Follow the pros from Alabama to Texas on Gulf Coast golf courses the PGA Tour visits

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

The Gulf Coast, from the Florida Panhandle to the Redneck Riviera, to the Texas coast, is one of the most geologically interesting places in the world. From the unnaturally white sand beaches to the bayous of Louisiana to the oil platforms off the Texas coast, it's a place where thousands of people choose to spend their vacations.

The area also has a ton of golf courses up, down and near the coast, cooled by Gulf breezes and warmed by Southern latitudes. The PGA Tour has long since discovered some the Gulf Coast's great courses: the tour stops at three Gulf Coast facilities, two of which you can play. Only the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Miss., which hosts the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in October, is private.

The Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas, outside of Houston and a short ramble to the coast, has two courses that either have or will host the Shell Houston Open. Redstone's Fall Creek course is the current host and it's a siren call for the big hitters.

Head Professional Derek Crouse told "My advice is, I'd step up to every hole with the driver. That's why the pros like it so much out here. They can step up and hit driver every hole. Of course, you can't hit it too far left or right, but you can't hit your driver too far, and that's what they like."

Redstone is indeed a favorite of the pros, except for maybe Tiger Woods who skipped Houston. The tournament is scheduled to move across the street to the new Rees Jones-designed course. But, the pros are reluctant to make the switch.

"I've never heard one bad thing said about this golf course," John Daly told the media after his close loss to Vijay Singh in the most recent tournament. "I honestly think if Tiger would come here, he would love it, too, because it is a driver's golf course."

Of course, there is a catch. You can't be a drooling gorilla off the tee here. You have to be able to hit it relatively straight. Still, there won't be any layups off the tee - no baby 3-woods or sissy long-irons.

What's not to like? This is a man's course in other ways - no gimmicks like misplaced waterfalls, pot bunkers, railroad ties, split fairways, bizarre bunker complexes, greens that fall off into oblivion or the like. It's just 7,508 yards of mano a mano - a man and his driver.

"There's no tricks, no goofy holes where you can hit good shots and be penalized," Crouse said. "You sort of get what you see. It's not easy at all, but you don't have to hit miracle shots. If you hit good shots out here, you're going to have a good round."

Redstone's Tournament Course, across the street, will host the tournament starting in 2006 and it's almost ready for daily-fee play. Designed by Rees Jones with input from player/consultant David Toms, the scheduled opening date is Aug. 1.

The course has length, 7,481 yards, and some monstrous par 3s, one of which plays 240 yards into the prevailing wind. Some of its bite is lessened by its large, generous greens. It has six sets of tees, so mortals can not be eaten alive.

Rates are $125 which includes green fees, a caddie, cart and range balls.

The TPC of Louisiana, which hosts the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, opened to tremendous expectations, mainly because of its $30 million budget and its architect, Pete Dye, arguably the best of America's golf course architects and undoubtedly its most controversial.

The course rose to 7,500 yards from the bayous of Louisiana, lower than sea level, and has the kind of service and financial backing typical of the PGA Tour.

Since its opening, the course has had great reviews: "The shot-making value is high," said Steve Elkington, one of two player/consultants. "It's got everything out there. I can't think of a course that has come out better in first view than this course."

The TPC of Louisiana is already the star of the state's highly respected Audubon Golf Trail. It's a typical Dye layout: sprawling waste areas, water hazards and 65 pot bunkers, many of them 10-20 feet in front of the greens.

The daily fee course has green fees ranging from $115-$150, and locals can pay $2,000 for an annual pass and pay only the $22 golf car fee.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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