When one thinks of Louisiana, pairs of images immediately come to mind: saints and hurricanes; Cajun and Creole; swamps and bayous; accordions and metal washboards; relaxation on the back porch and raucous festivals; boudin and gumbo; and, fishing and hunting.
Thanks to a growing roster of casinos in the southwest Louisiana area — most of them built to lure Texans to their slot machines, craps tables and roulette pits — the past two decades has spawned another duo of pictures: gaming and golf, two things that seem to always go hand in hand.
Since the late 1990s, the gaming industry has taken a stronghold in Lake Charles and its surrounding suburbs, stretching all the way back to the Texas border, some 30 miles to the west on IH-10.
The southwest Louisiana region is less than a two-hour drive from Houston, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States, and many of the area’s casinos have distinctive themes that make Texans feel like they own the place.
I love playing golf in Louisiana, and the combination of great courses and wonderful apres golf attractions and events will always place a trip to the Bayou State near the top of my golf travel plans.
Contraband Bayou is a memorable Fazio design
Looming over Lake Charles and the first of the mega-hotels and casinos in the area is the L’Auberge Casino Resort, built out of 227 acres of land that used to be underwater as part of the Calcasieu Waterway.
The casino’s signature golf course is the Tom Fazio-designed Contraband Bayou Golf Club, which utilizes the area’s marsh and lowland features of the natural Louisiana environment to enhance its unique 7,077-yard, par-71 championship layout.
More than 400,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved to construct this course; it’s the only public Fazio course in Louisiana. The finished product enjoys the architect’s stamp. The site presented many obstacles in its design and construction, the most challenging of which was building a golf course in swamp-like terrain.
This course’s combination of aquatic and natural vegetation on the edges of eight teeming lakes will challenge golfers of all skill levels. There are plenty of favorable bounces incorporated into the long par-3s (but none over 200 yards), long par-4s (two play at more than 450 yards), short par-4s (three at less than 375 yards) and a monster par-5 (the 611-yard, opening hole).
There are times on Contraband Bayou when you feel you can really grab the course by the neck and just dominate things and go low. But then a fairway will have a little downhill spot that will send you ball into the rough or you’ll be on the wrong section of one of the large greens and you will see, and feel, Fazio’s touch. It’s a wonderful round of golf.
The Country Club at the Golden Nugget competes for top billing
The Golden Nugget Lake Charles Hotel Casino also occupies a prime spot on the lake and is the region’s largest, and most opulent, casino hotel property.
Its golf course, the aptly named Country Club at the Golden Nugget, is a mostly open, windswept track with a wonderful routing, spectacular views of the lake, the city and the huge bridge that takes drivers around the loop to the area’s southern confines.
The Country Club at Golden Nugget opened in 2015 and was named to the list of Top Ten New Courses by Golf Digest and was honored as the No. 2 course in Louisiana in Golfweek’s Best of 2018 issue.
With wide fairways, immaculately-kept Bermuda greens, challenging holes, and unmatched scenery, The Country Club at Golden Nugget offers an exceptional resort golf experience.
The 18-hole, par-72 golf course on the bayou was designed by California-based architect Todd Eckenrode-Origins Golf Designs and offers 7,000 yards of challenging golf surrounded by native marsh landscaping.
The closing stretch here is memorable, with the 459-yard, par-4 17th, which seems to always play into the wind, and the 581-yard par-5 finishing hole punctuating the round. Get through the final six holes at even par and you should take yourself straight to the casino to build on that luck.
This course will host the Lake Charles Open on the Korn Ferry Tour beginning in 2022.
National Golf Club of Louisiana could be the area’s best course
About five miles as the crow flies north of Contraband Bayou and a 15-minute drive around Lake Charles and back into the woods is the National Golf Club of Louisiana, a big-shouldered Dave Bennett design. Opened in August 2009, the layout is the centerpiece of a new 600-plus-acre master-planned neighborhood in Westlake, a town just above Lake Charles.
The late Bennett’s 6,946-yard layout features 14 lakes, 80 bunkers and some of the area’s largest and most difficult greens. Stately Louisiana pines and dramatic vistas are highlights. National’s fairways are generously wide, but gentle slopes and rolling fairways can be unforgiving, so be precise with your tee shots.
The National Golf Club of Louisiana went through more than 10 years of planning and countless hours of work. There’s a lot to like about what Bennett fashioned at a course with a 73.5 rating and 132 Slope. Each of its four par-5s (the longest of which is 537 yards) are reachable with a pair of good shots, and the collection of par-3s (159, 192, 176 and 199 yards, respectively) offer the opportunity to use a variety of clubs off the tee.
What makes the National really worth the trip are its two-shotters, the best of which are the 433-yard third, the 433-yard 10th (despite being the same length, they dogleg in opposite directions), the 457-yard 16th (the No. 1 handicap hole) and the finisher — a 415-yard dogleg-left with water on the right and a green pinched on each side by sand.
Koasati Pines adds to the region’s great golf
Nestled in the natural wetlands of Southwest Louisiana about 25 miles northeast of Lake Charles is Koasati Pines at the Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder. The big-shouldered track is surrounded by stately pines and huge live oaks.
The gently rolling terrain and 65 acres of looking-glass lakes were specifically designed to offer golfers a feeling of serenity and isolation, which is always a good thing on a trip to a casino golf course.
Koasati Pines combines the beauty of nature with a dynamic 18-hole, par 72 championship layout, six sets of tees, multiple approaches on three holes, plus a unique “gambling hole”, the 19th, if you will. Designed by architect Kevin Tucker, it is the longest in the state of Louisiana, measuring a mammoth 7,617 yards from the back markers.
The course, one of the latest to join Louisiana’s ever-popular Audubon Golf Trail, was recently ranked by GolfPass as the 18th-best public golf experience in the country, a list that’s based on more than 265,000 reviews from golfers. The same publication ranked Koasati Pines No. 6 in the nation for course conditioning.
TPC Louisiana highlights golf in the Big Easy
If you’re heading for New Orleans, a round at TPC Louisiana, home of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic, will certainly whet your whistle. But be prepared, as the course is likely the most demanding in the Big Easy and you will need to play your best to play to your handicap.
The breathtaking scenery of the Mississippi River delta south of the Crescent City is one of the highlights of the course, as its routing stretches over 250 acres of wetlands and is a grand representation of the natural local habitat.
The course here incorporates stately stands of cypress and oak trees — with late designer Pete Dye adding more than 100 bunkers as well as five ponds to increase the challenge. which come into play.
There are five sets of tees at TPC Louisiana ranging from 7,400 yards from the tips, more than enough for the game’s best golfers, to 5,121 yards from the front tees.
TPC Louisiana boasts a series of short but compelling par-4 holes to balance the longer ones and delivers a great blend of challenge and playability. The signature hole on the golf course is the par-5, 18th, with water is in play for the entire right side of the hole, making for a challenging finish for golfers of all skill levels.