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 (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.
Best of the Rest
PGA Golf Club (pgavillage.com, 800-800-4653, $33-$119)
This Port St. Lucie facility is just down the road from Traditions Field, where the New York Mets conduct spring training. The Tom Fazio-designed Ryder and Wanamaker courses are both terrific values, but a refurbishment elevated the Pete Dye course to new heights.
Not as overtly nasty as some other Dye efforts, this mogul-studded, links/parkland blend plays firm and fast, with gnarly grass bunkers, vast coquina shell waste bunkers, pine straw rough and undulating greens wreaking havoc on substandard shots.
North Palm Beach (npbcc.org, 561-691-3433, $45-$109)
In 2006, longtime local resident Jack Nicklaus took the once private, 1920s-era North Palm Beach Country Club and transformed it into a modern marvel of public-access golf. With several holes along the Intracoastal Waterway, a set of wildly undulating greens and an affordable price tag, North Palm Beach might be the best muni in the Sunshine State.
The Breakers (thebreakers.com, 561-659-8466, $150-$195)
The venerable Ocean course barely glimpses the Atlantic, but its short, tight, classic routing, its array of modern sand and water hazards and its setting in the front yard of the Gatsby-esque Breakers Hotel makes this the quintessential Palm Beach layout.
Twenty minutes to the west, the Rees Jones Course is a superb test, one with timber cart bridges and a quartet of eye-candy par 3s, a trio of which flirt with water.
Normandy Shores Golf Club (normandyshoresgolfclub.com, 305-868-6502, $75-$120)
Boasting an enviable location adjacent to Biscayne Bay on man-made Normandy Isle, Normandy Shores originally bore the 1941 design imprint of Howard Toomey and William Flynn, who also authored Cherry Hills, Shinnecock Hills and the Homestead's Cascades course.
Normandy was never in that league, but in an attempt to correct years of neglect, the neo-classic touches that Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates instilled during a 2008 makeover have imbued the course with a delightful Old World feel, both in appearance and strategy.
For a supreme test at an entry-level price -- $40-$45 to play in the afternoon in high season -- the Championship course at Colony West Country Club (golfcolonywest.com, 954-726-8430, $40-$65) can't be beat.
Situated in Tamarac, just northwest of Ft. Lauderdale, this 1971 Devlin-Von Hagge design is a flat but grueling 7,312-yard, par-71 march that opens with a 601-yard par-5 and doesn't let up. The 452-yard, par-4 12th, with its T-bone water hazard, is a real brute. Rather than any particularly inspired architecture, sand, trees, lakes and elevated greens form the bulk of the challenge.
Worth The Money
A TPC-branded course since late 2009, Doral's Blue Monster is the quintessential Florida tournament track: flat, wind-blown and loaded with lakes, bunkers and history.
While it lacks the drama of Pebble Beach or Whistling Straits, past winners include Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, so you're walking in seriously famous footsteps.
Toss in excellent caddies, one of the most infamous closing holes in golf, and an aura that envelops you from start to finish and you have a round that's worth the hefty price tag. A planned 2013 makeover by Gil Hanse will alter the course, but not the unparalleled ambiance.