Who's your hard-rockin' daddy, South Florida golfers? Emerald Hills

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - The Club at Emerald Hills' affiliated hotel is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which is fitting, because Emerald Hills is a hard-rocking golf course.

With an overall length of 7,117 yards from the tips, water on 10 holes and a slope rating of 147, Emerald Hills is the Keith Richards of resort golf: a hard-living, chain-smoking bad ass.

The course does have some soft edges that most rockers don't, like mounded fairways to give you a good nudge here and there. But overall, it has more length and hazards than your typical resort course, catering to tourists looking for the idyllic South Florida lifestyle. It's also, unlike Richards, easy on the womenfolk.

"Here's the thing: it's much shorter for women than men," said Golf Shop Manager Shelly Kjelgard, who plays the course frequently. "Women have advantages. As a woman playing it, it's not long. But at the same time, the degree of challenge is everywhere, from the undulating greens to the bunkers."

Even from the middle tees, the slope rating is in the 130s, so it will still be more than just a walk in the park for your average resort guest. Especially if the wind offs the Atlantic Ocean kicks up. When ocean breezes rip across the course, it can make up to a three-club difference. That 7-iron you hit from 170 yards out can come up well short, so bag the macho attitude and pick your club accordingly.

The course describes itself as a "hidden gem," but it's hard to be hidden in the great Fort Lauderdale area and the PGA Tour has certainly found it. Emerald Hills hosts qualifying events for Doral and Honda, two PGA Tour stops and has made both Golf Digest's "Best Places to Play" list and the Miami Herald's "People's Choice" awards.

Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge designed the course, which opened in 1968. It went through a re-design and Tif Eagle Bermuda greens were installed in 2000.

"I think it's probably one of the top courses in this area," said Robert Butler, from upstate New York, a 6-handicapper "I know it's one of my top two or three. Whenever I'm down here, I always play it as often as I get a chance."

The verdict

There is water on 10 holes at Emerald Hills, so bring some extra balls in case the wind kicks up. It can also make the course play longer, like on No. 2, a 429-yard par 4, dogleg left. You hit over a sand/gravel waste area to a narrow landing area. You can play a long-iron or go over the mound to the fairway and into a small green mounded in back and front.

Or the 467-yard par-4 eighth hole, with water right and bunkers and trees left. The green is slightly elevated and significantly sloped, with a grass bunker on the left.

Save your energy for the closing hole, a 607-yard par 5 with water jutting in to the left fairway - be careful and with the wind blowing right to left, you can find it easily. It's hard to reach in two and the bulkhead green slopes right toward the water. Stay right or palm trees come into play.

Emerald Hills is a parkland course, but being that it is located in busy Broward County, don't expect to find peace and serenity. There are condos and houses along just about every inch of the perimeter and you'll have nice views of back porches, docks and some ritzy speed boats.

There's also ongoing construction noise, as well as the sounds of lawn mowers and chain saws. Welcome to golf in South Florida. You don't come here for rural ambience.

The course, in July, showed some signs of summer stress, but this is a course usually recognized for its excellent conditioning. The greens are fast - the owner, an avid player, likes to keep them that way.

Stay and play

The Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa sits right on the beach, looming 39 stories above the Atlantic, with views of sunrises, cruising yachts and tug boats carrying cargo across the choppy waters.

It's a big, bold, 1,000-room South Florida hotel with marble floors, sweeping views and art deco curves and lines. There's a 60-foot, glass atrium with views of the sea, 24-hour room service and high-speed Internet.

Shuttles can take you to the grand Diplomat Country Club and its 60-room hotel with tennis, an 18-hole golf course and spa. The tennis facility has 10 clay courts, six of them lighted.

The 30,000-square foot spa offers "Everglades" facial and body treatments, steam rooms, whirlpools, private patios and a personal attendant. The spa is a garden courtyard and includes a fitness center and yoga classes.

The resort sits on that small, ritzy spit of land between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway - where the rich come to frolic - and has views of both. There also seems to be less traffic here than inland, where regular people work and play.

Dining out

The Westin Diplomat has nine restaurants and lounges, from nightclub dancing to poolside grills.

Hollywood Prime is a steak house and the Café serves breakfast and lunch, then switches to Italian dining at night. Nikki Lounge serves seafood/sushi and cocktails and the Links Grill has all-day dining. There's also a coffee bar, the Tack room, which serves cocktails, and Satine, the night club.

Fast fact

Emerald Hills has also been picked to host the U.S. Amateur Qualifier U.S. Mid Amateur Qualifier.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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