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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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.