The honeymoon is over, but golfers still love the Country Club of Miami

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MIAMI -- Some at the Country Club of Miami believe the ghost of Jackie Gleason, the late comedian who moved to Miami back in the 1950s, haunts the clubhouse and the course.

Gleason, of 'The Honeymooners' fame, loved golf and had a home for more than two decades at the Country Club of Miami, a facility that was once private and hosted the area's PGA Tour event.

These days, it's a public venue, one of five run by Miami-Dade Country, and while its glory days are behind it, the club's past is a constant reminder of a different era of golf.

While Gleason's presence -- real or imagined -- is ever present, the golf course has plenty of other claims to fame. It's where Arnold Palmer was once head professional, where Jack Nicklaus played his first pro event and where the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and many other great players entertained golf fans for many years. The club hosted the National Airlines Open, which later moved to Doral and became the Eastern Open. Today, it's the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

And if you hang out on the porch behind the club's Sports Grill, you might run into an old golfer or two who remembers what those days were like. Charlie Mayo has been coming here since the 1960s. He's seen just about everything and knows that Gleason ruled the roost back in his day.

'Jackie [Gleason] certainly had a dominating presence,' said Mayo, who likes to watch a game or two on the back porch of the club on weekends, just as Gleason might have done three decades before him.

Country Club of Miami: A tale of two golf courses

The Country Club of Miami's West Course and East Course -- have been reconfigured a few times since the club opened a half century ago. But one thing has remained constant about these two Robert Trent Jones designs -- they are both good tests of golf, just as they were decades ago for the pros.

The West Course, a par 72 that stretches to nearly 7,000 yards, is the tougher of the two with tighter fairways, water everywhere and more undulating greens. The course record is a mere 66, set by George McNeill in a mini-tour event.

'It's just hard,' said John Miller, the head professional at the Country Club of Miami. 'There's water or out of bounds on every single hole, and a lot of the water is hidden.'

Plus the greens have more undulation and several false fronts. If the Tif-Eagle greens are running fast, it's possible to run putts off the green depending on where the pins are.

The East Course is no slouch either. It's shorter at 6,409 yards, but it's a par 70. While some of the holes -- like the risk-reward 289-yard par-4 eighth -- lack distance, there are others that play long, especially into the wind.

'It's mostly a shot-maker's course,' Miller said. 'You have some holes where you shouldn't hit driver.'

Another difference between the two is the trees. The West is mostly palms; the East has bushy oaks and old Ficus trees. The East also has fairly new Mini-verde greens, which have hardly any grain, Miller said.

Practice makes perfect at the Country Club of Miami

One thing that the Country Club of Miami is known for is its practice facilities. There's a lighted range, a Mini-verde chipping green that's more than 15,000 square feet, and a Tif-Eagle putting green that's similar in size.

There's also a nine-hole pitching course, with holes between 35 and 70 yards, built three years ago with artificial greens.

'It's $7 to play,' Miller said, 'and anybody can play it. We give you a shag bag, and you can have at it all day.'

Country Club of Miami: The verdict

The key words are 'country club' in the title of this golf club. It has that feel with its past and with its loyal following. Hang out there on weekend at the club's popular sports bar and you'll see some of the same old crowd there week after week. The same holds true for players, who have been getting the same tee times for years, even decades.

The club gives golfers a real sense of belonging, and it's anything but pretentious. While the greens are excellent, the rest of the course isn't manicured to the nth degree. It's well marshaled, and the pace of play is reasonable.

As for the golf courses, the homes certainly can come into play if you're spraying it, but if you manage your game, both courses are more than playable. It's also important to select the right set of tees, because even though the yardages aren't overwhelming, it's important to hit approach shots with reasonable clubs.