When you pull up to the first tee at Crandon Golf Course on Miami’s Key Biscayne, the starter issues a solemn warning. “This is the third most difficult public golf course in the United States, behind Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South (both U.S. Open sites),” he says. “The Senior PGA Tour played an event here from 1987-2004, but they quit coming because it was too hard for them.”
From the starter’s booth onward, Crandon lives up to the warning. Designed by Bruce Devlin and Robert von Hagge in 1972, this is one long, difficult golf course. The numbers tell part of the story. From the back tees, it plays 7,354 yards with a rating of 76.5 and a slope of 151. Even from the whites it plays 6,425 yards with a rating of 72.1 and a slope of 138. And they’re long yards. When I played, the fairways were a bit shaggy and a bit soggy. My ball picked up mud every time it hit the ground. I wore out my 3-wood trying to reach par four greens.
And a 3-wood is not the club you want to be using when you approach the greens at Crandon. To say they are well defended would be like saying Bruce Springsteen has a nice band. Crandon has shallow greens defended by front bunkers, like the green on the par-five 4th. It’s 657 yards from the back tee and 585 from the white. so the first two shots had better be long and straight if you’re going to hit the third with the short iron that the green demands.
On the 11th hole, the approach has to carry a lake, then a couple of bunkers, and stop on a shallow green lest it run off into the lake or a mangrove thicket. That’s followed by the par-three 12th, where the tee shot is entirely over water. If you take too much club just to make sure you stay dry,there are bunkers behind the green.
And once you’re putting, things get harder. Crandon’s greens are grainy, and they were slow when I played them. It seemed that no matter how I read a putt, it got up to the hole and broke in the opposite direction. When I finally sank a seven-footer to save a par at No. 13, I raised both arms in triumph. It was the longest putt I made all day.
That said, Crandon has to be considered a model public golf facility. It’s got a range, and the range has grass tees. Its staff may be the friendliest in the history of muni golf. My wife and I had a 12:36 p.m. tee time, but we arrived a little early. Richard, the aforementioned starter, not only slipped us into an 11:45 tee time. He gave us a baggy full of tomatoes he raised in his garden, just because we asked if the beverage cart carried snacks. The pace of play was exemplary–we got around in well under four hours.
Equally important, Crandon is within the boundaries of a major city, Miami. Key Biscayne is across the bay from downtown, linked to the city by a causeway, so it’s readily available to visitors. The golf course is part of a park that includes a tennis center, a beach, a marina, and hundreds of acres of mangrove thickets and lagoons. Wild birds and animals share the terrain.
The egrets and ibises, alas, were as close as I got to a birdie all day.