Lakewood Golf Club In Point Clear, Ala.: Tee off among the Civil War ghosts
POINT CLEAR, Ala. - It's always interesting - and a little humbling - to play golf on ground where blood has been shed.
The two golf courses at the Lakewood Golf Club sit right across the street, and are part of, the Grand Hotel in Point Clear. There weren't any great battles fought here, but part of the hotel was used as a Civil War hospital in the 1860s. In fact, a little cemetery lays in the peaceful shade near the 18th tee box on the Azalea course.
In it, lay the remains of 300 Confederate soldiers, mostly privates, wounded in the Battle of Vicksburg. They ended up here after a difficult transport following the bloody battle. It puts that drive you shanked on No. 18 into perspective.
It would be about 80 years later after those soldiers were in their final resting place that the golf club opened. The hotel and courses have had their own traumas, in the form of Hurricane Katrina, which hit hard here, but really devastated the coast further west.
The hotel is recovering, as are the courses. The Dogwood course, at a whopping 7,620 yards, reopened for business after a renovation in 2004 - actually pre-Katrina - and the 7,500-yard Azalea only recently re-opened after a $7 million renovation.
Both courses are part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, so right off the bat you know they have met certain, strict minimum standards.
The Azalea has suffered from a recent dry spell in the Mobile area, with its greens space age hard due to the lack of moisture. Landing a soft approach shot is difficult, and it's easy to putt off the other side of the green.
The greens are smallish and undulating. Officials said the greens were due to be aerated soon, which should make them softer.
The Dogwood is probably the more difficult of the two.
"It's tighter off the tee, especially on the back nine," Head Professional Jason Polk said. "The greens on Azalea are a lot smaller, but not as undulating. These have a lot more undulation to them.
"A lot of the holes on this front (of the Dogwood) are target golf. It's more challenging off the tee, and for the most part, there's no running it up to the green."
True enough, most of the greens must be negotiated with a light touch over a variety of bunkers.
Both are festooned with creeks, ponds and spring-fed lakes, and travel through pines, magnolia, dogwood and oaks. Both have natural routing, and sport natural sand areas and bulkhead walls. Watch for No. 14 at Azalea and its 10,000-square-foot island green surrounded by a four-acre lake.
Stay and play
The Grand Hotel in Point Clear 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 place is lucky just to be here. It sustained quite a bit of damage from Hurricane Katrina and is still rebuilding, though it is obviously open for business.
It looks like it would be a historic place - walking in the shade of classic, moss-draped ancient oak trees - and it is. A portion of the hotel served as a Civil War hospital; about 300 Confederate soldiers are buried in a cemetery located on one of the two golf courses.
The hotel has 200 rooms, and it expected to be back to its pre-storm state by this fall.
The Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown, waterfront Mobile - soon to be the Renaissance Riverview - is a great place to look out over Mobile Bay. Watch working barges on the river and, closer, watch the trains go by.
Make sure you get a room up high, because the whole Mobile area spreads out before you - cruise ships, shipyards and cars coming over the bay bridge - quite a sight, particularly at night.
It's in the heart of the business and entertainment district and easy to reach off Interstate 10. Be aware the hotel is undergoing a $55 million renovation, which isn't expected to be completely finished for another 15 months. The entire fourth floor, including the fitness center and pool won't be open until 2007.
It's a towering, 28-story, 377-room building that's connected to the Mobile Convention Center by a skywalk. It's also surrounded by museums and restaurants within walking distance, including an IMAX theatre next door. The property has 32,000 square feet of meeting space and assorted business services.
There's also an on-site restaurant, lobby lounge and gift shop. Plans include a new, state-of-the-art fitness room and swimming pool.
The Riverview Café and Grill is on-site - try the linguini with crab cake and shredded parmesan cheese. There's also room service. Other Mobile restaurants in the downtown area are: Café 615, Downtowners, Oliver's, the Downtown Grill, Picklefish and Quartorze.
The Dogwood course actually sits five feet higher than before the renovation, eliminating the flooding that used to plague the course.
June 23, 2006