The Bridges Golf Club in Bay St. Louis helps revitalized Biloxi area
After laying 100 acres of sod on their devastated golf course, creating temporary playing conditions, and doing what they could with the greens, the course crew widened the holes to a gaping six inches.
Hard to miss a putt with a six-inch hole. It was a small gesture and at least partly frivolous gesture, but it was appreciated by the locals.
"I was amazed by how many people liked it," Director of Golf Chris Altese said. "They had a lot of fun with it."
So much fun, they want their six inches back. It's sort of a standing joke between the golfers and the course, part of the empathy they feel for each other. To locals the Bridges isn't just a terrific Arnold Palmer design; it's a neighbor ravaged by the storm, just like the rest of the area.
The course, in a low-lying marsh area, was pretty much directly in Katrina's furious path. The water was 20 feet deep in places. The maintenance barn was completely submerged.
More than 2,000 trees were destroyed, and many of the remaining pines are still dying, consumed by pine beetles that seek the stressed-out trees.
When the water subsided, the course was covered in up to three feet of silt. A 20-foot boat was grounded on No. 9. A small house landed behind the third green. A dolphin was found in one of the pools (it was subsequently rescued and released).
Improbably, the Bridges was back open in four months, albeit with less-than-ideal playing conditions. That it opened at all was a boon for the folks here, who needed some diversion from the tedious job of rebuilding.
"Because the area was so devastated, we overseeded wall to wall, just to get something going," Altese said. "We knew it was a Band-Aid fix."
The Bridges did eventually close to do the job right, calling in Palmer's company, which in turn recommended a clean-up contractor. It took six months to clear the debris, strip all the sod and redo the bunkers, greens and drainage.
The final touch was getting the ruined clubhouse back in shape - it had only been open a week when I played the course in early February.
The Bridges was one of my favorite courses in the Biloxi area when I played it two years ago, and I couldn't tell much difference when I played the course again.
"That's the feedback we're getting from our guests," Altese said.
It's 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, the greens are still large and contoured, and there's the same interesting variety of holes. The conditioning would be first-rate even on a course that's never had to re-emerge from underwater.
The Bridges Golf Club: Verdict
The Bridges is a must-play in coastal Mississippi. It's one of Palmer's better works, a golf course cohabitating with an interesting, natural terrain.
The tees, fairways and greens are pushed up out of the marsh, and wood bridges - more than a mile of them - take you over the wetlands, hence the course's name.
Playing to 6,841 yards from the back tees with a slope rating of 138, this is no easy, slap-it-around track. You have to have some length in your game, and while the fairways are generally roomy, the ever-present marsh means you can't grip and rip every time off the tee.
The large greens are particularly good - there's just the right touch of slope and undulation to make you work, but not too much to overwhelm the average player.
You can walk right from the course to the slots at the Hollywood Casino (formerly Casino Magic), a good spot if you want to get away from the casino madness of Biloxi but still want to golf and gamble.
The hotel has nearly 300 waterfront rooms overlooking the marina, the Jourdan River and the Bay of St. Louis. The casino has a pool, cabana bar, four restaurants and Shaker's Martini Bar, a personal favorite. There are more than 17,000 feet of meeting space, and all rooms have free high-speed Internet.
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.
Golf Digest rated the Bridges Mississippi's eighth best course in 2005.
March 12, 2007