The Oaks Golf Club: New super has new greens in super shape
PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. - The last time I played The Oaks Golf Club, two years ago, the greens were like putting on the Mojave Desert.
I guess a hurricane was needed to soften them up. Hurricane Katrina did indeed batter the Oaks - as it did most all of coastal Mississippi's golf courses - but the storm can't take all the blame, said Head Professional Russ Bloom.
"To be blunt, we had two bad superintendents," Bloom said.
The Oaks has a new super now, Evan Berry, and the difference is dramatic. The greens are in excellent shape, and in February at least, very fast and true.
Katrina plowed through the course, demolishing around 3,000 trees. If there's one place that could afford to lose 3,000 trees, it's the Oaks. The course plays through thick timberland and Mississippi wetlands, and could stand a little thinning out.
The fairways, before the storm, were relatively narrow, averaging about 40 yards, and some members, most likely the slicers and hookers, complained a bit.
"We don't really have those complaints any more," Bloom said.
It isn't that the fairways have widened, but the loss of trees gives at least the perception of more width. Also, the winnowing process allows more sunlight and air flow, giving a big, healthy boost to the greens.
Since the course is well inland, it didn't suffer the water damage some Biloxi-area courses did. Only one hole, No. 14, was flooded, though Nos. 15 and 16 were partially submerged.
"You'll notice it didn't affect the overall aesthetics at all," Bloom said. "We're in the best shape we've been in for the last six years. The overall turf conditions are fantastic."
Still, the hurricane left behind chaos in its immediate aftermath, and there were some dark days. The course needed 10 months to regroup, and during that time, the ownership had second thoughts.
"The ownership basically backed out after the hurricane," Bloom said. "It was such a mess, I don't think they knew what to do about it."
The verdict on The Oaks Golf Club
There are those who claim that many of the Biloxi-area courses are in better shape than before Hurricane Katrina hit, and the Oaks can definitely make that claim.
It may have as much to do with a new superintendent and new management as the storm, but the course is immeasurably better than two years ago. It had potential then, even with the awful greens, and it's certainly headed in the right direction.
It has a nice collection of par 3s, most of them over water, with the green sitting sideways to the tee box and the pin usually placed behind some yawning bunkers - such is the case with Nos. 5, 7, 12 and 16. You have to fly it in with a soft touch.
It also has two of the best closing holes on the coast.
The Oaks opened in 1998, and has won various awards, including making the Golf Digest list of the 10 best courses in Mississippi. It has hosted both the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide) and the first stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying School in 2003.
The Palace Casino is right where it was before and when Katrina hit - on the water. The casino overlooks the Biloxi Back Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, daring Mother Nature.
The hotel has 236 rooms, with marble floors and the large suites have refrigerators and bars. There's also the casino, of course - all 43,500 square feet of it.
There are two excellent restaurants, including Mignon, which has a superb selection of wines, and serves steak and fresh seafood. The Palace Buffet is a smorgasbord of Italian, Southern, Asian and barbecue.
There's also snow crab, and the dessert section is outstanding: I had one of the best fudge-brownies I've ever eaten. I wish I could tell you what was in it.
The casino has an affiliation with the Preserve Golf Club, which opened July 14, 2006, and which is surrounded by 1,800 acres of nature preserve. Nary a housing development will ever sully its ambience.
May 22, 2007