Golfing and gaming on the Audubon Golf Trail

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

MARKSVILLE, La. - The thing about bunkers, Steve Smyerstheorizes, is that you can get out of them, no matter howsevere.The recovery shot is one of the most exciting elements of the game, theLakeland, Fla. based golf course architect says, and his designs reflectthis belief.

You want to buy this notion, you really do. After all, Smyers is one oftheindustry's true craftsmen. And his work at Tamahka Trails Golf Club inCentral Louisiana is first rate, make no mistake. But staring at theMickJagger like lip of a fairway bunker some 150 yards from the green has awayof making one curse its maker, if only temporarily.

"Look at it this way, you have a chance to recover from that situation without a penalty stroke," Smyers says via cell phone from Florida. "If it were a water hazard, you'd be playing off a penalty with no chance to recover. Even if you have to hit it sideways or backwards out of the bunker, you can still save par."

Saving par in this dire situation would certainly be possible, if notprobable, for Smyers. Still a scratch golfer, he played on the 1973nationalchampionship team at the University of Florida along with Andy Bean andGaryKoch. After an eventful architecture apprenticeship with Ron Garl(anotherGator), Smyers hung his own sign and went about making golf courses theright way - one at a time.

"I've always liked to work project to project because I have a hands onapproach to what I do," Smyers says. "We like to use the natural contours of the land to create strategy. Some people call it minimalism but thereare a couple ways to define that term."

Whether defined as moving little dirt, or moving enough dirt so it appears the course is a natural part of the surrounding environment, Tamahka Trails fits the minimalist description. Smyers says he routed the course to take advantage of the property's subtle, but fascinating ridge lines. Holes were plotted from green to tee, and the prevailing winds of the Central Louisiana plains were factored into every shot.

"Every hole changes direction from the previous hole," Smyers says."When you get the wind blowing, you get it from every direction."

As for those bunkers - they are deep, and they are legion. But Smyers isquick to point out that they are quite avoidable with a good dose of course management.

"Tamahka is very forgiving off the tee and if you end up in a bunkerthenyou probably deserved to be there," he says. "And the thing is, playerswillchallenge a bunker off the tee more than they will a water hazard.That'swhat makes the game of golf fun, challenging the hazards and not shyingawayfrom them."

In keeping with this philosophy, the only water to be found at TamahkaTrails is that which existed pre-golf course. A few small creeks crisscrossthe 7019-yard layout at non-critical junctures, and shot values arerarelyaffected. Golfers leery of forced carries off the tee or knee knockingapproach shots over gator-infested bayous will appreciate TamahkaTrail'sM.O.

"You should be able to play golf on the ground," Smyers says. "If youcanread the ground, we want you to use it to help you. One of the keys to playing good golf is understanding how the ball reacts when it hits theground. You also see this in the greens at Tamahka Trails. We built alot oflow profile greens that could receive a variety of approach shots."

If you can't set out for Tamahka without a couple signature holes to ponder, try the 433-yard, par-4 7th or the 241-yard par-3 17th. The former is the most formidable display of Smyers' flashed up bunker style on the entire course; the later is a wonderful one shotter with a two-tiered green fronted by a couple of gaping sand traps.

The Verdict

High profile, big budget projects like Old Memorial (Tampa, Fla.) and Southern Dunes (Haines City, Fla.) helped make Steve Smyers one of the most sought after names in golf course design. Lower profile, smaller budget projects like Tamahka Trails are proof positive that Smyers brings his "A" design game, purse strings and publicity aside.

None of the mid to high handicappers I played with complained about thesevere bunkering after the round. I say after, because onlythencan you consider the fairness of the course taken in its entirety, andnotby the sum of its parts. One caveat: some of the traps had been washedoutby a torrential down pour the night before and were played as groundunderrepair. This is an ongoing issue at Tamahka, considering the statereceivesover 55 inches of rain a year.

Pay special attention to Smyers' green complexes (at Tamahka Trails, and ingeneral). They are some of the best in the business and are as natural as the Louisiana summer is long. Tamahka is the central-most course on the state's Audubon Golf Trail. If it doesn't make it on to your itinerary naturally, it's worth the deviation.

Where to eat

Culinary options in Marksville are limited, so stick to the Paragon Casino and Resort. Marceline's is a Cajun Bistro that serves up hearty (and spicy) breakfasts, lunches and dinners. For a 'Nawlens Oyster Bar experience, check out Big Daddy E's. Roxy's Diner is a throwback to the greasy spoons of the '50s, replete with milkshakes, burgers and the works.

Stay and play

Golfing and gaming have become fast friends along the South Coast. "Play by day and play by night," they like to say around here, and Tamahka Trails and the Paragon Resort and Casino facilitate the mantra. The Vegas-style casino stocks over 2,000 slot machines 46 gaming tables and a poker room with a variety of action. After a long day of rolling puts and a long night of rolling the bones, recharge in one of the resort's 350-plus guest suites.

Fast fact

As a University of Florida alum, Smyers felt right at home with the official Tamahka Trails mascot - an innocuous looking gator sporting a slight smirk. "We saw a few when we were out there but they went underground when they saw us," Smyers says. Smyers would not comment on how the gators at Tamahka receive Florida State alumni.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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