Katrina gives way to new, improved golf at Mississippi's Diamondhead Country Club
DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. - A lot of people thought Diamondhead would escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The development and its two golf courses sit on the north side of Interstate 10 in the Biloxi area, and most of the storm's damage occurred to the south.
"We were ground zero," said Hoppy Smith, Diamondhead Country Club's director of golf. "We had about 28 feet of water come over the interstate."
True enough. The Gulf of Mexico isn't the only body of water that both enlivens and endangers coastal Mississippi. The little creeks and bayous that wind through the local marshes are mostly interlinked, and that wall of water had to have some place to go.
In the case of Diamondhead, a big, upscale development, that place was the golf course and many of the homes. The storm swept 300 houses away - all that was left were the foundation posts - and ruined 300 more. The clubhouse cost about $2.2 million to rebuild.
Equally devastated was the morale of many of the retirees who made up Diamondhead's population. Many of those who still had houses after Katrina sold them and moved to someplace where hurricanes can't blow you away.
The buyers were Gulf Coast residents who lost their homes in the storm but wanted to stay in the area. As a result, Diamondhead is a lot younger these days, and more of a working community.
As did most Mississippi coastal courses, Diamondhead rebuilt; it took four months. And, as with many of its neighbors, the result might just outshine the original.
"The greens are in the best condition they've ever been," Smith said of Diamondback's Pines course, which opened in the mid-1970s. "A lot of that has to do with the fact we were down and there was nobody playing the golf course."
Diamondhead lost thousands of trees, and that too pleases those of us who aren't exactly laser-like off the tee.
"We used to describe ourselves as having rolling, tight fairways," Smith said. "They're not so tight anymore."
That's obvious from the start: No. 1 lost about 40 trees down its left side, taking away quite a few obstacles with one, enormous blow. There are other places on the course where you can now see the clubhouse through the formerly thick timberland.
The course isn't without bite, even with all Katrina threw at it. It still has its rolling fairways, and there are still quite a few trees left. It also has strategically placed bunkers and water hazards.
Diamondhead golf: The verdict
Diamondhead is the Biloxi area's only 36-hole golf facility. The Cardinal course is also wooded and built on rolling terrain, with large sand bunkers. Both tracks have been ranked among the better courses in the state in the past.
Diamondhead does indeed have some memorable holes, like the Pines' No. 4, a 439-yard par 4. A valley on the left side slopes down toward a ditch that cuts across the fairway. Your approach is uphill, with a wind generally in your face.
No. 12 on the same course is a short, tricky par 4, uphill all the way with a dogleg toward the end of the fairway, guarded by big oaks. The closing hole has a narrow landing area on the other side of the fairway hump, as well as unseen water right and a very tricky two-tiered green.
"Seen a lot of golf won and lost on this hole," Smith said.
Stay and play
The Caribbean-themed Isle of Capri was the first floating casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast when it opened in 1992. It reopened in December 2005, still on the water, with more than 700 rooms and 200 suites. There are 1,300 slot machines, 30 table games and a live poker room, plus a spa and multi-level pool area.
The casino recently bought a city block on the north side of Highway 90 and has announced its plans to build a new, $180 million land-based structure in Biloxi. The new edition will have more gaming, nearly 45,000 square feet of meeting space and expanded dining options.
Both Diamondhead courses were designed by Earl Stone.
February 19, 2007