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A bogey-free vacation itinerary: A week's sojourn in golf-rich Miami

Leigh MacKayBy Leigh MacKay,
The Biltmore golf course - 18th hole
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The Biltmore in Coral Gables returns the golfer to the Roaring '20s and the 1925 architecture of Donald Ross. (Vicky MacKay/TravelGolf)

The Miami area is a veritable cornucopia of daily-fee golf courses, but that overflowing horn of plenty can be confusing for first-timers.

Therefore, let's suppose you have a week at your disposal and desire well conditioned layouts, good greens and superior service. These seven courses will meet all your requirements -- including rental clubs, practice ranges, instruction, 19th holes -- and keep you coming back to Miami for more.

Day 1: The Biltmore's classic Donald Ross course

The first stop at The Biltmore in Coral Gables returns the golfer to the Roaring '20s and the 1925 architecture of Donald Ross.

Situated beside the Biltmore Hotel, an imposing National Historic Landmark, the course offers the natural terrain and landscaping, the variety of doglegs and straight-away fairways, and the on-the-ground strategies of a Ross design.

Totally restored by celebrated retro-architect Brian Silva in 2007, The Biltmore is the archetype of the classic southern Florida venue. The Bermuda greens are firm and fast, and walking is always encouraged.

To celebrate the round in true Biltmore style, two nearby "speakeasies" -- John Martin's Irish Pub and Duffy's Tavern -- are the gin mills of choice.

Day 2: The tropical world of Crandon Golf

Key Biscayne harbors Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne, a tropical delight without a house in sight. Surrounded by the bay, mangroves and other lush, native foliage, the layout has been praised by the numerous Champions Tour pros who played in the long-running Royal Caribbean Classic.

With five par 3s, five par 5s and small, well guarded greens, the emphasis is on crisp iron play. Head Professional Tommy Chipman said, "Besides being a thinking man's course, the flora and fauna are exceptional. It's not unusual during the round to see iguanas, raptors, Egyptian geese, other water fowl, nurse sharks, manatees and American crocodiles."

Golf happy hours and grill fare on Key Biscayne are handled by the popular duo of Whiskey Joe's and the Rusty Pelican.

Day 3: Golf ambassadors wanted at The Diplomat

The Diplomat Golf Club in Hallandale, part of the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa, has been a Miami-area mainstay since 1957.

Redesigned in 2000, the course features large, rolling fairways, eight acres of lakes, 76 bunkers with PGA Tour-grade sand, and fast, undulating TifEagle Bermuda greens. More than 3,000 coconut, royal palm and 50-year-old banyan trees frame the holes and emphasize the natural setting.

In fact, the course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for its eco-friendly practices. Also, with its GPS-equipped carts and its Troon Golf management, The Diplomat promises an upscale, enjoyable experience.

On its nearby beach, the Westin's Rivals Waterfront Sports Grille overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway and specializes in casual dining and ubiquitous TVs.

Day 4: Home of the 'Grand' golf courses

The Grand Palms Hotel and Golf Resort in Pembroke Pines lays claim to some of the best TifEagle greens and some of the most statuesque palms in south Florida.

With its 27 holes -- the Grand, Royal and Sabal -- the true, contoured greens, which run between 9-10 on the Stimpmeter, are complemented by what pro John Bungert calls "an interesting mix of playability and challenge that every golfer will appreciate."

Water hazards are the principal obstacles, but forced carries are minimal, and bailout areas are available. The carts' GPS units include accurate distances to hazards, greens, and their flag positions.

After the round, join the locals for comfort food and favorite beverages at either the Village Tavern or Pines Ale House.

Day 5: East and West meet at renovated Jacaranda Golf Club

One of Miami's best known and most preferred semi-private clubs is Jacaranda Golf Club in Plantation, host to many PGA, USGA and FSGA events. Jacaranda's East Course and West Course -- model Mark Mahannah designs and rated four-stars by Golf Digest -- have each recently undergone $5 million renovations by architect Bobby Weed.

New fairways, tees, greens, cart paths and landscaping have combined the traditional flair of Mahannah with the latest in golf course innovation.

"Both courses are in the best possible condition," GM and Director of Golf Danny Howard said. "The East is lengthy at 7,300 yards and a par 71, but it is wide open and forgiving off the tee. The West is shorter at 6,850 yards, narrower, and a par 72. The greens are perfect and fast, 11 on the Stimp."

The nearby Bokamper's Sports Bar & Grill caters to golfers and should not be missed.

Day 6: Only winners at Don Shula's Club

Shula's Hotel and Golf Club pays homage to NFL Hall of Fame legend Don Shula. With his house on the 16th tee, Shula revived the original Miami Lakes Country Club and turned it into a premier golf destination.

Now the Senator Golf Course, named after state senators Ernest and Bob Graham, it just celebrated its 50th birthday. "The Senator is a tale of two nines," said pro Kenny Fill. "The front nine presents a north Florida character with little water, wide fairways and large shade trees. The Everglades-feel permeates the back nine with lots of water—and gators."

The award-winning Original Shula's Steak House is in the clubhouse, celebrating Shula's 1972 undefeated season with unique Dolphin memorabilia and unforgettable Angus beef.

Day 7: Private Cypress Course now open to public

The last stop is the highly regarded Cypress Course at Woodmont Country Club in Tamarac, a private club for 30 years and only recently opened to the public.

The award-winning duo of Bruce Devlin and Robert von Hagge designed the course for the low handicapper as well as the weekend player, and it has been the host of a Nike Tour tournament, PGA Tour Honda Classic qualifiers, and state and local championships.

"The Champion greens are 17 years old but blotchless, true, and fast," Head Professional Ron Baker said. "The layout is fair, without tricks and basically not bothered by water hazards, excessive bunkers or waste areas."

Two recommended watering holes and oases are Blondie's Sports Grill and the Tijuana Taxi Co, both only a long par 5 from Woodmont.

These seven golf courses in the Miami area offer first-class facilities and first-rate service and each one will provide hours of enjoyment all year round.

More photos

Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne - 11thDiplomat Golf Club - 8th holeGrand Palms - Sabal golf course - 2nd holeJacaranda Golf Club - East Course - 18thJacaranda Golf Club - West Course - 18thShula's Hotel and Golf Club - Senator Course - no. 16Woodmont C.C. - Cypress golf course - 18th

Leigh MacKay is a freelance golf writer who specializes in features and travel reviews. A member of Golf Writers Association of America, Golf Travel Writers, and International Network of Golf, he writes a monthly column, "Celebrity Golfer," for New England Golf Monthly and splits his time between Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Plymouth, Mass.

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