LAKE CHARLES, La. -- Contraband Bayou Golf Club, the outdoor amenity of the L'auberge du Lac Casino Resort, has gone through much in its short existence. Opened in 2005, it's been through two hurricanes, a down economy, suffered the economic effects of the Gulf oil disaster of 2010 and has already undergone a renovation.
Perhaps there is truth to the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
While there might be some debate over which golf course is the best of southwest Louisiana, the Tom Fazio-designed Contraband Bayou can certainly stake its claim. With its new Champion Bermuda greens and interesting layout, the course is on the must-play list for any golfer visiting the Lake Charles area.
Twenty years ago, there wasn't much reason to visit Lake Charles unless you were in town for a McNeese State football game or looking for a job on an oil rig or a refinery. It wasn't until the building of casinos in the area that these better-than-worthwhile golf courses started to spring up.
With Contraband Bayou Golf Club, L'auberge du Lac had another drawing card besides gambling and concerts. Resort officials brought in Fazio, which gave the course instant credibility, and promoted it heavily throughout the western Gulf of Mexico region. But just as they were about to celebrate their grand opening in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit. A second grand opening was scheduled for September, and wouldn't you know it? That's when Hurricane Rita made a direct impact on the area. The course was flooded, hundreds of trees were lost, and the course had a difficult time living up to its promise.
Fast forward to 2010, and the decision was made to redo the greens. This time, they went with Champion Bermuda, and they've never looked better.
The golf course, no doubt benefiting from the resources of the casino resort, is well manicured. Fazio's bunkers flash white sand and good depth, the water hazards and wetlands frame the holes beautifully, and the nines were switched so the course would start out at the clubhouse.
"It has a better flow to it now," said Bill Belcher, director of resort services for L'auberge du Lac Casino Resort, adding that 10-minute intervals on tee times and detailed customer service add to the experience.
Contraband Bayou is the only Fazio-designed golf course in Louisiana. At 7,077 yards, this par 71 is a good test for every level of player. And it's certainly fair, although there are some holes that will grab your attention. There are four sets of tees, with the shortest playing 5,091 yards.
The golf course's major defense is water and wind. On some holes, the water can sneak up on you. But on most of them, it's right in front of you, such as the par-3 eighth hole, formerly the 17th. The semi-island green has a bailout area on the right, but it's no bargain. Hitting a pitch shot back to the green with water on the left will test the nerves of most players. Of course, if you add a little wind, the tee shot becomes that much scarier, making the bailout a natural reaction.
The no. 1 handicap hole on the golf course is the par-4 16th. It plays 452 yards from the tips and slightly uphill, and often into the wind. Water off the tee really doesn't come into play, but a fairway bunker some 250 yards off the second set of tees certainly does.
You can book a golf package at L'auberge du Lac Casino Resort, which has more than 1,000 guest rooms in its 26-story hotel. The resort also features more than 30,000 square feet of gaming space, which includes 1,600 slot machines and 63 gaming tables.
There are also 26,000 square feet of meeting space, a tropical pool setting with a lazy river, luxury spa and salon, marina and RV parking facility as well as several restaurants. The latest is the Ember Grille & Wine Bar, a modern American steakhouse that features a wide variety of certified Angus, Kobe and natural grass-fed beef as well as seafood items.
Excellent conditions and an excellent test of golf make Contraband Bayou Golf Club worth the trip to Lake Charles. Figure in two or three other good options in the area, and Lake Charles makes for a pretty nice golf vacation and a fairly economical one at that. The course is interesting, as you might expect with a Fazio design. There's nothing tricky about Contraband Bayou. It's just good golf that blends into the natural surroundings of the bayou and wetlands.
Additionally, expect great Southern hospitality from the staff, a well-stocked pro shop and excellent practice facilities. Lessons are also available from the professional staff.
May 5, 2011