Golfing At It’s Finest: Great golf courses of the south

2602-25Gorgeous golf courses can be found across the South from Louisiana to Florida. Neatly manicured greens with breathtaking thoroughfares provide not only extraordinary golfing but sensuous spa treatments, gracious dining and in some cases luxury accommodations. Golf courses steeped in tradition dating back over 100 years are available, as are recently opened glamorous estate golf resorts with amenities for the golfer and non-golfer to enjoy. While the mild May breezes are still in motion, pack your golf clubs and head for that perfect green.

One of the most picturesque and historic settings in the South is the Audubon Park Golf Course (504/212-5290). Located in the ancient oak tree-lined walkways of Audubon Park in uptown New Orleans, The Audubon Golf Club is a gem of a course.

Still one of the best-kept secrets with the locals is the picturesque Audubon Park Golf Course Clubhouse[S1]. Hidden in the center of Audubon Park, the Clubhouse appears to be an oasis nestled beneath the shadows of majestic oak trees. Wide verandas stretch out on all sides of the tin roofed building where big breakfasts and gourmet lunches are served. With ceiling fans twirling and comfortable chairs waiting, this is an ideal spot for pondering that first tee or no tee at all. A full service bar and pro shop are a part of the inside dining room that is flanked by open-air doors overlooking the ninth hole. This cursed hole is considered the hole that most golfers lose their wits on as it doglegs around a lake before it ends up on a hill. Many a golfer’s club has been said to end up in the ninth hole lagoon.

The Audubon Park Golf Course was established over 100 years ago in 1898 on the site of the 1884 World’s Fair. Although it held its own for 100 years, it was redesigned in 2001 and reopened in 2002 as one of southeast Louisiana’s most prestigious golfing destinations. It offers the latest in golf course design showcasing the work of Denis Griffiths. The course features four lagoons, contoured fairways, and manicured Tif Eagle greens, lush landscaping on a par-62, 4,200-yard layout spread throughout the arched grandeur of Audubon Park. Golf Digest rated the golf course number one in the category of “Courses Over 100 Years Old.” Its menacing sand traps and strategically placed lagoons make it an interesting and challenging course to play.

One would never imagine that this pristine golf course was the setting for a myriad of helicopters and army tankers after Katrina. The park was used as a landing spot for search and rescue missions. Now, the flowers are in bloom along its paths and the grass seems to have been trimmed by hand. Ducks swim in its ponds and children and joggers run alongside of its greens. Just minutes from downtown New Orleans and right across from Tulane University, the Audubon Park Golf Course is one of southeast Louisiana’s most prestigious golfing destinations. It is the only public golf course to have reopened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until dusk. Green fees are a reasonable $30 on weekdays and $40 on weekends. Walking is permitted with soft spikes only. There are non-denim or t-shirts allowed. Walk-ins are welcome here but tee time reservations are suggested.

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Not much further along the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi, is the Grand Biloxi Casino Hotel and Spa (800/946-2946), which reopened after Katrina with more glitz than ever. The brand new hotel features 500 rooms with plasma TVs and high-speed internet access. Indulge in the enormous Bellissimo Spa and Salon where mood-enhancing services are offered. The championship golf course is open[S2] with flowing greens and demanding thoroughfares. The Grand has a VIP service that can assist guests with all of their tee time arrangements. The pro shop offers a complete line of clubs, golfing wear and sports related gift items. The golf club is closed[S3] on Mondays and Tuesdays.

In nearby Alabama, an extraordinary golfing experience can be had on a variety of outstanding courses in a multi-site development called The Trail (800/949-4444). Funded by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, The Trail was created in the 1980s by Dr. David Bronner. His vision was to create eight spectacular golf courses at one time to boost tourism and attract retirees. He achieved this vision with the direction of legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Mr. Jones is considered to be the premier golf architect in the world and in his unparalleled career has designed more than 500 golf courses around the world, many of which are listed as the finest by Golf Digest magazine. After years of extensive construction and design, there are now ten outstanding golf courses orchestrated by Mr. Jones, Jr. in The Trail. Each takes part in the natural topography of the land, offering mesmerizing courses and collectively 432 holes. These are not “manufactured courses,” stated Mr. Bronner in an earlier interview. He claimed that The Trail offered genuine championship layouts that would stand the test of time and pose major tests for golfers for years to come. The rationale behind The Trail was that “no one talks about or remembers the easy courses. What lodges in a golfer’s mind is the one brilliant shot that (momentarily) conquers a tough hole.”

The Trail is known for its special tee locations. The markers for the tees are set for different ability levels so anyone can enjoy the courses, which range from 4,700 yards to 7,700 yards. As one golfer described The Trail in online press information, “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is an incredible golfing experience for everyone. The courses will challenge the best golfers in the world, yet at the same time allow an enjoyable outing for the casual beginning golfer.”

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The Trail is the largest golf course construction project ever attempted and features the following public courses within a few hundred miles of each other: Cambrian Ridge, Grand National, Hampton Cove, Highland Oaks, Magnolia Grove, Oxmoor Valley, Ross Bridge, Silver Lakes and The Shoals.

Ross Bridge also known as the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa (800-949-4444) is a gorgeous resort boasting one of the longest courses in the world. The resort is set in a castle resembling a Scottish manor house honoring the golf game’s historic roots in Scotland. When the sun sets in the rolling hills, bagpipers play for the guest’s as a reminder that it is time for relaxation and cheer around the pool.

The Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa has 18 holes sprawling over 330 acres and stretching almost 8,200 yards from the back tees. This new Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail appeals to golfers at all levels. The luxurious hotel and spa provides the ultimate in luxury with fabulous restaurants and a 12,000-square-foot spa.

The Shoals (800/949-4444) is another fabulous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail resort located between Wheeler and Wilson dams on the Tennessee River in Alabama. The Wheeler Dam is named according to the historical information on The Trails, “in honor of General Joseph ‘Fighting Joe’ Wheeler, the only Confederate general to attain the same rank later in the United States Army.”

The Shoals has an 8,000-yard course named “Fighting Joe” in honor of this famous Confederate general. The 17th hole is magnificent and is considered to be the signature thoroughfare of The Shoals. Many claim the treacherous 18th hole overlooking the Wilson Lake rivals the 17th hole.

Others claim their skills are matched on the second course at The Shoals named “The Schoolmaster,” where natural topography along the Tennessee River creates boundless challenges for even a seasoned golfer.

Both courses, however, share the beauty of the rolling hills and wooded areas for which The Shoals is famous. Green fees are only $40 to $55 and we recommend making reservations for tee times at least seven days in advance for this memorable golfing experience.

The South Coast’s sprawling selection of world-class golf courses and resorts is more than worthy of exploration. Whether one wants to golf or simply indulge in the amenities of these courses, each offers a memorable experience.

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