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Mallard Cove Golf Course: Exceptional golfing value in Lake Charles, Louisiana

By Steve Habel,
Mallard Cove Golf Course - 13th Hole
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The 13th hole is the beginning to Mallard Cove's version of Amen Corner. (Courtesy Mallard Cove)

Open after extensive renovations, Mallard Cove Golf Course in Lake Charles is a fair test of golf with few gimmicks, and represents a real value in Louisiana golf.

LAKE CHARLES, La. Given the proliferation of high-end public golf courses in the Southwest Louisiana region during the past decade, it would have been easy for Lake Charles to let its top municipal golf course, Mallard Cove, just fade away.

But instead the city's leaders have done there best to make Mallard Cove one of the best golf options in the region, even though the golf course got a swift kick in the teeth from Hurricane Rita in September 2005.

Developed in 1976 by Lake Charles, Mallard Cove was built on land given to the city by the federal government at the former Chennault Air Force Base. The airport on the base still operates under the title of the Chennault Airport Authority, and there are a handful of businesses (Northrop Grumman and Airborne Express, to name just two) located on the airbase.

For the last 31 years, Mallard Cove has been the choice of thousands of golfers playing hundreds of thousands of rounds, and was honored as fourth "Best Public Course" in the state for 1996 by Golf Digest. But being the go-to course in the area for more than three decades has taken its toll on the course, and in February 2001, Mallard Cove closed for complete reconstruction of its greens, green-side bunkers and tee boxes.

"The changes were necessary to be able to bring the golf course back to being one of the top public courses in Louisiana and to compete with the courses we had coming into Lake Charles and this area," said Derek Smith, Mallard Cove's director of golf operations.

"Then Hurricane Rita which came in and quickly completed some of our planned tree removal and pruning projects much ahead of schedule."

Thanks to Rita, the entire facility had to be closed down for 45 days to complete debris removal, with the first foursome resuming play on the course on November 10, 2005. Mallard Cove is still operating out of temporary buildings and hopes to complete construction on a planned new clubhouse sometime in 2008.

Designed originally by Art Wall on a decidedly flat piece of land just south of the airbase's main runways, Mallard Cove sports a championship layout with water coming into play on 12 holes. It measures 6,977 yards from championship tees and plays to a par of 72 while featuring 25 large bunkers and many trees of varying kinds, including cypress, oak and pine. The Championship course rating is 73.0 and the slope is 128.

You begin your round with a 588-yard par 5 that was lengthened 20-25 yards in the renovation, but not so much so that a long tee shot could still allow the possibility of reaching the green in two. There is a pond on the right side of the fairway, forcing a shot into the layup area to be fairly accurate.

The fifth at Mallard Cove, at 433 yards, is the No. 2 handicap hole and for good reason. The renovation project included lengthening this hole approximately 15 yards, placing a greater demand on the tee shot. With out-of-bounds left and the predominant wind from the right (south), this dogleg-right makes for a tough tee shot.

The front side ends with the 426-yard, par-4 ninth. The longer hitter can usually carry the mound in the fairway, which will add distance to the drive and leave a short iron to the green. With OB left and a predominant wind from the right (south), be careful and play the drive down the right side.

The back side is where most locals say Mallard Cove's real challenge begins.

No. 14 is a 411-yard dogleg right that brings new mounds into play and tempts you to cut the corner, where all the danger lies.

No. 18, a par-five recently featured in Golf Course Management magazine, offers many different options from the tee. It is a big dogleg right hole that features a fairway to the left, bordered by a horseshoe-shaped pond and a strip of land up the middle.

Mallard Cove: The Verdict

There is plenty to like at Mallard Cove, and the fact that it is can be played for under $30 makes it a true third option in the city for golfers looking to spend a little time in the area.

There is always a wind factor at the course, as being on a decommissioned air base, it is very much subject to winds that pick up as they move across the open areas of the existing airport.

And then there is the risk/reward factor that many of the track's holes provide: on Nos. 8, 10, 12, 13 and 18. You can make Mallard Cove as easy or as hard as you want, and you better be on your game if you try to bite off more than you can chew.

Above all, the course is a fair test, and it is straightforward with no real gimmicks to trick you up. It will test your game with numerous sand traps and water hazards. Some of the holes are windier than others, especially the ones close to the air field but I am a plane nut, so that is cool by me.

Green fees are $16 on weekdays and $21 on the weekends, with $12 added for half a cart fee and $16.50 if you want to ride alone.

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Mallard Cove Golf Course - 18th HoleMallard Cove Golf Course - Best Public Course

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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