Don Shula's Hotel & Golf Club: Excellence Personified

By Elaine Gallant, Contributor

MIAMI LAKES, FL -- In 1972, NFL head coach Don Shula led the Miami Dolphins through a perfect, record-setting, 17-0 season, then crowned the achievement with a 1973 Super Bowl VII win over the Washington Redskins. His legendary career, filled with monumental statistics, ultimately swept him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But it should be noted that also in the '70's, he and his career sparked a lifelong business relationship with the Graham family, prominent members of Florida's social and political scene and developers of Miami Lakes, a 5-square-mile, master planned community located within the confines of the Greater Miami Area.

Here is where Shula's namesake hotel, golf club and steakhouse provide a venue for business travelers and athletes alike to kick back, play golf, and enjoy a fine meal.

"We have one group that's been coming here for over 30 years," says Barbara Cambia, VP of Sales and Marketing. "They play golf everyday, go to dinner at the steakhouse, smoke cigars and just have a really good time."

Shula's is a dual-location property, offering a 205-room hotel in the heart of Miami Lakes and an 84-room lodge at the entrance of the city. But where the hotel is the centerpiece of this brick- and palm-lined little town, it's the lodge that anchors his original steakhouse and golf complex that's complete with lighted driving range, lighted 18-hole, par 3 Executive Course and par 72, championship course.

Given 3.5 stars by Golf Digest Magazine, the 6,982-yard Shula Course is a series of runs and carries that takes you through two distinctly different types of terrain. The narrow front nine has a long and stretched feel, belying its true nature in comparison with the back. A thick line of mature banyan, cypress, oak, and pine trees creates a high and wide canopy that further tricks the player into feeling its tightness.

Adding to the mix are strategically placed deep-faced bunkers near the greens, generous amounts of fairway mounding and large, shallow fairway bunkers. Water, seen on four holes, only plays havoc around the green of number 7.

At 531 yards, Kevin Carlson, Shula's director of golf says this par 5 signature hole requires intelligent play because an approach to the well-undulated island green is further complicated by the visual impact of its size and slope. Any flag right of center will surely test your skills.

If you doubt it, consider turning toward the green of number 7 while you're on the tee of number 5 and listen to the yelps and grunts of the players already there. Don't forget, however, the tempting little morsel that's straight ahead. At 145 yards, this par 3's landing tilts toward a soft, fringed shoulder then disappears below the waterline. Miss it short or right and you're lying three.

Of particular interest on the front nine is the starting hole. It's placed well away from the line up allowing a bit of privacy and the chance for those suffering from "first hole jitters" to actually make a decent shot - provided you stay right, of course, and away from the hardwoods.

On the turn, number 10 begins where you'd expect the starting hole to be. That's because in 1999, architect Kip Schulties, re-grassed the greens with super-fast tifeagle and improved drainage to Bill Watt's original 1962 design, then flip-flopped the course. It helped flow traffic but didn't calm any nerves.

At 418 yards, Carlson says this slight dogleg right has a right-sided fairway bunker just begging to be carried. He suggests that if you're a long hitter, go with a controlled fade. Otherwise, favor the left and take an approach to the center of the green.

From here on out, the back nine feels more like the Florida Everglades with water defining all the remaining holes exclusive of the 170-yard, par 3, number 17. You won't even find sprinkler heads. The sandy soil drains poorly and holds water well, so irrigation simply isn't needed.

At number 11 during rainy season for example, fairway puddle jumping is frequent and enough to make you love your Dry Joys. Measuring 434 yards, this number one handicapped hole also features a series of creeks running up the fairway's right, left, in front of and behind the green.

Numerous other watery challenges and doglegs appear in all directions throughout the back. On holes 13 and 14, look for the resident alligators. On number 16, beware the natural habitat area. And on the finishing hole, take your final aquatic challenge.

At 454 yards, this palm-and water-lined beauty is a temptation. According to Carlson, "only someone like Tiger Woods could probably jump on the green if he wanted to." But for the rest of us, the conservative approach is to consider how much water and fairway you want to cut off to have a short iron to the green.

"Overall, Shula's course is a fun, but not too demanding golf course where you're not out there getting frustrated," Carlson says. "It gives you a chance for risk and reward. It gives you options... The wind... The larger greens... So if you play it everyday as a member, I don't think you'll get too bored."

You won't get bored with the sports theme either, because Shula's is a tribute to athletic competition. On every tee box, you'll find colored NFL football kicking T's, and at the 200-, 150-, and 100- yard mark, actual pylons. Off the course, you'll discover almost everywhere, including your room, a virtual museum of photographed football Hall of Fame players and professional golf and tennis stars. You'll even find an actual Miami Dolphins goal post from Shula's perfect season erected near the hotel.

But if that's not enough, consider that Golf Florida Magazine named Shula's among the top golf resorts in Florida and that the Audubon Society has certified it within its Cooperation Sanctuary System. It is the official home of the Miami Dolphins, the official hotel of the University of Miami Hurricanes, and also host to a variety of NBA, NHL and National League baseball players and teams.

Need more? Well, there is shopping, dining and a 17-screen movie theater in Miami Lakes, but there's also a 44,000-square-foot Athletic Club that will keep you busy for days with tennis, basketball, racquetball, and any other kind of fitness routine you can dream up.

"Don Shula's," says Barbara Cambia, "is the best-kept secret in Florida. When people find out we're here, they don't go anywhere else. You don't have to leave Miami Lakes. It's safe and there's nothing like it."

Shula's can be reached via the Miami International Airport or the Fort Lauderdale International Airport and SR 826 at the NW 154 Street/Miami Lakes Drive exit.

Elaine GallantElaine Gallant, Contributor

Elaine Gallant is a freelance writer specializing in golf, tennis, and travel. Her many experiences with travel and golf have taken her around the Untied States, Europe, Greece, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaiian Islands, Australia and points in between.

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