Galveston's Two Courses Survive Hurricane Ike with Flying Colors

By: Steve Habel


Those familiar with Galveston Island understand what it's like to be a survivor. The island, about 27 miles long and no more than three miles wide, was the crown jewel of Texas as its primary port and - until the late 1800s - the Lone Star State's major population center.

Moody Gardens GC

Almost from the time it was first settled in the late-1500s, the barrier island situated about a 45-minute drive south from Houston in the Texas Gulf Coast has been battered by storms off the Gulf of Mexico. The most recent, Hurricane Ike in 2008 - combined with the onset of the Great Recession - almost dealt a fatal blow to the area and created an exodus to the mainland.

All that's changed in the past few years as Galveston has again become "Houston's playground," a heady designation considering that "Space City" is the nation's fifth-largest metropolitan area.

The permanent population of Galveston is down to about 50,000, but the island becomes "the place to be" on weekends, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day. About 250,000 visitors pour over the Galveston Bay Bridge and onto the island each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, drawn by its beaches and plenty of things to do away from the water.

While Galveston's appeal is rooted in grassy dunes and off-white sand, calm warm water, Seawall, the Strand Historic District and the growing roster of top lodging options and restaurants, golf has also played a big part in the city's resurgence.

The island's two courses, the semiprivate Galveston Country Club on the west end and Moody Gardens Golf Course near the airport and mere blocks from the beach, throw up a stern gauntlet to visitors and residents, especially when the wind blows.

No. 10 at Galveston CC

New Turf Adds Bite to Galveston CC

The oldest course in Galveston, and perhaps the state, is Galveston Country Club, located west of the seawall. Established in 1898, the club moved to its modern-day location in 1946 when Ralph Plummer designed the 18-hole track.

The current course, renovated by Jacobsen/Hardy (Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy) and converted to wall-to-wall Paspalum turf in 2003, is a thrilling layout and plenty testy, even though the flattish par-72 layout extends just 6,512 yards from its back set of four tees, where it's rated 72.5 with a 131 Slope.

Throughout the club's first century, it survived (there's that word again) destruction by numerous storms, fires and the occasional financial crisis, paralleling the tumultuous history of the island itself. The members' love of golf and their strong bonds of friendship imbued them with the desire and tenacity to rebuild and regroup time and again.

The Tough Par-4 7th at Galveston CC

The move to Paspalum turf was a boon to the club as conditions are now always first-rate, even as the maintenance staff constantly works to refill the course's 54 bunkers after the swirling winds blow the sand out. Yes, it can be that windy at Galveston CC, but that's part of its appeal and personality.

The 381-yard par-4 third hole is the first real test here as water enters play off the tee and along the entire right-hand side of the fairway; the winds usually move across the fairway from left to right.

The 499-yard par-5 sixth ends at an island green, and the 417-yard par-4 seventh turns back into the wind and finishes at a steeply-sloped putting surface protected front-right by two deep bunkers.

The 314-yard 10th is a drivable par-4 with a great view of Lake Como from the tee. With out-of-bounds - along with fairway bunkers - left, and water guarding the right side, it's very easy to lose the tee shot here. Farther up, the green is heavily protected by OB behind and left of it, making an accurate shot in paramount.

The 18th Approach and Green at Galveston CC

The 423-yard 13th is the longest two-shotter at Galveston CC and plays even longer because of the prevailing wind. The approach to one of the largest putting surfaces on the course is narrowed by water close along the right and a right-front bunker.

The closer, a 386-yard par-4, demands two well-executed shots due to a water hazard on the left that extends to a green whose far-left flank is steep-sloped toward water. The right side is no bargain because of two bunkers.

Those staying at the fabulous Hotel Galvez, Tremont House or Harbor House hotels are allowed to play the course and pay a guest fee instead of the more-expensive charge for outside visitors, making a night or two at one of these Mitchell Historic Properties especially enticing.

Water & Wind Enter Play at Moody Gardens

Transformation of Moody Gardens GC Complete

Moody Gardens Golf Course saw its new layout debut after a two-year, $17 million renovation by Jacobsen/Hardy just three months before Ike stormed across the island. After enduring that daunting start, it's since enjoyed recognition as one of the best coastal tracks in the U.S.

Part of the renovation replaced the previous course's Bermuda grasses with the salt-tolerant Paspalum, and that may have been the saving grace for the layout that was heavily damaged by the hurricane. Paspalum performed beyond expectations after Moody Gardens was swamped by Ike's water surge from West Bay.

Ike was so powerful that a large fishing boat had to be removed from the course. The old fairways were prone to flooding and saltwater damage, so the architects elevated the layout two to five feet in places to improve its ability to slough off excess water.

The 13th Green at Moody Gardens GC

Jacobsen and Hardy crafted a design that keeps the best historical features of the former layout while significantly improving certain holes and variety. Now, the fairways curl around inlets and lakes edged with wispy grasses, and there are even some modest elevation changes, rare for a site so close to sea level.

Stretching 6,816 yards from the back set of five tees - where it's rated 72.6 with a 127 Slope, the par-72 Moody Gardens is designed to be player-friendly and a solid test, placing a premium on approach shots to some interesting pin locations.

The front half features three par-3s, three par-4s and a trio of par-5s. The round opens with a 512-yard par-5 that heads into the prevailing wind, then peaks at the 570-yard par-5 fifth and sustains your attention with the 232-yard par-3 sixth and the right-bending and water-lined, 584-yard par-5 seventh. Hit an extra club to the green at the 162-yard and uphill par-3 ninth, which plays into the wind.

The back nine at Moody Gardens requires more precision off the tee, especially the 575-yard par-5 14th, which turns from right to left and narrows in the landing area, and at the 341-yard par-4 15th, which seems easy until you factor in the bunker short and right of the green and all the danger along the right.

No. 18 involves a tee shot out of a chute of palms to a wide fairway before turning hard-left to an uphill, into-the-wind approach over water and a waste area - a great finish.

Moody Gardens GC borders Sydnor Bayou and, as such, you'll find native areas, shorebird habitat and water impeding play on 17 holes. The course takes advantage of its natural palette of water, brush and sand. Its colorful landscaping, bay views and more than 500 palm trees swaying in the gentle Gulf Coast breezes make for a scenic and peaceful round.

For those staying in Galveston and playing Moody Gardens GC, it would be silly to room anywhere else but the Moody Gardens Hotel and Conference Center on the other side of the Galveston airport. The facility is famed for its three landmark pyramids - one an aquarium, another indoor rainforest, and the third a museum and theater.

It's great to see that Galveston - my summer playground growing up (at least for a few weeks a year) - is back and booming after getting past Hurricane Ike. Hey, if you're a golfer, you know a little about surviving just by playing the game. That means you'll fit right in here on the island.

For more information about the courses, visit www.galvestoncountryclub.com and www.moodygardens.com/hotel_golf.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.


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