When one thinks of southwest 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 area – most of them built to lure Texans to their slot machines, craps tables and roulette pits – the last decade 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 fifth 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.
The largest and most opulent casino in SW Louisiana is the massive 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.
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-five (the 611-yard, opening hole).
Opened for play in late May 2005, Contraband Bayou GC was hit hard when Hurricane Katrina roared into Louisiana and was soon followed by Rita, another hurricane that undid a heap of the work Fazio and his team had slaved over. Because the highest elevation on the course is 14 feet above sea level, much of it tried to return to the whence it came. The track lost about 1,200 60-foot trees and most of the underbrush to the high winds.
In the decade since the dual hurricanes, Contraband Bayou has come of age and is worthy of a trip to the region just to get a taste of this Fazio gem. This course is a combination of aquatic and natural vegetation on the edges of eight teeming lakes that will challenge golfers of all skill levels.