George Merrick’s crowning achievement happened in the 1920’s when he planned and built the City of Coral Gables in Florida. A career of achievements, perhaps the height of his brilliance happened in 1924 when he and John McEntee Bowman joined forces to build the Biltmore Hotel. They envisioned a place that would serve as the center of fashion and sports in South Florida. $10 million was enough then to build a 400-room property with country club, golf course, tennis courts and large pool. Today, it’s less than half the investment for the hotel redesign and Donald Ross golf course restoration. The main lobby’s architectural legacy remains with its sky-high ceilings. Classic furniture has been updated with a contemporary twist. Guests immediately notice a more vibrant space.
Coral Gables’ lush landscapes and blue skies are the inspiration for the Biltmore’s updated interiors. Modern elegance is highlighted by designer gemstone chandeliers over the beds and couture fabrics including velvet and damask. And of course – the finches who have called the lobby home since the 90s remain.
Since its par 71 golf course opened in the 20s, its undergone various renovations according to the preferences of golfers at the time. Overseen by Brian Silva, veteran golf course architect it underwent a renovation in 2008 – mostly done by reading the land. Then Director of Golf Bob Coman took a serendipitous trip to Pinehurst, NC where he found Donald Ross’ original blueprints.
The result, $2.5 million later, is a more challenging and technical course. 400 yards were added to the championship tees and now play 7,112-yards. Still, the first hole is a reachable par five which is a fun start to the round. New bunkers were added to #1 which makes for 84 on the golf course. You’ll also encounter a few of these additions on the fifth, a tough dogleg right. Hit an accurate tee shot or you’ll be in tree trouble on the right or in a bunker if you go straight and long.
The Coral Gables waterway winds along the course playing a significant role. My favorite is #7, a dogleg left, water runs to the left of the tee box then cuts the fairway in half forcing a carry on the second shot. 10 is a par four dogleg left that hovers around the hotel’s tennis courts – another activity guests can take part in during the stay. 17 also brings the waterway into play, separated from the green by only a bunker. Lastly, 18 is a beautiful hole to finish, but be warned of the extreme sloping green. Your second or third shot will play difficult if the pin is tucked on the left – as it was the day I was there. Try not to putt off the green (as I did the day I was there). Ross was a visionary and his design was aimed to be simpler for novice golfers while more challenging for the advanced. Surrounded by beautiful Coral Gables homes – this is a must play.
Aside from an array of parrots, full families of iguanas and beautiful Egyptian geese, the University of Miami’s women’s golf team call the course home. With the addition of the championship tees the team hopes to attract a Senior PGA or LPGA event in the coming years. Jim McLean officially moved his Jim McClean Golf School headquarters to the Biltmore in January. Maybe it was the hinge drill I picked up there, or the preround breakfast at Fontana complete with freshly made pastries (I should mention the Biltmore is one of the only hotels in the area with its own bakery), or maybe Egyptian geese are good luck – either way I had my best round at the Biltmore Hotel. All that waits for you in Coral Gables’ reimagined capital of fashion and sport.