More than two million cubic yards of Miami Beach’s Biscayne Bay was dredged back in the 1920s during the construction of the 18-hole layout at La Gorce Country Club.
Leading English amateur golfer, Captain Herbert Charles Coningsby Tippet, originally laid out the course at La Gorce, which opened in 1927. Tippet was a close associate of property tycoon Carl G. Fisher, who was instrumental in the development of the new resort city of Miami Beach.
La Gorce Country Club thrived until the Second World War when the running of the club was handed over to the city council and the course became a pay-and-play facility. The property was almost turned over to real estate development when a group of public-spirited men stepped in, raised $1m, and commissioned Robert Trent Jones to renovate the course in 1953.
The club then enjoyed a renaissance, which was driven by the club’s teaching professional, Jack Grout, who became Jack Nicklaus’s first and only swing coach. Ironically, the club doesn’t like to mention the Golden Bear due to a legal spat with Nicklaus Design over a subsequent restoration project.
According to the Miami New Times: “When the organization's members decided to redesign their links in 1994 (‘To help the image of the club,’ explains general manager Darren Betz), they called on one of the world's greatest golfers and most prominent course designers, Jack Nicklaus, who practiced on those same fairways during his childhood. La Gorce shelled out $2.5 million for Nicklaus's efforts and got a splendid new facility – on clear days. After a rain, though, it's another story; the course acquires a lake-belt of new water hazards and is difficult to play without a flat-bottom skiff.
‘I wouldn't say it's a problem,’ posits Betz. ‘It's just a fact of life.’ He is being a little disingenuous: The situation is so displeasing that La Gorce has entered into legal arbitration proceedings against Nicklaus's firm, Golden Bear International, Inc., and Paragon Golf Construction, the contractors who rebuilt the course. But in his attempt to tone down the seriousness of the issue, Betz does inadvertently hit on the crux of the matter: Around here, flooding is indeed a fact of life. More to the point, most of Dade was once under water.”
Nowadays the club prefers to promote “playing in the shadow of legendary greats from a bygone era, with the silhouette of the Miami Beach skyline in the background.” And why not?
LaGorce Country Club membership is by invitation only. I would categorize it as a stiff upper lip club. It does have a checkered past. Opening in 1927 its future appeared rosy until the Great Depression. World War II pushed it to the brink and City of Miami took it over and it was utilized as a public course. Miami was about to sell the club to real estate investors when several investors created a coalition and saved the club. Since then many improvements have been made. Robert Trent Jones lead a redsign and added three water holes. Hard to believe but the original design had none!
To the course, the first hole is welcoming a mid-length dogleg right with a bunker on the inside elbow. The 2nd hole is tough. A long tight par 4. The 3rd hole is a par 5 with water on your approach. I do not understand why it is the number one handicap hole. Three mediocre shots and you can still make per. On the 2nd two mediocre shots and you may be looking at double. The 4th and 5th are birdie opptys. The mid-length par 4 4th can be tricky, with a couple of bunkers in the fairway and water left bad things can happen. The 5th is a hard dogleg right with a bunker on the inside elbow. Cut as much of the corner as you can. A weakness of the course are the par threes. The 6th, 8th, 3th and 16th are variations of the omnipresent Florida par 3 carry over water. The short par 4th seemed to be birdie or bust. Bunkers in the left landing area and water protecting the green on the right.
The par 511th has a similar look and feel to the 3rd. It is longer and I thought a much tougher hole. The 14th is a slight dogleg left. Aim a little right off the center to avoid the bunker on the elbow. The 15th is a par 5 that can be reached in two, in my group none of us could reach it in three. Keep your drive right of center to avoid being blocked out. There is a small water left of the green. You will be glad once you finish 18. A par 4,it is a beast at almost 500 yards from the tips! I forgot to mention the small water hazard left of the green
The design is less than memorable but the conditioning is superb. I would not play it again, but if you wrangle an invite you should accept.