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Martini in your air-conditioned cart? Welcome to the Diplomat C.C. and spa

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Take intricate landscaping, a lavish Italian-villa-style clubhouse and fawning service - including air-conditioned golf carts to which a martini will be whisked at your order - and you have the Diplomat Country Club and Spa, one of the most upscale in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Throw in a very playable layout and you also have a course that looks and acts like what an upscale course should. That's why the Diplomat course does around 40,000 rounds a year - that and the fact that this is greater Fort Lauderdale, host to an annual invasion of mostly wealthy Northerners escaping the winter weather back home.

This club, affiliated with the nearby Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, is on the west (mainland) side of the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Westin itself is right on the beach, looming 39 stories above the Atlantic, with views of sunrises, cruising yachts and tugs carrying cargo across the choppy waters. It's a big, bold, 1,000-room South Florida hotel with marble floors, sweeping views and art deco curves and lines. There is a 60-foot glass atrium that looks out to sea, 24-hour room service and high-speed Internet.

Shuttles can take you to the grand Diplomat Country Club, with its 60-room hotel, golf course, tennis center and spa. The tennis facility has 10 clay courts, six of them lighted. The 30,000-square-foot spa offers "Everglades" facial and body treatments, steam rooms, whirlpools, private patios, fitness center, yoga classes and a personal attendant.

The resort sits on that small, ritzy spit of land between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, where the rich come to frolic. There also seems to be less traffic here than inland, where regular people work and play.

The club is experimenting with air-conditioned golf carts, which are popular out west. Hoses blow cool air onto your back and neck when pressure is applied to the seat. It isn't true air-conditioning, but in Florida in July anything helps.

The interesting flora and lavish surroundings are what make this course a more than worthwhile play. Banyan trees are among the thickest and most interesting trees in the world, and there is a mess of them to look at here as you make your way around the 6,800-yard golf course, seeking shade in the broiling, south Florida sun.

Many of the old banyans were transplanted when the 47-year-old course was redesigned in 2000 by Joe Lee. With thousands of Royal Palms added, the course takes on a sort of mixed Asian/Floridian look. The result is a very open course, occasionally susceptible to winds off the Atlantic that can tie you in knots.

The course itself has enough challenge for fair-to-good golfers, especially from the back tees, but it's the landscaping, clubhouse, service and location that make it attractive.

In terms of difficulty, it's a little above average for a resort course. Everywhere you look there's water, and I'm not talking about the waterway or the ocean - 16 of the 18 holes offer (or threaten) a chance to get wet. Bring your ball retriever and a beach towel.

With a slope rating of 136 from the back tees, you can't drink martinis all the way around and expect to post a low score.

"It's a good resort course," said Dana Schmid, the director of golf, who played on the women's team at Texas Christian. "I tell people to pay attention to the GPS; it's definitely a placement course, with the doglegs. I try to tell people to plan their next shot. Most Florida courses are pretty straightforward, we have a lot of doglegs."

Yes, they do and most of them are to the left, so bring your right-to-left game. Like No. 2, a 385-yard dogleg left. Keeping it left takes the trees out of play, even if the landing area is narrow. You're hitting into an island green.

Green fees are $55 to $100 for guests, more than reasonable for such a facility

Dining out

The Westin Diplomat has nine restaurants and lounges, with options ranging from nightclub dancing to poolside grills. Hollywood Prime is a steak house; The Café serves breakfast and lunch then switches to Italian dining at night. Nikki Lounge serves seafood, sushi and cocktails, while The Links Grill has all-day dining. There is also a coffee bar; the Tack Room, which serves cocktails; and the Satine nightclub.

Fast fact

The Diplomat was ranked the No. 1 golf resort in North America at the 2002 World Travel Awards.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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Dates: January 1, 2018 - March 31, 2018
Play unlimited golf, stay and save. Package includes room, breakfast buffet and one round of golf per night stay, based on single or double occupancy. Limited time offer for travel through 3/31/2018. Enjoy extra rounds on us!
Price range: $355