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|The Preserve is surrounded by more than 1,800 acres of nature preserve. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
Golf courses like Gray Plantation in Lake Charles, La., The Preserve Golf Club in Ocean Springs, Miss., Magnolia Grove in Mobile, Ala. and Lost Key in Pensacola, Fla. make traveling the I-10 Gulf Coast corridor a great golfer's road trip.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Interstate 10 along the Gulf Coast can be a pretty boring drive at times. Even roadside billboards and exit signs stand out against the often generic and dreary scenery.
If you're making that drive into Florida golf country from the west - or the opposite direction for that matter - you can break up the drudgery by playing some excellent Florida golf courses without straying too far off your original itinerary.
As I-10 cuts through the southern portion of the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, we recommend you stop awhile, pull on your soft cleats and play these courses.
Lake Charles: Gray Plantation, a classic on the banks of the Calcasieu River, was designed by Rocky Roquemore and ranked No. 3 on Golf Digest's list of Americas Best new courses in 2000.
"It's scenic, strategic and fun and fair, just to name a few of its outstanding characteristics," said TravelGolf.com's Jason Scott in a review.
Lafayette: Oakbourne Country Club is a private facility so you'll need either a reciprocal arrangement with your own club or know a member. It will be worth the trouble because this is one of the best courses in the state, with fast, undulating greens, well-protected by bunkers. Tight, tree-lined fairways and water hazards on half the holes provide one of the better challenges in Louisiana.
I-10 runs on roughly a parallel course just north of the Mississippi "Golf Coast," as some like to call it. You pretty much have your choice of some good greater Biloxi golf courses, but here are three you won't be disappointed in.
Saucier: Grand Bear Golf Course takes up about 600 acres, with many of the fairways banked and with large mounds around the greens, amid the 1,750 acres of deep woods surrounding it.
"When they built it, they told [Jack] Nicklaus, 'we've got 1,700 acres, take what you want'," Head Pro Mike Buckley said. "And he did."
He chose wisely, The course rolls and dips, with swales and hollows, and has some decent elevation changes, atypical for this part of the world. It's an idyllic setting, with excellent movement on the course, which plays through pine and hardwood. There is water, but not a ton of it.
The fairways are tree-lined and wide, showing off one of Nicklaus' favorite themes - multiple routes to the green.
Ocean Springs: The Preserve Golf Club takes up 245 acres, but it is surrounded by more than 1,800 acres of preserve, the Sandhill Crane Refuge and Conservancy. Old Fort Bayou flows at the eastern edge of the course.
This is basically wilderness with golf clubs, and it isn't unusual to see deer, hawks and, of course, cranes, since they have standing reservations.
It was designed by former U.S. Open champ Jerry Pate, who also did Kiva Dunes and co-designed Mississippi's Dancing Rabbitt with Tom Fazio.
Gautier: Shell Landing is one of the top-tier courses in the Biloxi area. A Davis Love III work that incorporates large, contoured greens - averaging about 12,000 square feet - with arguably more undulation than any greens around.
It's a visually appealing course, with terrific marsh views, and the fairways have excellent movement. There are quite a few trees, but most of them are around the perimeter so that the course has an open, airy feel.
Mobile: Magnolia Grove is a two-course facility and part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Pensacola: Lost Key Golf Club is about 15 minutes south of I-10. It's a very tight course, designed by Arnold Palmer's design firm.
"What was surrendered in width was compensated for in large, convulsive greens and flashed bunkering," WorldGolf.com's Derek Duncan wrote in a review. "Even the tight holes have a strong, stylistic presence witnessed in the intimate, chapel-like settings of the par-4 10th and par-3 11th, prohibitively thin but lovely golf holes."
SouthWood was designed by Fred Couples and Gene Bates and the way they mixed the red sand bunkers with the hills and mounding could have come from an artist's canvas. Throw in all the beautiful, old oak trees and you have a course so pretty you want to reach out and give it a kiss on the lips.
December 21, 2007
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.
Play 18 holes by noon, head to the beaches, then enjoy ultra-fresh seafood at a rustic oyster bar, and you'll quickly understand the good life. Here are 10 reasons to plan a golf vacation to Florida's Panhandle.
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