Must-Play Golf Courses in South Florida

6/20/2013 11:51:53 AM

Perhaps no region in the United States has such an astounding mix of ethnic, economic, social and geographic personas as South Florida. That goes for the golf offerings as well.

Undoubtedly the sheer size of the region we're speaking of (pretty much anything south of Orlando) has something to do with the vast variety of courses and backdrops that dot South Florida, but that said, it has much to do with vision and creativity as well.

Hey, whether there's water in the distance or not, flat is flat -- and that describes South Florida, so course architects had to get inventive to build something that's memorable.

The southeast is dominated by two major, but wildly different, cities, Miami and Palm Beach. The Latin flavor, endless nightlife and anything-goes aura have long ago eclipsed Miami's "retirement-haven" image.

In Palm Beach, old, quiet money, conservative tastes and third-home's-the-charm attitudes still rule, even after the Madoff debacle. Exclusive private golf clubs still hold sway in both towns, but neither city is top-heavy with them.

Doral's Blue Monster -- the 467-yard, par-4 18th -- is among the toughest holes on the PGA Tour. Courtesy of Doral

Must-Play Courses

Doral (doralresort.com, 305-592-2000, $75-$350)

With Donald Trump's 2012 purchase of this resort, change is to be expected. But a rich golf history will remain. The PGA Tour has made Doral's Blue Monster an annual stop-off since 1962 making the famed layout as much a Miami institution as South Beach or Joe's Stone Crab.

Ranked the sixth best public course in the state by Golf Magazine, the course has been tweaked more times through the years than Cher and Joan Rivers combined. Eight large lakes and more than 100 bunkers define this flat, breezy layout, but most walk away with one lasting memory -- the Blue Monster itself, the 467-yard, par-4 18th is among the toughest holes on the PGA Tour. Going left means a watery double-bogey -- or worse.

The Jim McLean Signature Course (located a short drive from the resort) is perhaps the second most in-demand track of the resort's five tracks.

Turnberry Isle (turnberryislemiami.com, 305-933-6929, $180-$250)

This resort in Aventura, just north of Miami, is unquestionably one of the region's priciest golf experiences -- you've got to stay to play, and rooms don't come cheap -- but it's a winner. Both the Soffer and Miller courses were remade by Raymond Floyd, but if you're a decent stick, head to the longer, tougher Soffer course.

PGA National Resort and Spa (pgaresort.com, 800-863-2819, $140-$385)

The Champion, centerpiece of this five-course complex, is a Jack Nicklaus redesign of a Tom Fazio layout that has hosted a Ryder Cup, a PGA Championship, multiple Senior PGAs and several knuckle-whitening Honda Classic finishes on the PGA Tour.

Water hazards that edge fairways and greens on 16 holes can drown anybody's chances at glory, notably at the three-hole stretch known as the Bear Trap, where the question remains, which par 3 is meaner, 15 or 17? It'll set you back $385 to play here as a resort guest in prime time -- but significantly less in summer, and check out the resort's golf package rates for money-saving deals throughout the year.

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