The winds of change: Moody Gardens Golf Course establishes a new standard in Galveston, Texas

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

GALVESTON, Texas -- Five years after the Moody Foundation spent more than $6 million renovating the municipal Moody Gardens Golf Course and building a new clubhouse, the Jim Hardy/Peter Jacobsen-designed layout is more than holding its own, it's thriving.

Moody Gardens Golf Course - No. 5
The par-5 fifth at Moody Gardens Golf Course can play as long as 570 yards.
Moody Gardens Golf Course - No. 5Moody Gardens Golf Course - practice facilityMoody Gardens Golf Course - golf shopMoody Gardens Golf Course - No. 18
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Moody Gardens Golf Course

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The Carlton Gipson-redesigned Moody Gardens Golf Course is one of the most difficult tracks in Texas, universally considered one of the top five municipals in the state. The Gulf winds pound the course and water comes into play on every hole.

18 Holes | Public/Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6816 yards | Book online | ... details »

Visitors to the island used to play golf as part of bigger trips. That usually occurred when Dad needed to get away in the morning from the usual beach activity with the kids. And while that still happens to some degree, foursomes are making their way down from Houston and beyond -- just to play golf. They're even booking golf packages with the Moody Gardens Resort.

Moody Gardens is that good now, and it's the only public course on the island. Owned by the city, the Moody Foundation has taken good care of it and then some. And perhaps the best decision made during the renovation was the installation of paspalum grass throughout, including the greens. The result has been a terrifically conditioned course that's both beautiful and challenging.

Moody Gardens Golf Course survives and thrives

Two months after the course reopened in 2008, the island suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Ike, which covered the course with more than 13 feet of seawater.

Not only did the grass survive, but the seawater helped eliminate other unwanted turf species. Today, the course glows emerald green and is among the best conditioned in the Houston metropolitan area.

But course conditions are just the beginning in terms of why golfers are flocking to the island to play Moody Gardens Golf Course. Since 2008, the staff has been adding programs to attract golfers, and the course has enjoyed a loyal following. Groups routinely make the trip from Houston to play it.

On Wednesdays, for example, there's a regular skins game and tournament. And Head Professional Rick Christ has implemented a regular Get Golf Ready program that's drawing new players weekly as well as several junior golf initiatives.

"One week it might be driver, the next week irons, short game or etiquette," General Manager Bill Pushak said. "It's a lot less intimidating than an individual lesson."

Moody Gardens also offers excellent practice facilities, including a short-game area with bunker, putting green and a full grass driving range.

Move forward at Moody Gardens Golf Course

The facility is also a big proponent of the Tee It Forward program, which encourages golfers to move up a set of tees to make the game easier and more enjoyable.

At first glance, one might look at the yardages at Moody Gardens and think that it's not very long. At 6,816 yards from the back tees, it's hardly long by today's standards. And the next set of tees, the black, is just 6,380 yards. But the wind tends to blow in Galveston, and even at 6,300 yards, it's a tough test, especially on the holes that play into the wind. To that end, the course is friendly to all levels. The forward tees, the least of six sets of markers, is just 4,549 yards.

"I've hit 7-iron from 110 yards," Pushak said. "You get into a 3-club wind, and it's certainly all the golf course you want, no matter what tees you play. Especially on the back nine with those narrow fairways and water. I know it's made me a better player just by playing here regularly (in the last five years)."

Also making it difficult is the fact that the paspalum grass will not allow bump-and-run shots for the most part. It's a firm, sticky grass, meaning shots that come up short of the green don't tend to bounce forward.

That means you need to carry it in the air to get it on the greens, which makes playing the proper tees more important, because you don't want to be hitting that shot with a long club.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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