The golf's just getting better

An aerial shot of Grand Bear green. (Courtesy Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau)

An aerial shot of Grand Bear green. (Courtesy Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau)

TIM BAINES, Special to Canoe.ca Travel

, Last Updated: 12:24 PM ET

BILOXI, Miss. — Memories of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina are never
far from charter boat captain Mike Moore's thoughts.


The mother of all storms, which ripped through New Orleans and Mississippi's
Gulf Coast Aug, 29 of 2005, deposited 28 feet of water in some parts of Moore’s home,
then later nearly killed him after he picked up a rare disease (Gillian Beret Syndrome).


“After Katrina, there were boats, houses, you name it, in the middle of the street,” says Moore. “Hurricanes have no prejudice. There were people from lower to higher class that were suddenly homeless.”


It would have been easy for Moore, his wife Brandy (then his girlfriend), her
son Bradley and her uncle to pack their bags and move away. But, with the
presence of humvees and blackhawk helicopters making the area look more like
a war zone, they lived in a 400-sq-ft loft while rebuilding their home.


One day, while working on his boat, he began to feel the effects a strain of the rare disease, a strain known as Miller Fish. One morning, he woke up on the floor, barely able to move. He got himself to the hospital, calling his wife to tell her that their wedding three days later in Mexico would have to be called off. He was back moving around a week later and the wedding was back on three weeks after that.


“Not only did I beat the storm, I beat that (disease), too,” says Moore. “You have to roll with the punches. And there have been a lot of punches.”


Through it all, through the personal losses, Moore loves the Mississippi gulf
coast, a sentiment pretty widely shared by the folks who live there ... the
people who would love nothing better than to have "y'all come visit us
soon."


"There’s so much to be thankful for,” says Moore. “This area has so much going for it. We've got the deep-sea fishing, the casinos, the fine dining and the golf
... and the beach didn't go away."


"The sky's the limit for this place. It can be a world-class destination."


World-class and inexpensive. The Mississippi Gulf Coast offers plenty of value ... and year-round
fun.


Mardi Gras, which runs early in the year, is a tamer version of the
boob-fest that rocks New Orleans. More than 85,000 men, women and children
lined the Biloxi streets during this year's final parade in February, hooting and
hollering for beads.


"New Orleans has a bit more of an edge," says Richard Forrester, executive
director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB. "It's more of a joyous family
atmosphere over here. This was my first experience here and we were pretty
much overwhelmed looking at that huge crowd of people.


"I'm a big bah humbug guy, but there was a need for this kind of
celebration."


While visiting Biloxi for three days, I got in a couple of rounds of golf at
Windance and Grand Bear, two of the many majestic area courses. There are
also wonderful tracks like The Preserve, Shell Landing and The Bridges. As strange as it seems, the golf experience may be even better post-Katrina.


"We were open 30 days after (Katrina)," says Windance golf pro David Lee.
"We had coolers in my office. It became our food and beverage office. Some
of the courses that were too difficult became better. They opened up a bit.”


In between rounds of golf, I got an afternoon of fishing in, courtesy of Capt. Robert Brodie, who
laughed while telling the story of a fisherman who, after latching onto a
black drum fish, suddenly jumped into the water. With his wife laughing, the
man finally surfaced with rod, and no fish. The fish had yanked the rod out
of the man's hands and he jumped in to retrieve it. While I'm not much of a
fisherman, one of my boatmates for the day — James Allmon Sr., a wonderfully
pleasant gentleman — hauled in a mammoth black drum, a 65-pounder.
So why do tourists take such a liking to Biloxi?


"The No. 1 reason is the people here," says Kevin Drum, executive director
of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association. "The way you're treated when
you come here is a natural thing to the people that live here. You'll get
the 'How y'all today?' It's the way they are. It sounds quirky, but it's the
truth. We're very fortunate."


"The term southern hospitality is there for a reason," says Grand Bear's head golf pro Mike Buckley. "Everybody down here is friendly. You get a
pretty comfortable feeling around them."


"We've got great weather, great golf, nearly 60 miles of Gulf of Mexico
coastline and 11 great casinos."


Canadian golfers have certainly taken a liking to Biloxi. Drum says there
are more enquiries from Ottawa than any other Canadian city, but there are
plenty of snowbirds from all over making the trek.


Grand Bear offers tranquility and serenity — along with a dynamic golf
layout.


"There are no cars, no houses here," says Buckley. "That's one of the first
things people notice is that you don't hear cars going by. There's no
traffic.


"I've been here 10 years and I still get that warm, fuzzy feeling when I
see a deer walk out onto the course."


If grabbing some tasty food weighs into your decision for a holiday
destination, the Biloxi area takes a back seat to few others.


We dined at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (where I drank sake for the first
time), the exquisite Beau Rivage, Mary Mahoney's Old French House (always a
highlight) and also grabbed a pre-Mardi Gras breakfast at Burger Burger.
If you're in the area, Mary Mahoney's has to be on your list.


You can find Bob Mahoney on Page 57 of John Grisham's Runaway Jury. The food
is that good and he's that famous.


"My mama got this place goin'," says Mahoney as he holds court over our
table. "All I have to do stop from screwing it up."


Forester says the Gulf Coast has plenty going for it.


"You can fish, gamble and golf, all in the same place," he says. "This is a
place where you can get a lot for your money. There's a comfortableness
about the destination and I think people are seeking that."


There's no questioning the value. Many of the courses rival anything you'll
find south of the border.


"You can get Top 100 golf courses for around $100. You can't find that
anywhere in the U.S.," says Buckley.


"This whole destination is built on value," says Lee. "And we're getting
back to that, getting away from the upper scale."


Sounds like a destination that y'all should consider visiting.


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