Turnberry Isle was the brainchild of Don Soffer, a shopping-mall mogul who bought 785 acres of swampland in Dade County north of Miami, sketched a vision for a resort community on a napkin, and hired Robert Trent Jones Sr. to build the South course and his son Rees for the sportier North. When the resort debuted in 1970, the director of golf was Julius Boros, the happy-go-lucky pro who liked to spin-cast for bass in the man-made lagoons.
Soffer sold the resort in 1993. But as if attracted to an old flame he never got over, Soffer, 75, reacquired the property in 2005. After a $100 million transformation, including a $30 million makeover of the two courses, the 392-room Mediterranean-themed property reopened under the Fairmont flag in December 2006.
In his second try, Soffer did away with the dead-flat designs the pere-fils Joneses had built. He brought in truckloads of fill to create contours and spent more than $100,000 in landscaping for each hole of the former South (now the Soffer course) to create a “tropical Augusta” look with tall, swaying palms.
Then there are the water touches: A brook and thundering waterfall greet players at the 1st hole of the South. At the 18th, a 64-foot faux-rock waterfall—one of the largest and most expensive cascades ever built—near the green recirculates more than 20,000 gallons of water per minute.
But for all the theme-park touches, Soffer and design consultant Ray Floyd came up with a 7,047-yard layout that is a first-class test of precision and course management. Make no mistake: Soffer made all the major design decisions. Jones’ routing is intact and Floyd assisted, but there isn’t a single hole that the owner didn’t transform.
“This is not a ‘grip it and rip it’ course,” Soffer says. “John Daly would not have a very good time here.” In addition to well-placed drives, the key is hitting approach shots that hold the slick, undulating greens.
Soffer exercised restraint on the North (now called Miller), which reopened last summer. The layout has plenty of water in play, notably at Lake Julius, where pink flamingos nest on a man-made island. The 6,417-yard layout will not give average duffers heartburn, but neither is it a pushover.
If the courses bear little resemblance to the originals, neither does the resort itself. The guest rooms, in shades of butterscotch, taupe and chocolate brown, are highlighted by natural textiles, wood furnishings and oversize baths with soaking tubs. Each room has a furnished terrace or balcony.
On the dining side, Bourbon Steak marks the first South Florida venture by culinary star Michael Mina. Innovative regional cuisine is featured at Cascata Grille, its outdoor seating area overlooking fairways and waterfalls.
Turnberry Isle’s new recreation area features a lagoon-style pool, lazy river, 180-foot waterslide and a 35-foot waterfall along with poolside dining. Willow Stream Spa offers pampering while the Ocean Club, fronting a gorgeous stretch of Atlantic beach, is five minutes from the hotel.
Long gone are the playboy tennis pros and disco-happy celebrities. In their place is a family-oriented Northeast crowd, the golfers among them eager to tackle a pair of “back to the future” courses.