Fun course, Banyan trees, lavish feel make Diplomat a good resort choice

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Banyan trees are among the thickest and most interesting trees in the world - and the Diplomat Country Club and Spa here has a mess of them to look at as you make your way around its 6,800-yard golf course, seeking shade in the broiling south Florida sun.

Many of the old banyans were transplanted when Joe Lee redesigned the 47-year-old course in 2000. They planted thousands of Royal Palms in addition, so the course takes on an almost Asian/Floridian mixed look. The result is a very open course, occasionally susceptible to winds off the Atlantic that can tie you in knots.

Throw in beautiful landscaping, a lavish, Italian villa-style clubhouse, fawning service and a not-so-difficult track and you have a course that resort guests love; this is what a resort course is supposed to look and act like. That's why the Diplomat does around 40,000 rounds a year - that and the fact this is greater Fort Lauderdale, where mostly wealthy Northern tourists invade Florida in the winter to get away from their bad weather.

The hotel is affiliated with the Westin Diplomat and is just over the bridge that separates the strip of land between the ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, on the mainland side.

In terms of difficulty, it's a little above average for a resort course, though it does have a ton of water - on 16 of the 18 holes. Everywhere you look there's water, and I'm not talking about the waterway or the ocean. Bring your ball retriever and a beach towel.

It does have a slope rating of 136 from the back tees, so you can't drink Mai-Tais on your way around and expect to post a low score. You could try, though: You can order food and drink directly from the GPS on your cart - forget about this ordering-at-the-turn baloney. This is South Florida, baby - you can have it whisked right to your cart.

As if that weren't enough, the club is experimenting with air-conditioned golf carts, which are popular out West. Air hoses blow cool air onto your back and neck when pressure is applied to the seat. It isn't truly air-conditioned, but anything in August in Florida is a help. Let's hope they make them standard in the summer months.

"It's a good resort course," said Dana Schmid, the director of golf who played on the women's team at Texas Christian University. "I tell people to pay attention to the GPS; it's definitely a placement course, with the doglegs. I try to tell people to plan their next shot. Most Florida courses are pretty straight forward, (but) we have a lot of doglegs."

Yes, they do and most of them are to the left, so bring your right-to-left game. Like No. 2, a 385-yard dogleg left. Keeping it left takes the trees out of play, even if the landing area is narrow. You're hitting into an island green.

Or No. 6, where another right-to-left tee shot is required. At 428 yards, it's the longest par 4 on the course and most of its difficulty is in the approach; don't miss left or you're facing nearly an impossible up-and-down. Then again, there's out of bounds right.

The Verdict

The interesting trees and lavish surroundings are what make this course a more-than-worthwhile play. The course itself has enough challenge for average to better golfers, especially from the back tees, but it's the landscaping, clubhouse, service and location - so close to the beach - that make it attractive. Did I mention the air-conditioned carts?

Green fees are $55 to $100 for guests. For those with Florida driver licenses, it's $35-$55, the cheaper rate being after 2 p.m.

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 is 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, with 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

The Diplomat was ranked the No. 1 golf resort in North America at the 2002 World Travel Awards.

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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