Golfweek occasionally makes unannounced visits to resorts. Here’s what we found at one destination.
By KEVIN ADAMS
Assistant Managing Editor
AVENTURA, Fla. – When it comes to name recognition, at least for golfers, the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club long has taken a backseat to Doral, its south Florida counterpart. But that may be changing.
The Soffers – Donald and son Jeffrey – are back in charge at Turnberry Isle, with plenty of cash and celebrity friends in tow.
After developing Turnberry Isle and the city of Aventura in the 1970s, Donald Soffer sold the resort in the early 1990s. Bouncing around among several owners in the ensuing years, the resort lost some cachet before the Soffers’ return in late 2005.
The pizzazz has returned with them. The elder Soffer, the most connected Donald this side of Trump, brought pals James Caan and George Hamilton to the recent opening of Turnberry’s Bourbon Steak eatery, showcasing the cuisine of red-hot chef Michael Mina, and Prince – yes, that Prince – crooned a dozen or so tunes at Jeffrey’s 40th birthday bash in December.
The Soffers recently completed a 1 1/2-year, $100 million makeover of the resort, opening its spa and finest eatery to the public for the first time. According to club members, the Soffers have bought out much of the longtime membership (and hiked the price for those still there) in an effort to wield more control and elevate Turnberry into a higher-profile national player.
On a recent, unannounced weekend visit, I saw no reason why it can’t be. The service was impeccable throughout, beginning with a surprising escort to my room by the pleasant front-desk agent who checked me in.
The Cascata Grille has a varied menu of region-inspired fare. My first evening was spent eating a hearty, if conventional, four-course meal on the Cascata’s veranda. The next morning before golf, I was back at Cascata for its bountiful breakfast buffet.
I later made a second undercover visit to Turnberry to sample Bourbon Steak, a unique atmosphere of sparkling mirrors, glass walls and many tables with plush couches and loveseats. Rich fall colors are woven throughout and two brightly lit jasmine trees are showcased at the center of the 250-seat eatery. While the surroundings are elegant and the prices steep, the attire is casual resort and the atmosphere not at all stifling.
Mina’s menu, famous for his unique twists and presentations of standard American steakhouse fare, did not disappoint. The carpaccio and Thai tomato salad appetizer was tangy and presented with flair, and the Tapioca-crusted yellowtail snapper entree with a tropical fruit basmati (rice) and chile-lime vinaigrette was bursting with flavor. A decadent butterscotch-chocolate pudding and rich French-pressed coffee topped off the meal.
One huge advantage of this intimate 392-room resort is that all amenities are a short stroll away. The pool and all three restaurants were steps from my room, and the golf shop was just off the lobby. After 18 holes the second day of my visit, an hourlong massage in the pleasant Willow Stream spa (another short walk) worked wonders.
Warm, neutral colors, wood furnishings and striking paintings along with a plush bed, two flat-screen TVs (one in the bathroom!) and large balconies made my room an inviting retreat. And the spacious bathroom had a soaking tub, glass shower and stylish stone flooring. (Did I mention the TV?) If two new courses hadn’t beckoned a 9-iron away, I might never have left the friendly confines of room 3110.
Turnberry Isle is surrounded by high-rise and low-rise condos, glitzy office buildings and the 250-store Aventura Mall (complimentary shuttle available). For the fitness-conscious, a 2.9-mile walking trail encircles the resort.
Raymond Floyd’s revamp of Turnberry’s 36 golf holes and the addition of an annual LPGA stop on its Soffer Course beginning this April have narrowed the gap with Doral’s 90-hole offering. Turnberry’s friendly 6,417-yard Miller Course (the old North) features several holes that wind around Lake Julius (named for Julius Boros, who often fished its waters).
The Soffer (previously the South) had been a typical 1970s Florida resort track – flat, short and with water as the focal point. Floyd added elevation changes plus plenty of contours on the 7,047-yard layout. The water remains, but the dominant theme now is extensive landscaping, with new palms and lush tropical flora lining fairways. Several faux waterfalls have been added – one rising 64 feet next to the par-5 18th’s island green.
More than $100,000 was spent on landscaping each of the Soffer Course’s 18 holes. It’s somewhat overdone and the waterfalls don’t exactly fit, but the intended effect is accomplished – giving players the feeling they’re on a tropical oasis in the midst of an upscale urban setting.
In essence, that’s exactly what the new Turnberry Isle Resort is. That, and $100 million well spent.
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Kevin Adams is Golfweek's assistant managing editor. To reach him email [email protected]
Fairmont Turnberry Isle
Hotel/golf (“Fore The Love of Golf” package): $499 per night (from $899 January-April), included room, taxes, buffet breakfast, unlimited golf with cart and range balls, complimentary forecaddie for first morning round and 15-minute lesson. Golf alone is $225 ($155 after 2 p.m.), which includes cart, range balls and forecaddie (required for morning rounds).
Lunch for two: Cascata Grille, $60.
Dinner for two: Bourbon Steak, $250 (wine, appetizer, two entrees with side, dessert)
Willow Stream Spa: 60-minute massage, $129 ($155 with gratuity).
“This is the nicest (club) in Miami, better than Doral. After the renovations, there’s no comparison. And the golf courses are a big improvement. It’s night and day from before.”
– Jeff Weiner, Aventura, Fla.
“I have been coming here for five years and am very pleased with the remodeling. The dining is OK, but the golf courses are nice and I enjoy them very much. Overall, they are doing a good job.”
– Manfred Falk, Munich, Germany
“The room was wonderful, with a comfortable bed. We had the best service at the restaurants, and the atmosphere at the spa was so relaxing. Everything was excellent.”
– Silvia Giordani, Hollywood, Fla.