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The Gulf Coast's best golf resorts will have you smelling the sea air

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
L'Auberge du Lac Hotel
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L'Auberge du Lac Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles has 750 rooms, including suites and villas, plus the superb Contraband Bayou golf course. (Courtesy of L'Auberge du Lac)

Golf resorts like Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, Alabama, L'Auberge du Lac Hotel in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Grand Bear and Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi and Sandestin in Florida's panhandle showcase the best golf courses on the Gulf of Mexico.

Call it Las Vegas South or whatever you want, but tourists have been flocking to the Gulf Coast ever since sun tans became chic, and even before. The Gulf Coast of Mississippi, for example, has a rich golf history. For other Gulf states, the golf boom is relatively recent.

There's just something about playing golf with Gulf breezes ruffling your hair and blowing your drives around. There are a number of excellent golf resorts along the Gulf Coast. Here is a list of our suggestions -- not to worry because we'll never let you stray far from the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana golf resorts

THE RESORT: From the L'Auberge du Lac Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, a short drive down Highway 27 will take you right to the Gulf of Mexico.

The L'Auberge features one of the largest, single-level riverboat casinos in the world, with a glass dome and vaulted ceiling, and 1,600 slot machines and 60 table games.

The 26-story hotel has 750 rooms, including suites and villas, a large pool, lazy river and beach area. The events center has 26,000 square-feet of space and includes a 14,000 square-foot ballroom that can be broken out into six separate meeting spaces.

There are six bars/restaurants: the Jack Daniels bar, Snake River Grill, Nevie Beach Club, Le Café, Le Beaucoup Buffet and Asia.

THE GOLF: The resort has the superb Contraband Bayou golf course, a 7,000-yard, par-71 track emphasizing the marsh and lowland features of southwest Louisiana, with eight lakes worked into the terrain.

It's a highly-acclaimed Tom Fazio design, the only public Fazio course in the state.

Alabama golf resorts

THE RESORT: Kiva Dunes is located on the narrow Gulf Shores peninsula on the extreme southern edge of Alabama, a bit out of the way from the RTJ Trail courses.

The facility is a West Indian-style resort with Spanish, North African and Southeastern American influences, with Mobile Bay to the north and the Gulf to the south.

The resort has access to more than 3,000 feet of private beaches, and you can watch the shrimp boats returning from the Gulf from Kiva Dunes' restaurant.

THE GOLF: The course, which sits 100 yards from the Gulf, is a treat, according to TravelGolf.com reviewer Derek Duncan.

"...Kiva Dunes is pure, coastal golf - it's built among existing dunes, patches of roughed-up coastal vegetation, and the refreshing maritime winds that blow constantly across the property," Duncan wrote. "In fact, the omnipresent wind gives the golf at Kiva Dunes its most distinctive quality."

THE RESORT: The Stewart Lodge at Steelwood, just east of Mobile.

The country club is in a 1,400-acre gated community, and the fully-furnished lodge has a big fireplace, private rooms, and baths, a large-screen movie theater with a library of movies.

It also has a putting green and driving range, conference room and activities like clay pigeon shooting, jogging trails, fitness center and tennis courts.

THE GOLF: Those staying at the lodge have playing privileges at the private Steelwood Country Club in Loxley, one of the best courses in Alabama. The beautiful layout was designed by Jerry Pate, with six holes bordering the 400-acre, stocked lake.

THE RESORT: The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort and Spa is in Point Clear.

The resort has that tucked-away, semi-isolated feel. It's located along the Eastern Shores, down a long, scenic road away from bigger small towns like Fairhope. The hotel overlooks the bay, and most guests are right above a small marina, with sailboats bobbing in the bay winds.

The hotel has 200 rooms.

THE GOLF: The two courses at the Lakewood Golf Club sit right across the street from the hotel. A little cemetery lays in the peaceful shade near the 18th tee box on the Azalea Course.

The Dogwood, at 7,620 yards, opened back up for business after a renovation in 2004 -- actually pre-Hurricane Katrina -- and the 7,500-yard Azalea has also re-opened after a $7 million renovation.

If you like the classic designs of Robert Trent Jones, you'll like both of these courses. The two courses both have a nice, open feel and complement each other, the Azalea being more of an inland course and the Dogwood affording a few brief glimpses of Mobile Bay.

Mississippi golf resorts

THE RESORT: The Beau Rivage in Biloxi.

This is the biggest and wealthiest of the Biloxi casinos, and probably the only casino here that could pump as much obvious money into a golf course like Fallen Oak.

The casino is truly an impressive sight, inside and out. Post-Katrina, it has new restaurants and a more luxurious casino that's been re-designed. All the rooms have been re-designed as well.

The Beau Rivage has more than 1,700 guest rooms and suites, with 32-inch flat-screen TVs. It also has a re-designed casino area, seven restaurants, four lounges and bars, 12 shops, spa and salon, a pool and convention center.

THE GOLF: Fallen Oak is the newest golf course in the Biloxi area, and it is a humdinger, a big, bold, even spectacular course by one of the world's more well-known architects, Tom Fazio.

Fallen Oak elevates golf in Biloxi, literally and figuratively. It's one of the few courses in coastal Mississippi with substantial elevation changes, and its mere presence will attract golfers to a place that needs visiting golfers badly. It's that good.

If you come straight from gambling at the Beau Rivage, a bit of a drive, be prepared to keep rolling the dice. It's a gambler's course, with more risk/reward options than the blackjack table.

THE RESORT: The Grand Casino Biloxi.

The Grand Casino is located in the heart of the casino district, where the action is.

The hotel has 500 rooms with plasma TVs, a fitness center, outdoor pool with luxury cabanas, LB's Steakhouse and the 16,000 square-foot Bellissimo Spa and Salon.

The new casino floor has 800 slots and 25 table games, and the folks at the Grand say: "We bring you ways to win beyond your wildest dreams."

Don't bet your green fees on it. Save that for the golf course.

THE GOLF: Grand Bear one of Biloxi's star attractions, will always be a favorite of those who travel and play golf regularly in Biloxi, including myself.

It's bordered by the DeSoto National Forest, so only the deer and turkey and occasional wild pig are there to laugh at your chili-dips. Instead of condos and homes, you have the truly lovely Biloxi River making cameo appearances, with its dark, flowing water offset by sandy beaches.

THE RESORT: The Hollywood Casino.

Twenty miles west of Biloxi, you're in luck because the Bay St. Louis bridge just recently opened, 20 months after Hurricane Katrina washed away the old one.

You can walk directly from the slot machines at the casino, formerly known as Casino Magic, directly to the golf course.

The hotel has nearly 300 waterfront rooms, overlooking the marina, golf course, Jourdan River and the Bay of St. Louis. The casino has a pool and cabana bar, and four restaurants, as well as my favorite, Shaker's Martini Bar.

A lot of people like to bring their RVs here. Good Sam Park has 100 hookups with cable TV, barbecue grills, a pavilion and 24-hour security. It's a party out there.

THE GOLF: The Bridges is one of the prettiest courses you'll find, with marsh views virtually everywhere; only rarely do you see evidence it's on the grounds of a large casino complex. There are no houses or condos to mar the views, and the tumbling dice are too far away to hear.

The fairways still roll and tumble despite Hurricane Katrina's best efforts, the same interesting variety of holes is still there, and the greens are still large and contoured. The conditioning, even if a hurricane had never hit, is very good.

Florida golf resorts

THE RESORT: The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.

Situated on 2,400 acres on beach and bay in Destin, the Sandestin has a whopping 1,700 accommodations within 30 neighborhoods, and 65,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 32,000 square-foot Baytowne Conference Center.

Befitting a resort this big, there are all sorts of non-golf activities, like 15 tennis courts, full-service marina, charter sailing and fishing, salon and day spa and, of course, shopping.

THE GOLF: Plenty of options here. Sandestin offers five courses: the Raven, designed by Robert Trent Jones. Jr; Burnt Pine, a Rees Jones work with views of the Choctawhatchee Bay; Baytowne, the most popular course at the resort and the Links course.

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Kiva Dunes Golf CourseFallen Oak Golf Course

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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