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Golf courses coming back from Katrina’s devastation

Golf has always been an important part of tourism attractions here with the area offering the activity year round. Several Coast casinos have built lavish, celebrity-designed courses for use by their guests while other casinos partner with the area’s top courses to provide golf for their guests. Golf and gaming packages are a popular visitor enticement, especially in the winter months when much of the country’s golf courses are under ice and snow.

Area golf courses, including those owned by Coast casinos, were among Katrina’s victims. Only three casinos had courses open prior to the storm — the Broadwater, owned by the President Casino; Grand Bear, owned by the Grand Casino; and Bridges, owned by Casino Magic Bay St. Louis (now the Hollywood Casino). All had downed trees along with wind and water damage. The Palace Casino and Beau Rivage Casino had courses under construction at the time of the storm, and they, too, had damage.

Soon after the storm, the existing golf courses made repairs and reopened, and work resumed on the two that were being built. The Palace Casino Resort’s Preserve Golf Club opened in spring 2006, and Beau Rivage’s Fallen Oaks Golf Course opened in November.

Rick Carter, managing partner of Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport, says his company is not yet ready to make an announcement about the purchase of a golf course but is actively seeking one. But, in the meantime, Island View’s sales department is putting together golf packages which include many of the area’s courses.

“We recognize that a golf course would be an attractive amenity for our customer base,” he said. “Vacation and golf packages are a great way to promote our casino of course. However, we are making a full effort to promote these offers in outer markets as a tool to bring people back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Treasure Bay Casino in Biloxi promoted golf through packages that paired their gaming and hotel property with Coast golf courses before Katrina. Now, director of marketing Kathy Santiago says the types of packages have not been determined as yet but the casino will re-introduce golf packages when its 249-room hotel opens this summer.

“Visitors can be sure that we are working with other businesses in the community to create a vacation getaway that will not be forgotten,” she said.

Golf packages are available year round, based on availability, at the IP Casino Resort in Biloxi, according to Liz Gilliam, sales manager. Spring packages are available with a variety of lodging, golf, food credit and gaming options.

The Grand Casino’s Grand Bear Golf Course has been open for several years and is one of the area’s most spectacular. The 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus Signature Course meanders over 650 acres through total land acreage of 1,746 acres and is built to co-exist in its natural habitat. Two rivers border the property that is off U.S. 49 in northern Harrison County. When this golf course reopened after Katrina, it opened as a public course with individual and corporate memberships available.

“When Jack Nicklaus designed Grand Bear Golf Course, his goal was to develop a world-class course with a layout that accentuated the natural beauty of its surroundings,” said Grand Casino communications manager Ali Bass. “Seven years after its opening, Grand Bear continues to exceed that goal, challenging players daily in a unique piney woods setting.”

She added that the course has received national recognition and numerous awards, most recently making the top 10 in Golfweek magazine’s Top 21 Casino Courses and the top 50 in the magazine’s Best Resort Golf Courses.

The Preserve is described as “18 holes of pure golf in a pristine setting” by the Palace marketing staff. The $20-million Jerry Pate-designed course is open to the public.

Chris Champagne, The Preserve’s head golf professional, says it’s significant that the course was designed by Pate, a winner of the U.S. Open Tournament, and a highly competitive golfer on the professional circuit. Pate is from Pensacola, Fla., and has designed several golf courses in the Southeast.

The Preserve is located on 245 acres near Vancleave in Jackson County on Mississippi 57. Champagne says it takes about 22 minutes to drive East on Interstate 10 from the Palace Casino Resort to The Preserve.

The golf course is surrounded by an additional 1,800 acres of dedicated nature preserve. The native surroundings of pitcher plant bogs, cypress swamps, long leaf pine savannah, live oak groves and native grass prairies were integrated into the design of the 18-hole, par-71 championship layout.

Because of the surrounding nature preserve, the new golf course has been granted membership in the Audubon International Signature Program. “That means the golf course will never have any homes or development around it,” Champagne said. “It will be nice for golfers to get on a course and not see any people or development; an escape from everyday life.”

The Audubon Society certified that The Preserve is protecting the natural habitat and wildlife, maintaining wetlands and that it is environmentally friendly. That stipulation requires that nothing be sprayed that will harm the environment.

Things are going well at the Beau Rivage’s Fallen Oaks golf course since its opening last November, according to the casino’s spokeswoman Mary Cracchiolo.

“Fallen Oaks has a pristine location along the DeSoto National Forest in Harrison County, a 20-minute drive north of the resort,” she said. “Noted golf architect Tom Fazio and his talented staff crafted a course from the 510-acre site that golfers call a work of art.”

Located off Mississippi 15 in Saucier, Fallen Oaks features 7,516 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 72.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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