There's life after Katrina for golfers in Mobile, Alabama

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

MOBILE, Ala. (May 8, 2006) - Most of the media attention given to the post-Hurricane Katrina survivors has centered - and rightly so - on New Orleans and coastal Mississippi.

Mobile Skyline
The historic city of Mobile took a hard shot from Katrina. But there's lots of good news for golfers these days.
Mobile SkylineMagnolia GroveAzalea City Municipal CourseRock Creek Golf Club - Elevation
If you go

But, the Gulf of Mexico, where Katrina picked up most of its energy as it pumped itself up to become the most devastating storm in U.S. history, is a wide, wide place, and all that water the storm churned up had to go somewhere.

It went as far as Alabama and the Florida panhandle, causing widespread, although not catastrophic, damage. The historic city of Mobile is not that far from New Orleans and coastal Mississippi, and sits on exposed Mobile Bay. It took a hard right hand from Katrina, as the hurricane pushed storm waters far up into the bay and even into the city itself. (Click here to listen to a free podcast about golf in Mobile, Ala.)

The good news, if it can be called that, is that many of the city's attractions were spared while others were slammed. The better news is that the city is pretty much completely recovered from the storm, and business has returned to normal.

The Mobile Bay ferry between Dauphin island and Gulf Shores has been opened for months. So has the Museum of Mobile, which had been closed for six months after nearly two feet of polluted Mobile River water found its way into the Southern Market/Old City Hall area, depositing mud inside the building.

Battleship Memorial Park has re-opened after having been closed for more than four months, as has Alligator Alley. In fact, all of Mobile's attractions are back up to speed, including nearby Gulf Shores, a short drive or ferry ride away.

Gulf Shores started a beach restoration project after the storm hit, harvesting more than 7.1 million cubic yards (about 470,000 dump truck loads) of white sand from Gulf beaches. The replenishment project was completed in February, and the American Beach and Shore Preservation Association named the areas one of the six top restored beaches in America for 2006.

All this is great news for golfers, who have known for years Mobile has a number of excellent golf courses:

Lakewood Golf Club: The two courses, the Dogwood and Azalea,
sit right across the street and are part of the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear. The hotel has that tucked-away, semi-isolated feel.

It's located along the Eastern Shores, down a long, scenic road away from bigger small towns like Fairhope. It overlooks the bay, and most guests are right above a small marina, with sailboats bobbing in the bay winds.

The place is lucky just to be here. It sustained quite a bit of damage from Katrina, mainly from the surge, and is still rebuilding, though it is obviously open for business, and expects to be 100 percent resorted by the end of this year.

If you like the classic designs of Robert Trent Jones, you'll like both of these courses. Neither is as difficult as, say the two layouts at Magnolia Grove. The two courses both have a nice, open feel and complement each other, the Azalea being more of an inland course and the Dogwood affording a few brief glimpses of Mobile Bay.

Both are festooned with creeks, ponds and spring-fed lakes, and travel through pines, magnolia, dogwood and oaks. Both have natural routing, and sport natural sand areas and bulkhead walls. Watch for No. 14 at Azalea and its 10,000-square-foot island green surrounded by a four-acre lake.

Call 800-767-3574 for tee times and more information.

Magnolia Grove: A Robert Trent Jones Trail facility that also has two courses, the Crossings and the Falls. This is one of the better facilities in the Mobile area - maybe the best - and a fine representative of the RTJ Trail. Just don't come out here expecting to shoot a career low.

First of all, both are beautiful layouts, with creeks, marsh and lakes decorating the rolling land. All three courses - there is also a short course - are nicely wooded with hardwood forests and showcase the classic Jones stylings.

With green fees in the $40-$62 range, this is another example of the excellent deals to be had in the Mobile area. Magnolia Grove is a first-class facility, with an excellent clubhouse and practice facilities and service.

You want to test your game sometimes, and this is the place to do it. Besides, if you're accurate off the tee on either course, you can still shoot good numbers and know that you've done it on a tough test.

Call 800-767-3574 for tee times and more information.

Azalea City Golf Course: The conditioning at this course could rival that of a resort course, or a country club course, or even an upscale semi-private course. The fairways are luscious and green, even after a warm winter, the greens are in impeccable shape and even the tee boxes look good.

Of course, there aren't any cart girls or ball boys to wipe down your clubs, but what do you want for less than $30?

The course is built on city parkland and its fairways wind through pretty strands of trees - most of the fairways are tree-lined - and the benefit here is there are virtually no homes or condos to intrude on the experience. No. 10 in particular is a beautiful hole, a downhill par 4 that overlooks the lagoons of the city park.

For $17 green fees, plus $12 for a cart, this is a great bargain in the Mobile area. Twilight fees are $22 and less if you walk - and it is a very walkable course, despite some elevation changes.

Call 800-767-3574 for tee times and more information.

Rock Creek Golf Club: You don't expect mountains this close to New Orleans, or the beach, or the bay for that matter. Well, they aren't exactly mountains, but these here hills in the lower part of Alabama - not that far from the Redneck Riviera - are a nice surprise, at the Rock Creek Golf Club.

The course is located at Alabama's Eastern Shores in Fairhope, just across the wide, Mobile Bay from downtown Mobile. It's a short drive, but the terrain changes dramatically, from low wetlands to some very atypical hills and impressive elevation changes.

"For the Eastern Shores, this is a course you aren't likely to see," Head Professional Jeremy Little said. "This is more like a course you're going to see in the mountains. It reminds me of a North Carolina course. There really aren't many like it in this area."

Call 800-767-3574 for tee times and more information.

Timbercreek Golf Club: An alternative to the tough RTJ courses, with no forced carries or blind shots and precious few bunkers making approaches into greens difficult. The design is by Earl Stone, a man who is known to lay out courses with the average golfer in mind, not Tiger Woods.

Still, it's tough enough to have hosted the Alabama State Open, and its greens are among the best in the area, after a renovation in 2002. It's also an extremely fun course to play, with good elevation changes; many of your tee shots will be downhill.

"We had some undulating land to work with and that is unusual in this part of the country," Stone told TravelGolf.com.

It's a 27-hole facility, and the Magnolia nine is probably the most difficult at 3,612 yards with the most hazards and wetlands. The Pines nine is flatter with more doglegs. The course is just west of Mobile, and with green fees in the $55 range, well worth the short drive.

Call 800-767-3574 for tee times and more information.

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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