Inside the locker room at the Turnberry Isle Resort and Club in Aventura, Florida, it doesn’t take long to run into some famous names. Look up, and James Caan is right in front of you. Well, his locker is anyway. The man, I assume, was long gone by the time I stepped in before my dinner at the nearby Bourbon Steak restaurant inside the accompanying Fairmont resort.
While actors like Caan and athletes such as Michael Jordan are regulars at Turnberry Isle, and even though I loved The Godfather, I believe that there’s no reason to travel to Florida just to see the aging Sonny Corleone swing a seven iron.
However, if a place is good enough for the celebrities who don’t intentionally try to end up on TMZ every other night, then that place probably has a few things going for it. And that is the understated case at Turnberry Isle. Not just because it’s always sunny in south Florida but mostly because Aventura isn’t home to Orlando’s Disneyland nor Miami’s South Beach.
Of course, South Beach is where we are told we should be if we’re going to Florida, most likely because that’s where the greatest number of celebrities are found, so perhaps some of my earlier reasoning is flawed. Regardless, there’s little relaxing done in South Beach, there are no golf courses and you can bet TMZ has a bureau there. Instead, head north of Miami, halfway between the Miami International Airport and the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, to the town that’s name means “adventure” in Spanish. But remember, it’s a soft adventure you’ll find.
Originally drawn out on a napkin by a real estate developer named Donald Soffer in 1967, the master-planned resort town of Aventura includes 750 acres of golf, shopping, beaches and exercise trails. Of course, there are also a sore-eye series of high-rise condominium developments lining the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, but from inside the Fairmont property, Aventura feels like it’s all vacation.
The two golf courses at Turnberry Isle are open to the private membership and guests at the Fairmont resort only, and while both tracks received a quality upgrade at the hands of Raymond Floyd during a recent $150 million resort renovation in 2006, it’s the Soffer Course that rightfully commands the most attention. In fact, the back nine on the Soffer Course alone is so thoroughly entertaining that it almost warrants replaying those nine holes ad nauseam or at least until you hear your caddy phone the pro shop to say he’s going home for the night.
This isn’t to suggest that the rest of the course, or the adjoining Miller Course, aren’t worth playing though. In fact, during the 2006 renovation the resort spent more than $100,000 landscaping each hole, making the manicured backdrop consistent throughout. And whereas many expensive resort courses use finely trimmed waste areas and excessive amounts of flowering shrubs to, as the saying goes, put lipstick on a pig, at Turnberry Isle the golf isn’t filled with pork.
Other additions at Turnberry Isle, particularly one that also came as a result of the renovation, stand above their surroundings. The chef Michael Mina, who first made a name for himself with an eponymous American seafood restaurant in San Francisco before fully cutting into red meat in places like Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and Turnberry Isle, has opened a Bourbon Steak restaurant inside the Fairmont.
Though I doubt it is intentional, the menu is set up for diners to start like Mina did, with seafood, before making their way through the classics and into the steaks. The ahi tuna tartare appetizer consumes taste buds, instead of the other way around. And though Bourbon Steak is a proclaimed steakhouse, it’s near foolish to avoid the whole fried chicken for two with truffled mac and cheese, another of Mina’s classics.
This may sound like the next great place for a group of guys to play golf, eat steak, smoke cigars and gamble amongst each other as much as Jordan does, but Turnberry Isle has another side to it as well. One that includes the new Laguna Pool with its lazy river, waterslide, private cabanas, children’s play area and waterfalls. And there’s also the resort’s private Ocean Club, which after a short one-mile shuttle ride over the Intracoastal Waterway, makes for the easiest and most comfortable way to lounge on one of Florida’s best beaches. Along with a heated fresh water pool, the Ocean Club also has its own café so there is no need to ever pull the kids away from the water.
Of course, you might want to pull yourself away when you see the staircase leading to the Willow Stream spa, or to get another round of golf in (o.k., the back nine on the Soffer Course one last time), and that’s when the Fairmont’s Kids Connection program does something even Disney can’t do. With reservations, your children will be engaged in activities like golf, swimming and tennis for either half- or full-day supervised programs while you take some time to rediscover travel without kids.
It’s not Disney, and that’s a good thing. And it’s not South Beach, and that’s even better. What it is, is the vacation you and your family could use, regardless of whether James Caan is there or not.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The Fairmont Turnberry Isle, fairmont.com/turnberryisle
This article originally appeared in Denver Life Magazine.