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Lake Charles, Louisiana: Sportsman's Paradise

LAKE CHARLES, La. – On one golf hole you might see an alligator stalking prey in a pond. On the next a bald eagle could be gliding above. It doesn’t take long to know why Louisiana calls itself a “Sportsman’s Paradise”.

One thing I’ve known my entire adult life is if you are lucky enough to know people from Louisiana, have experienced the Cajun culture and food, and have spent some time on the state’s golf courses, you are a blessed human.

Take Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana for example. “I think we have some of the best golf courses in Louisiana – award winners,” said Jonathan Jester, PGA Head Golf Professional, at Gray Plantation. “It’s a diverse area for entertainment, golf, tennis, museums and gaming.”

In fact, Lake Charles is where you find two mega-casinos L’Auberge Casino Resort, home to Contraband Bayou Golf Course, and the Golden Nugget Lake Charles, and The Country Club at Golden Nugget.

These casinos, hotels, dining opportunities are upscale with big-time concerts and the golf courses hit the fun meter with a bang. The high-end golf courses are amenities for the high-rollers, but your average golfer comes to play here too.

Two other excellent golf courses are within a short drive: Gray Plantation and The National Golf Club of Louisiana in Westlake. Try all four golf courses.

Here’s my take:

Contraband Bayou Golf Club

Designed by world renowned golf architect Tom Fazio, Contraband Bayou got its name from the port next door that was once home to pirates. The Fazio name gave it instant credibility and its’ still the only Fazio course in Louisiana.

As you traverse this 7,077-yard, par 71, notice the marsh and lowland features of the Louisiana environment to enhance this championship routing. Fazio’s flashed white-sand bunkers are beautiful, and the greens are notably flat – who wants to anger high-rollers with four putts?

Contraband Bayou has weathered the worst of times. It opened in 2005, but the down economy tried to jab at it, then two hurricanes blew in and a Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 was a downer. The course has already had a renovation, and it survives, only getting better.

The Country Club at the Golden Nugget

This beautiful adventure, designed by ToddEckinrode of Origins Golf Design, is very playable and includes views of Prien Lake, the Calcasieu River and the towering I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge causeway.

This 7,007-yard, par 72, features sandy knolls, groves of Loblolly Pines, and tons of variety.

“Various locations on the site was once an actual riverbed,” Eckinrode said. “Decades of dredging in the nearby Calcasieu River coupled with the deposit of sand and silt from shipping channels, slowly transformed the land into what would emerge as one of the nation’s top-ranked new golf courses. During the construction phase massive amounts of soil were imported, bringing the golf features above flood levels and accentuating the remnant features of the site.”

All the land manipulation gives the golfer spectacular views across the course, water and back to The Golden Nugget.

The hub of the course revolves around a pine-studded sandy hill with four holes playing in and four holes playing out of sandy higher ground.

Interior holes have large waste bunkers to navigate and the canal on these particular holes serves as a natural link to the river holes.

Gray Plantation Golf Club

This is one of the 12 on the prestigious Audubon Golf Trail. Its’ semi-private, set on 60 acres of lakes, 94 bunkers, four par 3s, and a media area and scoreboard. The course rolls out on piney woodlands and marshland prairie.

In 2005, Golf Digest named Gray Plantation 75th out of 100 of America’s greatest public courses. Rocky Roquemore designed this course on the Calcasieu River with 60 acres of lakes coming into play on 12 holes, 94 bunkers and tall pines. Impressive par 3s are here and two feature island greens.

The 15,000-square foot antebellum-style clubhouse has a dining room, grill, clubhouse, pro shop, and conference room that seats 40 – all that before talking about its’ state-of-the-art Golf Academy. It includes:

• An indoor state-of-the-art teaching facility

• Private lessons, clinics, schools, camps, and junior development

• An indoor putting studio

• V1 Sports swing analysis software

• Custom club fitting & repair studio

And got a rainy day?  Try Gray Plantation’s TrackMan simulator where you can virtually play at Troon, Gleneagles, Mauna Kea or Pinehurst with 3-D tracking technology and real-time animation.

In nearby Westlake, National Golf Club of Louisiana is a 6,946 -yard, par-72 course, designed by David Bennett, is set in a mature growth pine forest. Lots of water hazards (14 lakes), preserved wetlands, and 65 bunkers makes you pay attention. And now NGCL is part of a new high-end, residential community, that’s beginning to prosper.

This municipal sure doesn’t act like one. The track looks upscale and a new clubhouse in the future certainly will make the experience a little more classy.

The MiniVerde greens are challenging and were developed to keep a deep green color and smooth roll all year. The fairways and rough are TifSport. Pay attention on the beautiful No. 5, 192 yards with church pew bunkers cascading down from the putting surface to a pond. The green slopes severely from back to front so going deep makes a difficult putt.

Where to stay

The L’Auberge Casino Resort has 26 stories, numerous dining options, Spa du Lac, and old-time barber shop. It was inspired by Texas Hill Country architecture. We stayed in the large Garden Suites which were amazing and the grounds have everything you need or want.  Summer pool time includes the popular Lazy River. The main lobby includes huge stone fireplaces going three stories to beamed ceilings.

Dining suggestions

Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill at L’Auberge was top shelf and Chef Lyle Broussard spent time with us describing his awesome, savory Cajun-Creole dishes. Oysters prepared a handful of ways was superb. But the excellence continued around town with stops at the Blue Dog Café, Seafood Palace, Poboys from Darrell’s, and the elegant Chart House at The Country Club at Golden Nugget clubhouse.

A tour of Bayou Rum: Louisiana Spirits, is the largest private rum distillery in the USA was tasty and informative. But it didn’t stop there. We also got a tour of the Crying Eagle Brewing Company, a 15,000-square foot facility, with indoor and outdoor stages, a beer garden, seasonal crafted beers. A two-story tap room offers tours and live band performances.

Lake Charles – close to East Texas and a fun getaway

Head downtown for the Mardi Gras Museum which explores the history of the iconic festival through colorful costumes. The 1911 Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center features traveling exhibitions and local art. Nearby, the giant, centuries-old Sallier Oak tree stands on the grounds of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, a visual arts center.

There you have it. Could Contraband and The Golden Nugget host a PGA Champions Tour event in the future? Stay tuned.

Story by David R. Holland


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