Rebirth on the Mississippi Delta

By June 7, 2010, 7:53 pm

Tunica

TUNICA RESORTS, Miss. – The jazzy sounds of Memphis, Tenn. will be ringing in the ears of PGA Tour players this week when the PGA Tour makes its annual stop at the St. Jude Classic just down the way from Graceland and Beale Street.

Golfers sing the blues from time to time, but in the Mississippi Delta, it simply goes with the territory.

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Blues artists like Robert Johnson certainly never envisioned nine casino-hotels, fancy restaurants and championship golf courses just north of Clarksdale on the Mississippi River. But in the past 15 years, the scene in northwest Mississippi has changed rapidly.

Gaming has replaced cotton as the biggest money maker in the region. Golf and gambling – not fishing and hunting – rank as its most popular recreational activities.

With gaming came prosperity. And instead of marking the hard times, the blues are celebrated with museums, retro clubs and a trail that outlining the birthplaces and gravesites of many of America's most influential blues artists.

Tunica growing as tourist destination

Fifteen years ago, cotton remained king in these parts, among the poorest in the nation. But when the local powers decided to bring in gaming, that all changed. Now, its more than 14,000 slots and 400 game tables earned Tunica the title of the South's casino capital.

Furthermore, the nine casino-hotels from companies such as Harrah's and MGM/Mirage provide more than 6,300 first-class hotel rooms and suites, many of which underwent recent renovations. There are also more than 40 restaurants, and if you're thinking most are buffets, think again.

For example, '37 at Harrah's (named for the year Harrah's opened its first casino) offers a fine-dining experience you'd more expect in Las Vegas than on the Mississippi Delta.

The menu ranges from surf and turf to lamb rib roast with an extensive wine list. Of course, Harrah's also includes a buffet, endorsed by Southern chef extraordinaire Paula Deen, featuring many of her recipes and a facsimile of her kitchen and home.

The resorts also draw plenty of big-name entertainment, from Vince Gill and Eddie Money to Bill Cosby and Chris Rock.

Tunica Resorts sits in an ideal location, just a 30-minute drive from Memphis International Airport. And starting in May 2010, AirTran began offering nonstop service at reasonable fares from Atlanta to Tunica.

The area attracts more than 10 million visitors a year, infusing approximately $12 billion in revenue, according to Bill Cantor, director of sales and marketing for the Tunica Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

'Tunica is a great value,' Cantor said. 'Not cheap, mind you, (but) a great value. During the week, you can get a really nice room for $59, and the food here is very reasonable. It's a great two- or three-day stay.'

Tunica golf is also reasonable

Whether you book a golf package or simply show up with your sticks, you'll find reasonably priced golf in Tunica Resorts and the surrounding area. During the week, it's common to pay $50 or less for a green fee at the three very enjoyable golf courses within a short drive of the casinos.

The newest, Tunica National Golf and Tennis, perennially hosts the state's top amateur events, PGA section tournaments and a Hooters Tour event. With water on all but two holes, this heavily bunkered 7,200-yard par 72, a Mark McCumber design, often plays in the wind to set up a stern test. Champion Bermuda greens and zoysia fairways help make for an enjoyable layout at Tunica National.

The Links at Cottonwoods Golf Course at Harrah's Casino has an interesting history. The original owner decided to add hundreds of trees to the links course design. After Harrah's acquired the property a few years ago, new ownership removed and sold the trees, restoring the intentions of designer Hale Irwin. At more than 7,000 yards, it challenges good players but allows the novice to experience plenty of fun, too.

And finally, there's River Bend Links at Casino Strip Resorts. The golf course has entered a unique partnership between Tunica Resorts and the casinos to offer packages.

Designed by Clyde Johnston, River Bend features something of a Scottish links feel with its knolls and bunkers; however, there is water lurking around most every corner, making it imperative to miss in the right spots.

Other activities on the Mississippi Delta

Of course, every complete trip to the Mississippi Delta must include exploration of the birthplace of the blues, considered the roots of American jazz and rock 'n roll.

Tunica sits in the middle of the Mississippi Blues Trail, with markers throughout the region that denote the birthplaces. For more information, visit www.msbluestrail.org.

A drive of about a half-hour south of Tunica, Clarksdale serves as the real hotbed of blues. It's a town that spawned such greats as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Son House and W.C. Handy, to name a few.

In 1999, the Delta Blues Museum opened in a restored train depot in Clarksdale. Inside you'll find guitars from the greats and even a museum recreation of the log cabin that once stood on Stovall Plantation, where Muddy Waters worked and lived.

A likeness of Waters stands in the cabin as a video shows various rock and blues artists paying tribute to their inspiration. In fact, throughout the museum, you'll find messages from other contemporary artists, including a plaque of every Led Zeppelin album dedicated to the museum by the group's lead singer, Robert Plant.

Today, music lovers of all backgrounds visit the blues clubs of Clarksdale, in addition to the casino venues, as Mississippi revels in its blues roots. Clarksdale features several vintage clubs, including Ground Zero Blues Club, which is packed every weekend as blues legends and newcomers alike perform.

Actor Morgan Freeman owns a portion of Ground Zero, by the way, with attorney Bill Luckett and Memphis entertainment executive Howard Stovall. The club got its name from Clarksdale's historical moniker as Ground Zero for the blues.

Another retro location to celebrate the area's heritage, the Hopson Plantation, sits outside of Clarksdale. The plantation, birthplace of the modern-day cotton picker in 1944, was converted into a cool juke joint and barbeque pit. Stop by to hear authentic blues while enjoying a wide variety of beers and spirits.

If you really want to appreciate the history of the property, though, book a night or two at the plantation's Shack Up Inn, a series of six renovated sharecropper's shacks. Complete with running water and electricity. They're clean and comfortable but look no different than something from 50 years ago.

Finally, recent prosperity spawned the Tunica RiverPark and Museum on the Mississippi River. Opened in 2004, the facility recounts the history of the region through a variety of media.

It opens with a film narrated by actor James Earl Jones, who has roots in the area. He enlightens viewers on the might of the river and the industry and disasters that have surrounded it.

The museum offers a variety of exhibits, including a large aquarium that features the indigenous wildlife of the river, plus artifacts from significant historical events surrounding it.

Situated atop of the museum's unique architecture, a large observation deck overlooks the mile-wide river and the dock for the Tunica Queen, a riverboat that features daily voyages and dinner cruises. For more information on the RiverPark, visit www.tunicariverpark.com.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x