For Top Golf Courses, Follow Tiger Woods

Jack Nicklaus recently said aspiring architect Tiger Woods was too young to know much about designing golf courses. But enthusiasts would do well to follow Woods' lead.

Woods, who returned to golf last month after being sidelined by knee surgery for months, teed off two weeks ago at the fearsome Blue Monster at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, the esteemed Miami getaway. My friend and I decided to try our swings at the legendary course, arriving the morning after Woods' departure.

The Doral in Miami is home to the Blue Monster Course.

Doral's accessibility is among its strong suits: This Marriott International ( MAR) property is 10 minutes from Miami International Airport and a half-hour from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. We left New York in the morning and easily made an 11:30 a.m. tee time. The planes flying overhead during your round is a reasonable tradeoff for this convenience.

Given the months of rust on our swings, we decided to leave the Blue Monster for last and start on the Gold Course. At 6,600 yards from the back tees, accuracy is more of a challenge than distance, with water making cameo appearances on 16 holes. The Gold isn't the gold standard at Doral, but it makes for a pleasant, low-stress loop.

On day two, we took on the Red Course, which tips out at only 6,100 yards but still has enough bite to have hosted an LPGA event in 2001. It's a cleverly routed layout, with an especially stubborn group of par 3s.

We could have used a visit to the nearby Jim McLean Golf School, one of the country's best-regarded learning centers and a Doral staple since 1991. This year, McLean will make his first foray into golf architecture at Doral with his overhaul of what used to be known as the Silver, now called the Jim McLean Signature Course. It's going to be a serious test, beefed up 600 yards to 7,100 with the par lowered to 70 from 71. As Tiger would say, bring your A game.

The Blue Monster will always be Doral's crown jewel; the McLean will be serving a supporting role alongside the Great White course, designed by Greg Norman. I played it a few years ago and remember being impressed by the glitziness of the crushed coquina shells that define the holes, along with the palm trees and water hazards. I also remember finding the course rather ruthless. The resort has since reworked two of the course's holes and all its bunkers. The softening effect makes the layout as enjoyable to play as it is to look at, but still with plenty of bite.

The charms of South Beach are a few minutes' drive away for those in better frames of mind than my newly single friend and me, who's newly self-employed. We spent our evenings happily complaining about everything but than golf in the Champions Sports Bar & Grill, a comfy indoor-outdoor hangout. The resort's fine-dining restaurant, Windows on the Green, seems made for expense accounts; the quality of our food didn't match the size of the bill.

Just as Arthur had to pull Excalibur from the stone, eventually you have to challenge the Blue Monster. While we can't claim Arthur's success, we didn't get our heads handed to us. The course earns its name, but without trickery or excessive difficulty. Many of the best, most interesting holes are among the shortest. The Monster's famous, water-laden closing hole, which is always one of the PGA Tour's toughest par 4s, ends matters on the highest of notes.

If we had kept up with Woods, we would have hit Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando next. But we probably wouldn't have been as victorious as Woods, who snapped up his first victory in months at last weekend's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Staatsburg, N.Y. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.

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