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|Some homes line the fairways of the rolling Windance Country Club fairways. (Courtesy of islandviewcasino.com)|
GULFPORT, Miss. - If I were to pick one golf course to play on a regular basis in this part of Mississippi, Windance Country Club would be at or near the top of the list. There are several holes that, out of the starting gate, look to be fairly straight forward and not overly difficult. But as you play, you realize that Windance has plenty of head-scratching gravitas.
While the golf course is a visual treat with its old oaks, pines, water, and wetlands, challenges are subtle. Although it would not be considered hilly, there are some good downhill and uphill holes, along with mounding, such as appears on the 14th, which can kick your ball from the right back onto the fairway.
Designed by Mark McCumber, Windance Country Club opened in 1986, so it has had plenty of time to mature. Trees are tall, grass is thick and lush, and this is happily a very walkable track.
Windance C.C. is a thinking golfer's course, which means you have choices, making it fun to play over and over again. For example, on the seventh hole, a par 5 playing 500 yards (393 from the forward), a creek cuts across the fairway and may catch your drive if you nail it. You may decide to back off your driver.
This is especially true for long hitters playing Windance Country Club from the forward tees. Your best bet may be to lay up to the creek with an iron or hybrid, then lay up again and go for an easy pitch to the shallow green and your par.
Some holes tempt you to cut close to the tree line bordering corners, or they may challenge you to go over them. Although there are not any sharp doglegs, there are several slight bends that become very interesting when you try to shave off yardage, like on the third hole, a par 5 slight dogleg left over a creek. Continuing to the hole, the fairway narrows the closer you get to the green, as trees hug both sides, and a well-placed bunker on the right side of the green forces strategic shots.
Houses have been built along several of the fairways at Windance Country Club, but some holes are building free. Where dwellings do exist, they don't really intrude.
The pars 3s are especially fun to play, as they offer some surprises. The second hole, the hardest of the bunch, plays 231 from the tips and 167 from the forward tees. You can reach it, sure, but don't underestimate the difficulty of the two-tiered green, where getting away with a two putt is an admirable feat. Miss your drive and you'll be in the trees or the bunkers. Water comes into play on the fourth, eighth and 15th holes.
Ample bailout areas on some holes can save your sanity and score. For example, go long on the 15th, a par-3, 170-yard test, and you'll have a fairly generous bit of grass to catch your ball before it rolls into the trees.
The Ross-like greens at Windance Country Club run true and fast, even slippery; most are roll-up. You have to think carefully where to place your approach shot. It's not unusual to hit the green on a pitch or chip and, just when you're happy with your shot, watch with dismay as your ball keeps rolling and rolling, running off the back or side. Even when undulations are not dramatic, they can be tricky and result in a three or even four putt.
At 6,659 from the tips, Windance Country Club is not one of the longest golf courses in Mississippi, but there are sensible distances between the tees. Those who find the forward tees too short at 5,056 yards can move back to the greens playing 5,380 yards. Unfortunately only the reds are currently rated for women, but I chose the greens and found them very playable.
Windance C.C. has hosted the Ben Hogan and the Nike Gulf Coast Classic, a tournament that gave Jim Furyk his first professional triumph. It has also been the venue for the Senior Series Professional Golf Tour and was named by Golf Digest and Southern Journal of Golf as one of the state's top courses.
Windance C.C. has a gracious, Southern-style clubhouse with a pro shop, along with a practice range, putting green and swimming pool. There's also The View at 19 Bar & Grill, for drinks or a bite to eat before or after play.
When I checked into the Island View Casino Resort it was dark, so I was unprepared for the spectacular view of the water when I opened my drapes in the morning. Boats going by, pool down below, the Gulf of Mexico and Cat Island right out there - a perfect eye-opener.
Island View has an 83,000-square-foot casino and several places to eat and drink, including the famed Emeril's Gulf Coast Fish House. I loved their huge barbecued shrimp and andouille. The banana cream pie was also outstanding.
Rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, Island View opened in 2007. The resort's 562 rooms have high-end luxuries like fine linens, upgraded mattresses and plasma TVs. The helpful and friendly staff make you feel totally welcome. Wonderful Southern hospitality. For more information, visit www.islandviewcasino.com.
November 24, 2009
Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
There are many stay-and-play options in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C region, but none can match the combination of upscale amenities at a reasonable price, the private-course conditions, the diversity of courses and the Interstate convenience of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, Md.
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