biltmorehotel.com with easy access to nearby Miami International airport.
For an entirely different Miami golf experience, players can move indoors at the Marriott Hotel’s unique 19th floor golf center. The Jim McLean Golf Center is an all-inclusive learning and play centre that allows users to play - via simulator - all the major courses of the world while also getting a lesson from professional Mariano Bartolome and his staff in the shadow of Miami's skyline.
The golf centre allows for a full range of video and analytics to improve your swing in air conditioned comfort while also challenging yourself on the simulator’s selection of great courses. There is also video instruction for putting improvement. Rates for an hour on the simulator range form $100 an hour per player. For more information, contact www.marquis.jimmclean.com
Bruce Dowbiggin grew up in Montreal, lived for a good spell of his working life in Toronto, and moved to Calgary near the beginning of this decade to write a general sports column for the Calgary Herald. He is also a successful author, having published five books including, Meaning of Puck: How Hockey Explains Modern Canada and he's won two Gemini Awards as a sportscaster. Bruce's column on sports media appears exclusively on globesports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @dowbboy