Ownership, mini-tour championship helping transform Windance Country Club in Gulfport

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Vacationing golfers get excited to play PGA Tour courses - to try the same shots that the best players in the world have (albeit usually a lot less successfully and more colorfully).

Windance Country Club - Gulfport, Miss.
Windance Country Club is in the best shape of its life.
Windance Country Club - Gulfport, Miss.Windance Country Club - Tight CourseJim Furyk
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You don't hear as much (or much at all really) about the golf courses that host golf's various mini-tours. But the case of Windance Country Club on the Mississippi Gulf Coast shows just what a boon to regular golfers these type of events can be.

Windance Country Club hosted the Adams Golf Pro Series' season-ending Tour Championship Oct. 15-18. Why should you care if you're not a relative of Mark Walker? (Walker's the 39-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, who won three times in only five Adams Tour starts this year if you didn't know, and let's be real, even the biggest useless-knowledge savant doesn't know that.)

You should still care because Windance C.C. took a lot of pride in hosting this mini-tour's championship and is now in tremendous condition for the upcoming winter escape season.

"Windance is in the best shape it's ever been in," said Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Gulf Association. "Having the Adams Tour Championship is a pretty big deal that the Island View Casino (Windance's new owner as of late '07) took seriously, and I think more and more people are going to recognize what a good course Windance is. Especially with the shape it's in now.

"Golf courses like Windance are a big part of our destination. It just shows the overall quality of the golf across the board."

Spotlight on Windance Country Club

After all, Windance isn't the Jack Nicklaus course, the Tom Fazio course, the Arnold Palmer course, the Davis Love III course or the Jerry Pate course you can play on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Instead, it's the Mark McCumber design that opened in 1986. And while McCumber might not bring that powerhouse golf celebrity architect aura, Island View Casino is doing what it can to make sure its course is not lost among the Mississippi oaks.

Completely new and modern drainage systems were put in to improve course conditions. The landscaping has been changed to give more of a retreat sense, and the clubhouse went through a remodeling. A new restaurant was added. Now, the average-sized greens (no Fazio monsters here) are at their best, too.

It never hurts to have gaming money underwriting the golf course as a guest amenity.

"The casinos really do help us with their desire to have really quality courses that golfers will be drawn to," Drum said. "They're not cutting corners at a time when the economy might force other courses in different parts of the country to do that."

Windance always carried a reputation as being a good players' course.

It isn't especially long by today's modern monster standards, coming in at 6,659 yards from the back tees. But Windance's tight, tree-lined fairways quickly make any golfer who tries to overpower the course look foolish. The closing stretch of 13 through 18, heavy with forced water carries and strategy decisions, adds to its strength as a tournament course.

Or just one where the day's bets are sure to be decided late.

"It's just a very traditional golf course," Drum said. "You can see what you've got to deal with off the tee. You'll understand if you've ever played a Mark McCumber course before. He's not trying to fool you.

"And now the greens are in such good shape."

Windance has previously hosted Nike and Ben Hogan Tour events and counts Jim Furyk and Tom Lehman among the men who've won there. But it didn't have this type of backing behind it before.

In a Mississippi Gulf Coast region with 22 golf courses, 11 casino resorts and 60 miles of coastline, now Windance doesn't figure to blend in so much anymore. Maybe you should thank Mark Walker after all.

No-name fringe pros like him are helping make golf better for everyone on the Gulf Coast.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin 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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