Golfers at Windance Country Club in Gulfport, Miss. can see Katrina's aftermath
Cart paths and wood bridges take you through the woods and wetlands that border the golf course, and you can see firsthand the kind of destruction the September storm wrought as it rolled over coastal Mississippi in 2005.
Stumps, broken and splintered trees, whole swatches of forest gone. The course itself lost 1,000 trees, which, when compared to some other Biloxi-area golf courses, wasn't all that bad.
Luckily, the debris from the course was cleaned up quickly, and the course has been back in business after closing for only a month after the storm.
"September's not a real good month here anyway," Windance Head Professional David Lee said.
The hardest hit portion of the course was its clubhouse, which suffered wind and roof damage. That has all been repaired.
The club is in a "covenant-controlled community" with a private lake, and it winds through the neighborhood, but with a good stretch of holes without any homes along the fairways.
Opened in 1986, the semi-private course is a Mark McCumber design that has some length and enough bite to it to keep it interesting. Windance is 6,660 yards from the back tees, with a slope rating of 129.
What gives the course most of its bite is its tight, tree-lined fairways, and water hazards that come into play if you and your driver aren't on speaking terms.
"It's more of a good players' golf course," Lee said. "You have to keep it between the tree lines."
The greens are average-sized and, since there's little undulation, you shouldn't see many three-putts.
As in many cases with golf courses in Biloxi, the public's perception of the hurricane has caused more damage than reality.
"The effect after the storm — no hotels — that's what killed us last year," Lee said. "We did a fraction of what we usually do."
Windance Country Club: The verdict
Windance is a solid player in the Biloxi-area golf market, showing no visible signs of Katrina's spite. The course was in good shape in February, and locals say it's kept that way year-round. With green fees in the $55-$85 range, this is a good investment for a day's outing.
My only quibble is that there is too much of a gap between the back and middle tees — the yardage goes from 6,659 yards down to 6,112. A lot of mid-handicappers like to play in the 6,300-6,500 range.
Even from the middle tees, there are a number of excellent holes. The mid-length par-5, seventh is a dogleg right with trees down the left and hidden water right, reachable off the tee. A stand of pines creeps into the right fairway, coming into play on your second shot if your drive isn't positioned accurately. With a fairway bunker left, the landing area is squeezed considerably.
The last six holes are particularly strong. The creek cuts across the fairway at No. 14, the water hazard off the tee at No. 16 — forcing you to consider a fairway wood off the tee — and the water carry off the tee on the uphill, closing hole.
Golf Digest ranked it the No. 3 public course in the state in 1996, and it's hosted the Ben Hogan and Nike tours.
The club is now offering winter visitor memberships from one to five months.
There are current negotiations that could result in the Island View Casino being the new owners.
"It's going to be good for all of us," Lee said.
Gulfport hotels and casinos
The Island View Casino and Resort opened in September, 2006 — not even a month after Hurricane Katrina hit — with a temporary casino at the former site of the Grand Casino Gulfport.
The Island View has one of the best views in Gulfport, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and Cat Island, part of an expansive national park.
The hotel has more than 500 newly designed rooms, with Gulf views, and an 83,000-square foot gaming floor.
The casino has a 350-seat buffet, with one of the better dessert bars in the Biloxi area.
April 20, 2007