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Moody Gardens Golf Course in Galveston, Texas: It's not your father's muni

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Moody Gardens Golf Course - Hole 18
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The approach shot to the 18th green at Moody Gardens Golf Course is often into the wind. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

GALVESTON, Texas - Compared to what preceded it, Moody Gardens Golf Course must seem like Kiawah Island Resort to those who spent years playing the old run-down Galveston Municipal.

Although technically still a muni, Moody Gardens has more than a new name; it has an upscale daily-fee persona following its $17 million renovation this year.

The renovation, by the way, came in the nick of time. Just three months after it reopened, Hurricane Ike came barreling through Galveston, and the new muni withstood the test. The old golf course never would have had a chance.

And, yes, you read that correctly: $17 million, which really makes it a new golf course laid over the old one. So, no corners were cut, except where the new routing made sense. Moody Gardens got new grass, new grading, new construction, new landscaping, new golf shop, new banquet room and grill, and most of all, a brand new attitude with a new golf professional, general manager and superintendent.

The Moody Foundation, which outbid Houston-based Landry's Restaurants a couple of years ago to run the course, contracted Jacobsen/Hardy of Houston, which among other projects, designed the 36 holes at Black Horse Golf Club and the Member Course at Redstone Golf Club -- both in the Houston area.

Crews stripped away the old surface and raised the grade by 3 to 5 feet throughout. The first five holes were rerouted, and a brand new practice facility was built to replace the old inadequate driving range. It got new bunkers and sand, and the clubhouse was gutted and totally renovated. The old "irons only" driving range was moved toward the interior of the southern end of the course. It is more than twice the size of the old with plenty of hitting stations. Behind the clubhouse is a large putting and chipping green.

Paspalum becoming the coastal choice

Under the direction of veteran superintendent Steve Yarotsky, Moody Gardens Golf Course was seeded with paspalum - a relatively new type of grass for golf courses. Developed by former University of Georgia Professor Dr. Ron Duncan, Sea Spray was seeded on the fairways and tees, with a relatively new greens grade called Sea Isle Supreme on the greens. When Ike, one of the largest and most destructive hurricanes to ever hit the Texas coast, slammed ashore, it brought with it a storm surge that put the golf course under 13 feet of saltwater. The paspalum greens, fairways and roughs more than survived; they were thriving just a few weeks after the storm.

The new grass combined with the new contoured, raised greens produced a visually stunning golf course with lots of contrast between the course's 71 white sand bunkers and blue water hazards.

Before, the course's many lakes and ponds were at eye-level and almost impossible to see until you went to look for your ball. Now, there are a plenty of good holes on both nines.

The third, for example, is a 368-yard par 4 with a tee shot that cuts over wetlands - a real birdie opportunity if you hit a good drive. Playing downwind during the summer, strong players can come close to driving the green, but it brings a lot of risk - out of bounds to the right and the wetlands if you hit it left of the green at all. Hybrid is the recommended play off the tee.

The 162-yard, par-3 ninth that finishes at the clubhouse may be the course's so-called signature hole. Usually playing into a prevailing wind, the tee shot is over a substantial water hazard into a wide green that's well protected by bunkers. Club selection and being able to knock the ball down are critical here as it is at most coastal courses.

Moody Gardens Golf Course gets progressively more difficult as you make the turn. The 10th is a 389-yard par 4 slight dogleg right with a tee shot that plays over water and bunkers.

"That's a tough tee shot, particularly from the back tee, when you're having to hit over the water and pick out where you're going to land it," General Manager Bill Pushak said. "Eleven, 12 and 13 are all into the prevailing wind."

The 14th, a 575-yard par 5, represents a real birdie opportunity as the course turns downwind again until you get to the 18th hole. Despite its length, a good drive on 14 can set up an opportunity to go for it in two with a green and approach that appear smaller than they really are, despite being protected by wetlands and water. Two par 4s - the 15th is drivable by long hitters - follow before you get to the 142-yard, par-3 17th, another signature-hole candidate.

The finishing hole can be a real monster. At 472 yards, it's probably the most difficult on the course. Playing back into the wind and finishing at the clubhouse, a strong tee shot - preferable a draw by right-handers - is needed to set up a reasonable approach. Even then, you are probably looking at a long iron or more over water to get to the green. If it wasn't already, the 18th at Moody is one of the better finishing holes in the Houston area now.

Galveston's Moody Gardens Golf Course: The verdict

This golf course has always been a difficult test, and it remains so today. The difference, however, is that it's more fair now. The key is to play the right tees (there are five sets). At its longest, the orange tees play just 6,819 yards, but being able to control your ball flight accurately is a must, or you'll be emptying out your sleeves in a hurry.

There are a couple of holes that still could have stood a little more improvement. The tee shot on the eighth is somewhat marred by an ugly pump station next to the lake on the right, and the first hole brings the street and the range into play fairly easily if you hit driver into the wind. But overall, this course now ranks among the top 20 public courses in the Houston area, which puts in the top 25 percent of the class.

It used to be that, for the most part, only the locals played the course. Now, it's a good day-trip for those who live in the Houston area and not a bad weekend destination. With Moody Gardens, a nature-themed park and resort next door, you could easily make it a weekend for you and your family. Stay and play packages are available at the resort.

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Moody Gardens Golf Course - Practice RangeMoody Gardens Golf Course - Hole 10

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

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

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Great redesign, Good staff, too many Mosquitos

    A Brinkoeter wrote on: Sep 3, 2012

    I was excited to play the new Moody Gardens course after hearing about the redesign. I was disappointed to find out that the greens had been spiked and sanded the weekend before, all but eliminating the perceived breaks. It was warm and windy when we teed off and the round was going well. A brief thunderstorm rolled through which left the course (and us) wet with no wind to speak of. That's when the sleeping giant awoke and darn near carried us off. We could barely finish the round amidst the clouds of mosquitos. If you are looking for a testing ground for the latest personal repellant, this is it! Hoards of the little bloodsuckers will be all over you in any kind of low wind environment, especially on the back side. Bring the OFF and any other repellant you can find. Would recommend at least a 10mph wind to keep them at bay.


  • Loved it!

    Derek wrote on: Apr 14, 2011

    I decided to get away from work and the stresses that come with living life by taking a few days off during the week in the month of October 2010. I planned to ride the seawall and play golf while I was there. To my surprise I found myself having the greatest golfing experience that I had ever had on the Moody Gardens course! It was more than I expected. It was a well manicured picturesque facility. I kept stopping to take pictures it was so nice! To top it off, the staff made me feel extremely welcome. I plan to return every October.


  • Think Twice before you play here!

    Jerry Siel wrote on: Sep 21, 2009

    I played this course over the weekend with some friends of mine and have to say I plan on never returning. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say I was bit by more Mosquito’s while playing this course than all of the bites I’ve received in my 34 years of life. I kid you not; at one point I went to swat my leg and was surprised to see a small village of Mosquito’s had taken up residency on me.
    It was at this time decided I need to find the nearest can of OFF. I drove up to the pro-shop where I was glad to see they had some OFF sitting on the register counter (they saw me coming from a mile away)… little did I know that one can was going to cost me $10.83. Now I understand the need to make a profit, but come on almost $11 dollars for a can of OFF? I know, I know… I should have brought some with me, but I didn’t. So I write this to let you know, if you plan on playing this course bring at least two cans of OFF with you or your own personal fogger.
    The other bad part about this golf course were the two gentlemen (if you choose to call them gentlemen) who harassed my friends and I after we spent $897 dollars in green/car rental fees (20 players) + the several hundreds that we spent on $15 dollar six packs of beer from the cart girls (only thing that was nice about this place).
    Now, I know what you’re thinking… a bunch of drunks causing havoc on the course. Well this couldn’t be anything further from the truth. We’re a very respectful group of guys who all work hard and enjoy spending our hard earned dollars to play golf on the weekends. The starter and the “resident pro” on staff treated our group like we were street trash defacing their precious golf course.
    While waiting on the 18th hole for the remainder of our party to come in we were asked to turn in out golf carts and leave the course… right after some of us had just purchased more beers from the cart girl. We stated that we were trying to wait for our friends who were playing directly behind us, and were told if we didn’t turn the carts in the cops would be called on us for trespassing… Didn’t we just pay you $897 dollars to play?
    If this is any indication of how Moody Gardens Golf course treats all of the large parties playing their course, I suggest you take your hard earned money else where. I know in the future my friends and I will be sure to!


  • Mosquito Breeding Ground!

    Gabriel wrote on: Sep 21, 2009

    Loved playing at Mosquito Gardens, up until we had to deal with any of the staff, not including the cart girl! Starter and Pro are highly unprofessional. They would also prefer to stock up on plenty of mosquito spray in the stock room to push to their golfers then to have the course fogged! And I used almost an entire can and was still in swarms of them. Golf carts couldnt even out run them! Might consider playing here again once management staffs courteous workers!


  • Poor Staff!

    Bryan wrote on: Sep 21, 2009

    Really dont know where to begin about this golf course and its staff. I play golf atleast twice a week and have never been disrespected like I have on this course. I would not recommend anybody to spend there money on this course. For the owner of this course your staff was hired by poor management. How can a course press charges on you if you have spent $2000. Anyways course sucks and staff are winners!



    oscar d wrote on: Sep 21, 2009

    This course is under staffed and very amateur like. My party had a great time up until the last hole when the staff decided to be impatient about us returning our golf carts. The staff decided to call the cops on us and tried to say that we were trespassing on their property. NEVER AGAIN WILL I RETURN TO THIS GOLF COURSE. I had twenty people in my party and they WILL NOT BE RETURNING AS WELL!!! They had a recent renovation on the course...they should renovate their staff!!!


  • Beautiful Course; Terrible Staff

    Chris Wilder wrote on: Sep 21, 2009

    I recently participated in a small tournament consisting of 20 players at Moody Gardens golf course and was very disappointed and insulted by the actions of the staff. A majority of the staff were friendly but the starter and one of the pros were very rude to me and other members of our group. It began when I picked up my cart and the starter (I didn’t get his name but he was a younger guy with brown hair wearing a red polo) commented on my shirt saying he hoped Texas A&M would lose that day because he was a Texas Tech fan. I laughed and shrugged it off until the end of the round when I was again approached by this person in a rude manner. As we pulled up to the 18th green we were asked by an older gentleman in a white shirt to turn in our carts. I believed he had us confused with the group in front of us so I stated that we would like to finish the tournament before turning in our carts and proceeded to the green to complete the hole. Once my group (the 2nd to finish out of the 5 groups playing in the tournament) finished the hole we parked in the grass near the practice greens to wait for the remainder of our tournament to finish the 18th so we could award prizes to the winners before leaving the course. This is when I was again approached by the starter and the older gentleman. The starter yelled “Hey, what the F*ck are you doing?”. I explained that I was moving a golf cart off of the cart path; which I was. He then said “We’ve already asked you to turn in your carts and leave, now that we have warned you once you are trespassing”. I asked why we couldn’t stay there and watch the remainder of the teams finish the round and explained that I had just purchased to Bud Lights from the beer cart girl that I needed to finish before leaving the course. He said “It doesn’t matter, you’re holding up the groups behind you and you’re trespassing. We’ll call the cops if you don’t leave now”. I then removed my bag and other possessions from the cart, said “Take the cart”, and walked to the parking lot. A few minutes later a police cruiser came charging across the parking lot and began harassing me about what was going on and why I had threatened the staff. I explained the situation to the officer and he agreed that I had done nothing wrong. He allowed us to wait in the parking lot for the rest of our group and we left in peace.
    I will never play this course again and suggest that you proceed with cation. They are very quick to call the police if they don't like the team you root for and if you don't follow there unprofessional instructions.
    I guess the guy was mad that Tech got killed by Texas that day.


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