Mississippi Gulf Coast offers variety for the casino golfer

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fallen oak no 3
The par-3 third hole at Fallen Oak is one of the toughest one-shotters in Mississippi.

BILOXI, Miss. – When it comes to golf and gambling, there’s no doubt Las Vegas is No. 1. But if you’re looking for a change of pace, know that Mississippi’s Gulf Coast won’t fold easily. In fact, after Vegas and Atlantic City, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is the largest gaming locale in America. And while Vegas and Atlantic City cater mostly to the high-rolling golfer, Mississippi’s most attractive feature is its value.

For starters, the MGM-owned Beau Rivage Resort & Casino has the look and feel of Vegas’ Bellagio, only smaller and more affordable – rooms here start in the low $100s. And while you’re more likely to shoot in the 60s than find a $10 blackjack table at the Bellagio, at “The Beau” they’re commonplace. Beyond that you’ll find more than 2,000 slot machines, a poker room, all the table games, and a high-rollers room for those of you with cash to burn.
It's Casino Month in the Courses & Travel section, where we'll uncover the best casino/golf experiences from around the U.S.

Including:
- Verona, N.Y.
- Las Vegas
- Biloxi, Miss.

The Beau has 1,740 guest rooms and suites, with contemporary décor including original artwork, cherry-wood furniture and views of the Mississippi gulf coast that would make Vegas jealous.

If you’re craving a little rock ‘n roll, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi is located next door and won’t bore you a bit. From the moment you walk in the door you’ll be mesmerized by all the memorabilia from the Beatles and the Boss to ZZ Top and Tom Petty. A hip room key and carry case is accompanied by a free CD that contains a genre of music based on the floor on which you are staying.  Each floor is designed with a different Hard Rock theme.

At the casino floor you’ll find plenty of slots and every table game, some of which have a rock ‘n roll twist to them. Connected to the casino is the Hard Rock Live concert hall, which despite its intimate setting has big ticket acts like Darius Rucker, 3 Doors Down and Barenaked Ladies on its upcoming schedule.

But don’t get too distracted by all the fanfare, the best golf course in the state is calling your name.

Fallen Oak Golf Club, designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2006, is not only Mississippi’s best track, but is also one of the two best casino courses in the entire country (it’s sister course, Shadow Creek, in Las Vegas, is the other).

Perhaps the highest praise a golf course can receive is that it feels old but plays modern, and Fallen Oak fits that bill. Despite opening less than three years ago, the course is graced with centuries-old oak trees – including its namesake at No. 18. At 7,487 yards from the tips, it’s long enough to challenge even the heaviest of hitters.

'When we opened Fallen Oak,' says general manager David Stinson, 'our goal was to have it look as if it had been open for many years.' When you stroll the fairways here, you'll find they accomplished that goal.

But what’s earned Fallen Oak its place as the best public golf course in Mississippi is its commitment to the experience.

Intended as an amenity to the The Beau, the only way you can play the course is if you stay at the hotel. Your golf experience begins with a limo ride to the course, where you’re greeted by golf course management. Talk about a good first impression!

From the bag drop you’re escorted into the locker room where your personally-engraved locker awaits you. Before you know it, those golf shoes you thought you left in the limo are handed to you, all shiny and new. As you leave the locker room for the driving range, feel free to grab a snack from the tray by the door. Feel like a Kit-Kat and a bag of peanuts? Help yourself.

When you arrive at the practice area you’ll meet your caddie, who has probably looped for a professional golfer, or is good friends with someone who has. Even if you’re a terrible golfer, the men and women in the white jumpsuits will make you feel like a pro.

The course itself is very challenging, but if you play from the proper set of tees it can be a lot of fun. True to Fazio form, the holes are visually intimidating but susceptible to birdies if you play to the right spots.

After your round, be sure to enjoy the clubhouse bar that overlooks the 18th hole. It’ll make your list of top-5 19th holes, guaranteed.

At $200-plus, Fallen Oak is pricey for some, but it’s well worth cashing your chips in for. If you hit a few hands at the blackjack table, save it for Fallen Oak. You’ll be glad you did.

Besides Fallen Oak, there are three other courses at three different price points that you should take a look at: Shell Landing ($39-109), The Preserve ($90-135) and Grand Bear ($50-109).

At the Davis Love-designed Shell Landing in Gautier, you’ll find a playable layout with wide fairways. From the tips it’s a bomber's paradise, but a few holes will command your attention off the tee. The 412-yard, par-4 sixth is the most difficult hole, and also one of the most picturesque. Four distinct landing areas are surrounded by wetlands, where abandoned boats lay stuck in the mud, serving as eerie reminders of the damaging high waters from Hurricane Katrina.

Just a 12-minute drive from Shell Landing is The Preserve Golf Club, a fantastic Jerry Pate design that boasts fast, undulating greens. The short, dogleg-right third hole is a fairly simple little par 4, but with a wall-lined lake guarding the green your knees will be knocking if the pin is front-right and you have a 70-yard shot on your hands.

No. 17 is also a treat for the simple fact that although it’s a par 3, it’s the No. 1 handicap hole. (When’s the last time you played one of those?) Having a birdie putt at this 225-yarder is no small feat, but considering the green is massive, you’d better be on the right tier for a realistic chance at par.

Grand Bear Golf Club
, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design, is off the beaten path (Saucier, Miss.) and can be played for low, mid-week prices, but don’t let that lead you to believe it’s second-tier. In fact, Grand Bear is arguably the second-best public track in the state.

Tall pines border every hole, and there are no houses, giving golfers that peaceful, isolated feeling rarely found at a new golf course development.  Both of the par 5s on the front are tough as nails – just the way Jack wants it – but are susceptible to birdie if you can put your second shot in the right place.

While the casinos haven’t proven to be any luckier in Mississippi than anywhere else, it’s a sure bet that the golf is some of America’s best.

For more info about golf in Mississippi visit: http://www.biloxigolf.com or http://www.visitmississippi.org/golf/.