Away Game: South FloridaApril 8, 2013

The Coast Is Clear

Finding fun on and off the course in South Beach

No. 18 at Turnberry Isle's Soffer course is wet and wild.

No. 18 at Turnberry Isle's Soffer course is wet and wild.

South Florida is a fantastic place to be. The weather is great, and the food and entertainment options are unlimited. You just have to survive the getting around part to enjoy it.

It starts the moment you deplane in Miami. Between the gate and the rental-car train, it's like the beginning of a marathon--thousands of people milling around, all trying to get to the front--and almost as long. Driving is a Darwinian adventure--fast and reckless local drivers mixed with dawdling out-of-towners and D.C.-caliber traffic. Everything is farther away than you think, and it's always harder to park there than you expect.

You can choose to embrace the electricity, cab it down to South Beach, stay on Ocean Drive and experience Miami on foot. Or you can find an oasis.

Turnberry Isle Resort, in Aventura, is the latter. Miami was short of developable land by 1971, so the Soffer family bought 785 acres of submerged swampland just north of Miami Beach and imported dirt. The sedate and civilized resort, club and its two golf courses are the centerpiece of a planned community that includes a luxury shopping mall, a maze of high-end condos and a dedicated walking and exercise trail.

Turnberry Isle's Soffer course

was the setting for the 1979 Senior PGA Championship--notable not so much for Don January's victory but for the player meetings at the resort that spawned the senior tour the next season. The LPGA also played its Elizabeth Arden Classic there from 1979-'86.

But by the early 2000s, the Soffer and the more resort-friendly Miller course

didn't stand out among the dozens of public layouts between Jupiter and Miami. Longtime South Florida resident Raymond Floyd led a $40 million redesign of both in 2006, with the goal of making these original Robert Trent Jones Sr. layouts more resistant to par.

Nowhere is the edict more evident than on the Soffer's back nine. Taking his cues from Augusta National

, Floyd designed relatively wide fairways that punish bailouts to the wrong side. Veer from the long finger of coquina shells lining the first half of the left side of the fairway on the par-5 11th, and you're forced to cross a hill and bunker to a blind landing area with water backing it. Play too conservatively, and you have a third shot with 75 percent carry over a lake to a peninsula green. Then, bail out right, and it's an easy up-and-down but only if you can chip like Floyd himself. Even with terrific guidance from my veteran caddie, I lost three sleeves of balls on my first circuit. He showed me the water, but I couldn't avoid the drink.

The words "subtle" and "64-foot man-made waterfall" don't often end up in the same sentence, but the Soffer's par-5 18th uses one for a pretty cool decorative effect. First you have to carry your tee shot 200 yards over a lake. After laying up and having a go at the island green, you pull the cart around the left edge of the pond surrounding the green to find the waterfall occupying the back side of a large rock formation, facing the green. You can't see it from the tee, but it makes the island green feel as if it sits in a protected canyon when you look up from reading your putt.

Floyd pinched some approach areas and shrunk some greens on the shorter Miller course, but it's more manageable for the bogey player--assuming you don't miss to the right. Holes four through seven trace a clockwise route around the edge of Lake Julius--named after Julius Boros, who fished there as the club's longtime director of golf. The design of the 570-yard 14th nudges you to play your tee shot right, toward the sand and water. The lay-up area gets wider before you get to the peninsula green, encouraging you to swing a longer and potentially more crooked club.

Miami Beach Golf Club

Photo Courtesy of Miami Beach Golf Club__

The hotel was part of the Fairmont chain for years, but two years ago the Soffers assumed management of the property and aligned the resort with Marriott and its boutique Autograph Collection. Rooms range from $299 a night for a resort-view "standard" to $5,000 for a night in the one-bedroom, one-and-half-bath Grand Presidential Suite for those interested in bedding down where Bill Clinton slept. You can choose from two pool areas--a sprawling kid-friendly one with a two-story water slide, tube-river circuit, or the more sedate one adjacent to the lobby.

Heading off campus, a round on the Blue Monster at Doral

has been a traditional part of any Miami rotation, but paint isn't dry on a massive renovation project after Donald Trump bought the property last year. Miami Beach Golf Club

is a worthy substitute, even without the PGA Tour pedigree. Wedged between the Intracoastal and Atlantic Ocean in the heart of South Beach, the old Bayshore municipal had been targeted by developers for residential expansion for decades. Instead, the city hired Arthur Hills to turn it from shabby to chic. Ten million dollars later, Miami Beach Golf Club is a fun, fair test. I liked the 16th--a dogleg 347-yard algebra problem that skirts the largest lake on the property. Go right at the flag and the water, or invite ridicule by powder-puffing a 5-iron to the left, dry, safe and conservative.

It's South Beach, so you know what choice you need to make.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

FLY RIGHT

Miami has three international airports within an easy drive: Miami, Palm Beach International (70 miles up I-95) and Fort Lauderdale (about halfway between). Fly into PBI or FLL if possible. Both are more modern, far less crowded and have easy access to rental-car facilities.

REGIONAL DELICACIES

Some of the world's best Cuban food is available from the walk-up window at Versailles, just southeast of Miami International Airport. You can't go wrong ordering one more of what the last guy got, but my favorite is a roast-pork sandwich with onions and garlic-cumin mojo sauce. Bring breath mints.

DRINK UP

Try stumping the bartender at Bourbon Steak inside the Turnberry Isle Resort with a difficult request. Bet you can't. The 15-page cocktail menu has more than 35 kinds of bourbon, 50 single-malt scotches and another 30 whiskey blends--including Johnnie Walker Blue 200-year Anniversary at $500 a glass.

Versailles/Bourbon Steak

Photos Courtesy of Versailles Restaurant, Turnberry Isle