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Doral resort, the Ritz-Carlton and Crandon Park: Your perfect weekend Miami golf itinerary

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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Doral Golf Resort and Spa
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Golfers at Doral Golf Resort and Spa can choose from five courses. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

Outstanding golf courses such as the Blue Monster at the Doral resort, Crandon Park and the Donald Ross-designed gem at the Biltmore Hotel make Miami a high-quality destination for a three-day, stay-and-play golf weekend.

MIAMI, Fla. -- You're in Miami so bring your wallet along with your golf clubs and make sure your credit card has plenty of room.

Surprisingly, there aren't a lot of golf courses in Miami, though you might think there would be with its climate.

But, if you're spending a long three-day weekend here, we can put together a nice little golf trip for you. So here's your perfect Miami golf itinerary - just remember what I said about your wallet.

Friday

STAY: Doral Golf Resort and Spa is classic south Florida, a wide-open green space with palm trees swaying in the tropical winds that blow off the Atlantic or from the Everglades to the east.

It's the only golf resort in the Miami area with a whopping five golf courses, including the Blue Monster and the Greg Norman-designed Great White course. The Gold, Jim McLean Signature and Red complete the combination.

The resort is one of the oldest in the area, opening in 1962, and in 1987 they added the Spa at Doral, which is itself a boutique hotel. The spa offers 100 different services, including my all-time favorite, the Thai massage, as well as "Mother massage," Shiatsu, Reiki and all sorts of water therapy.

Room rates are in the $240 range and go up to $500 for a two-bedroom suite.

PLAY: You only have a day here, so unless you want to play 36 you have to play the Blue Monster. The Blue Monster's difficulty lies in its rough: It's very easy to lose your ball even if you're only a few feet wayward off the tee, and if you are, you'll be muscling long irons in. This is when you should flex your biceps, not off the tee. If you miss the green, you're facing a tricky chip out of the nasty stuff. Your ball settles in and sinks to the bottom like quicksand.

The course's difficulty also lies in its landing areas, which are frequently squeezed by bunkers and/or water. You must be either long and accurate, or - like the pros - wily. Thus, the frequent use of fairway woods and long irons. Even Tiger Woods keeps his 5-wood handy out here.

Then there's the wind. It's a very open course and wide open to the winds that come swirling in off the Atlantic after they're through cooling the muscle boys and silicone-charged vixens at South Beach. It can mean a three- or even four-club difference.

EAT: The town of Doral itself is pretty dull, so there's no sense in leaving the resort for eats. The resort has five restaurants, the best of which is Windows on the Green, which has panoramic views of the Blue Monster and a big lunch buffet.

It serves seafood with south Florida and Caribbean accents and, for picky eaters, calories, carbs and fat content are listed.

Saturday

STAY: The Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne is Miami's only AAA Five Diamond resort, and it's a beaut, stuck out on the end of what they call here an "island paradise." It's only about 10 minutes from downtown Miami, but it seems a world away. It's like having all the advantages of Miami without the traffic. The resort is also just a few minutes from the Crandon Park golf course.

The Ritz-Carlton overlooks the bay and the ocean, and has pretty much everything you would expect from a five-diamond resort, from the 20,000-square-foot spa to excellent restaurants.

It also has one of the largest tennis complexes of any Ritz-Carlton in the world.

Named one of the nation's top 10 resorts, the Ritz-Carlton is a 13-story, 402-room facility on a 12-acre stretch of oceanfront, bordered by 1,200 feet of beach. Beach activities include kayaking, windsurfing and sailing on catamarans, or just lazing the day away under a palm tree.

Rates start at around $270.

PLAY: Finally, a price break. Crandon Park is the kind of municipal course that hosts the public from the governor on up. You can play here in the summer, which is essentially seven months long here, for $30 after 10 a.m. During the high season, it's $75 for Florida residents.

Crandon Park is one of the best munis in the state, maybe in the country, with an upscale clubhouse and a great design by Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin.

It's a pristine island environment, with seven saltwater lakes and views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. The course is dotted with palms, mangrove and other exotic tropical growth, and has an assortment of wildlife. Iguanas scuttle around the grounds, and - get this - there are crocodiles.

Crandon Park can be a handful, especially if you play it from the back tees, with the near-constant wind that comes sweeping over the unprotected layout.

Opened in 1972, Devlin oversaw a $1.5 million renovation in '93, including rebuilding 17 of the 18 greens. They also made some bunkers bigger and some greens smaller, adding mounds around a few.

EAT: Le Croisic is a French restaurant, and by far the best on Key Biscayne, despite the fact it's located in a strip mall. Expect to pay around $30-$40 a person.

Sunday

STAY: The Biltmore hotel rises majestically over a stony Coral Gables neighborhood, with views of the Miami skyline, the golf course and tropical gardens.

It is a beautiful, old-world elegant hotel, one which has housed presidents Clinton and George Bush, Prince Albert of Monaco and the Dali Lama, as well as the usual litany of Hollywood celebrities. In fact, Clinton hosted 134 heads of state from the western hemisphere in 1994 here at the Summit of the Americas. Several movies have been shot at the hotel.

The Biltmore is laid out on 150 acres, dotted with palm and banyan trees, gardens, pools, lakes and waterfalls. It has one of the largest swimming pools in the world, with private cabanas, a tennis complex, fitness center and world-class spa. There are 276 rooms, including 133 suites. Afternoon tea is served, and this is the only hotel room I've had with a hall.

Rates are in the $250 range.

PLAY: The Biltmore Hotel is one of the Miami area's most luxurious, historic and prestigious hotels, even though you'll never see girls frolicking in bikinis on south Florida's famous beaches.

For golfers, no big deal.

"We don't have the ocean here, which is okay. The ocean is over-rated," former head professional Jason Epstein told me before leaving the Biltmore to take a job as director of golf at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club near Myrtle Beach. "We've got a Donald Ross golf course!"

That they do, and they're doing everything they can to bring it into high relief. Like many of Ross' courses, the Biltmore layout, built in 1930, lost much of the master's imprint over the years through storms, neglect and the biggest destroyer: time.

The course was in the hands of the city of Coral Gables for many years, and though this is a well-heeled city, it did not put much money into it and the course fell into disrepair. City councils don't revere Ross like many golfers do.

But the Biltmore took over management several years ago and has been slowly bringing Mr. Ross back to life, spending its own money on the renaissance. It recently re-opened after a lavish renovation.

EAT: We don't want to overwhelm your palate with French food, but the Palme d'Or at the Biltmore is one of the best restaurants in south Florida.

It's been recognized by Zagat as one of the best French restaurants in the country. Expect to pay around $40-$80 per person.

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Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

 
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