Formerly known as the Links at Key Biscayne, the course at Crandon Golf was originally laid out by Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin in 1972.
Located on the barrier island, which is reached by a short but scenic drive over the Rickenbacker Causeway, Crandon is certainly an unheralded course despite it being a long-standing televised Champions Tour venue.
All courses are unique, but not always in a good way, however, Crandon is apparently the only course in North America to feature a subtropical lagoon – seven saltwater lakes and mangrove swamps combine to created a real Everglades-like golfing experience.
The late Robert von Hagge returned to Key Biscayne to renovate his creation in 1993.
Formerly called the Links at Key Biscayne the club was wise enough to change its name a number of years ago because any course that uses the tagline "links" had best be very similar to the actual product.
I have opined on previous reviews for courses in the Sunshine State that I am not a fan for much of what attempts to call itself "golf" in Florida. The invasive inclusion of housing and the over insertion of water into designs often means a repetitive stale exercise of layouts that provide far little distinction.
That is not the case with Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne. Here the setting is free of the clutter and the views of the Biscayne Bay in tandem with the waterfront area of Miami makes for a regal setting.
Thankfully, the course is open to the public and while the fees for non-residents does spike during the winter months the costs are still manageable given the golf you'll experience and given the shlock alternatives that are even higher to play throughout much of southeastern Florida.
Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin formed a working relationship and after having played a fair share of their efforts I believe Crandon is easily the best of the lot I've played.
The course from the tips is just under 7,400 and sports a 76.3 CR and 151 Slope. Only those who truly have a handicap no higher than three should even remotely think about entertaining such a monumental test.
Fortunately, the architects have included a versatile course where tees are scattered about and the playing challenges can be within the grasp of those who manage their games smartly and execute with precision whenever called upon.
What makes Crandon so special is that the holes are always moving in some sort of direction. You rarely get the straight-ahead hole. You also have fairways that taper in on both sides for those who want to get as far down the fairway as possible. The 1st -- a par-5 of 548 yards -- is an excellent example of this. There's water pressing in from the left and a right side fairway bunker that is expertly angled into the line of play. If someone wants to bomb the tee shot and attempt to get home in two -- they had best deliver the goods from the tee with superlative effort.
That's what makes the course so special. Nothing is cheaply earned. You have to be constantly aware and when you add the fresh breezes off Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean that are a constant the wherewithal for creative shotmaking is an absolute necessity.
One of the best holes I've played the State comes with the par-4 7th. The 458-yard hole doglegs right around Least Sandpiper Lake. The tee shot is central to the hole. You can't miss too far right or the song "Splish Splash" from Bobby Darin will be ringing in your ears. Pull the shot too far left and either two bunkers on that side will interfere with your efforts or, worse yet, reaching the rough will really impede any thoughts in getting to the green in the regulation stroke.
The greens at Crandon are also appropriately contoured. In this day of what architect can top another it's not uncommon for courses to have greens which are the equivalent of the Himalayas Course at St. Andrews. The targets are defended well with bunkers and those who short side themselves will need a deft touch to escape unscathed.
Between the two sides -- the inward half is clearly the better of the two. The 10th, 11th and 12th make for a tour de force combination of 5, 4 and 3 par holes. The 12th plays 187 yards and when the wind is helping -- which it often is, the skills needed to loft and land softly to a green fiercely protected by a front water hazard takes the skills of a Jedi master. This is especially so when the pin is cut in the deep far left corner.
The ending stretch is also quite good. The short dogleg left 16th is a quality par-4. The long par-3 17th at 255 yards can be a beast when a westerly wind greets you at the tee. The closing par-5 18th, like the 1st, is a high caliber test of verve. Do you have the guts to drill a tee shot with doom on both sides?
My main downside to Crandon is the array of paved cart paths -- at times you feel like you're on an interstate highway with all the twists and turns. In some situations the cart paths wind themselves too close to the line of play and, as a result, you do get the possibility of strange bounces in all sorts of directions. This especially worrisome when such paths are too close to the putting surfaces. Heaven forbid -- someone has to walk just a few more paces to get to the green. If the facility wishes to get the kind of rating it so richly deserves it's long overdue for this sad anchor weighing around the neck of Crandon to be reconsidered for a much smarter involvement.
All in all, if you think you have serious game -- head over to Crandon. Be very aware of your skillset because this is one course that doesn't suffer fools gladly. For a number of years the Champions Tour came to Crandon to compete and the layout performed very well.
Florida is not the kind of location where you will see winning design given the limits of the topography. But, if one looks carefully you will see pockets where top tier efforts are certainly front and center. When you get to Miami -- just make a bee-line over to Key Biscayne Island and play Crandon. It's the real deal.
M. James Ward