Women & Golf Editor, Alison Root headed to the city of Coral Gables to experience a luxury hotel and golf course that’s not the American norm. Find out what she thought…
Americans love to visit the UK, not only to hear the British accent, but also to admire the copious amount of historical landmarks, some of which are older than the Constitution of the US. Across the pond buildings such as these are few and far between, but the Biltmore Hotel in the city of Coral Gables near Miami in Florida is an exception to the rule.
Coral Gables is located adjacent to Miami and after a 9-hour flight from London; a mere 20-minute drive from the international airport is perfect. It’s easy to see why this posh suburb with streets lined with giant banyan trees and expensive houses is dubbed ‘The City Beautiful’ as it’s undeniably a world away, in fact around half an hour, from Downtown Miami and the razzmatazz of South Beach.
Since opening in 1926, The Biltmore Hotel’s iconic 315-foot tower that was inspired by Giralda, the medieval tower of Seville’s cathedral, is visible from almost any spot in Coral Gables, and every corner of the hotel has a story to tell. A former World War ll hospital and then a campus of the University of Miami medical school until 1968, it wasn’t until 1987 that it reopened as a hotel, having been abandoned for several years.
George Merrick was the visionary creator of this unique Mediterranean-style hotel, and whilst The Biltmore has undergone significant renovation over recent years at a cost of $25 million, Spanish, Italian and Moorish influences still shine through the stunning architecture and décor.
The lobby is awe-inspiring with 25-foot Corinthian columns that lead to a ceiling of sapphire-starred hand-painted frescoes. It’s a relaxing area of the hotel where you can take afternoon tea, or simply sink into one of the velvet blue sofas and watch the world go by.
There are 271 luxuriously appointed bedrooms and suites. Each offers a view either across the swimming pool, the golf course, or like mine, the downtown skyline. My bedroom was spacious yet cosy, due to the large and comfy bed and the warmth of the deep plum, soft blue and gold furnishings. I appreciated the turndown service, as when I returned to my bedroom each evening a miniature nightcap was by my bedside. Of course, it would have been extremely rude not to drink it!
Donald Ross originally designed the golf course in 1925, but in 2018 it was considerably updated to appeal to today’s modern golfer. Fairways and greens were re-grassed, bunkers renovated, tee boxes added to extend the length of holes, extra elevation, and the rough around the greens that used to retain the ball has been removed to create a much stiffer challenge.
There is certainly no shortage of bunkers on this course, 85 in total. This combined with a series of dog-legs and massive greens to negotiate, it’s not a doddle. Unlike most American courses, I was pleasantly surprised that a buggie isn’t compulsory. I was able to walk the course with ease, although I did tee off at the crack of dawn and so finished my round before the heat of the blazing sun really took hold.
It’s a very pretty golf course with canals winding through it, and so naturally attracts an abundance of wildlife. With trepidation I made friends with one of several iguanas that were roaming around the 15th green. By the time I’d reached the green I’d already messed up this difficult par-5 that requires two decent shots to be able to carry the water with your third, so I couldn’t blame the scaly lizard.
Another difficult hole and one of the most memorable, is the 356-yard par-4 17th. Position off the tee is crucial - too far left and you’re flirting with the canal, but too far right, you’ll either be blocked out by trees or land in a bunker. The challenge doesn’t end there, as an island green lies in wait.
Jim McClean, one of the top three ranked golf teachers in America for the last 25 years, has a school based at The Biltmore. His students include Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Gary Woodland and Keegan Bradley to name but a few, so if he’s good enough for them, he was definitely good enough for me!
It was such a treat to have a lesson with this mild-mannered gentleman. Jim’s teaching philosophy, along with his pool of instructors, is to keep in mind the basic fundamentals, but also to have a lot of room for individual differences because not everyone will fit into the same golf swing. With a tweaked grip, but fortunately not too many other swing thoughts racing around my head, it was practice time at the driving range and short game area.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT GOLFING
This hotel has many attractions, but the swimming pool is a real highlight. Measuring 23,000 square feet, it’s one of the largest hotel pools on the west coast of Florida. Back in the early 1930s, as many as 3,000 people would come out on a Sunday afternoon to watch an aquatic gala, and prior to his tree-swinging days as Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was a swimming instructor at The Biltmore. If you want more privacy, you can hire a cabana that comes with loungers, a TV, fridge and also a small dining area. After a swim and sunbathe, the poolside Cascade restaurant or the 19th Hole Sports Bar & Grill is ideal for refreshments.
There are plenty of other dining options including Fontana, which offers an Italian inspired menu from an open-air kitchen. A fountain takes centre stage in the courtyard and from here you can admire the hotel’s Mediterranean architecture. This charming restaurant is most famous for its Sunday brunch and I understand why. It costs $90 per person but as you can indulge in breakfast, pasta dishes, shellfish, caviar, sushi, carved meats, desserts galore and unlimited sparkling wines, it’s worth every penny and you don’t need to eat for the rest of the day!
For a true French fine dining experience, the five-diamond award Palme d’Or will not disappoint. Each course was delicious, yet whilst I enjoyed my chocolate dessert, the cheese selection did make me suffer with food envy.
You can test your own culinary skills at the hotel’s academy. For a small group this is great fun, although I have to admit that I picked one of the easiest dishes. In fact, no real cooking skills were involved at all for tuna tartar!
The hotel also has bikes to hire, a first-class spa, gymnasium, and a full timetable of exercise classes. There are local places of interest to visit, like the Wynwood Art District and Little Havana, but there’s really little need to leave the Mediterranean in Miami!
YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables- biltmorehotel.com
Visit website for golf packages
Visitor green fee - from $150 per person
HOW TO GET THERE
British Airways offers daily flights to Miami from most UK Airports - visit: britishairways.com