GULFPORT, Miss. – In the wake of the BP oil spill in April, horrific images of oil-slicked animals and beaches dominated the news. As awareness of the dire circumstances spread, so did the public’s willingness to help.
What the public never saw, however, were golf courses abandoned by tourists who believed that oil somehow made it inland and was flowing across putting greens and tee boxes. The reality is that golf courses in the Gulf Coast region never succumbed to any oil at all, and are in as good of shape now as they’ve been all along.
After checking out the Magnolia State for ourselves, we discovered plenty of lively casinos, delicious food and golf courses that make Mississippi a worthy candidate for your next golf trip – and you’ll feel good taking your golf patronage to an area that could use the lift.
When Jack Nicklaus was hired to design Grand Bear Golf Club in Saucier, he was given 7,500 acres of heavily wooded land surrounded on all sides by the De Soto National forest. Developers had no intention of building houses. His basic instructions were to do whatever he wanted.
How about that for an architect’s palette?
The result is a course that’s just as scenic as it is playable, with wide fairways and engaging approach shots routed through mature trees and meandering creeks. With five sets of tees it can be played as an inviting course for novice players or an engaging test for the best players.
Despite its beauty, however, the most eye-catching element of Grand Bear might be the price. It can be had for $60-75 in the shoulder season and around $100 in peak season. Not a bad deal for a Jack Nicklaus Signature course that’s only 30 minutes from the airport but has a feeling of seclusion.
In the same vein as Grand Bear, but on a super-sized scale is Fallen Oak Golf Club, regarded by most rankings as the finest golf course in Mississippi, and among the upper echelon of public golf courses in the entire country.
An amenity of the nearby Beau Rivage Casino, Fallen Oak is what you get when Tom Fazio has an unlimited budget. It’s like a private club that’s open to the public. It’s where you go if you’re visiting the Gulf Coast casinos and want to play where the high-rollers play.
Situated on a hilly parcel of land – a rarity in this region – the course is littered with mature trees, some of which were plucked like tulips and transplanted to route Fallen Oak’s golf holes in the best manner possible. Deep bunkers were dug to snare golfers sidetracked by the ambience. Sub-Air systems beneath the greens ensure the playing conditions remain superb even if the course is deluged by rain.
In addition to tough, scenic and well-conditioned, Fallen Oak is also relaxed.
“Tee times are merely a suggestion at Fallen Oak,” says general manager David Stinson.
To begin the experience, you’re escorted to the club via limo from the Beau Rivage. Upon arrival your clubs and golf shoes are whisked away. You’re invited to the main restaurant for a pre-round meal and/or beverage (the homemade Bloody Mary is their specialty). When you’re ready to play, you’ll find your golf shoes in the locker room in your personally engraved locker. Your clubs are on the range being prepped by your caddie who dons a white jumpsuit.
Fallen Oak is one of those “ultimate golf experiences” that every golfer should enjoy at least once in their life.
One of the newest additions to the Mississippi Gulf Coast portfolio is The Preserve Golf Club, a Jerry Pate design that despite opening in 2006 has already earned a reputation as one of the top courses in the region.
Fitting with the theme of Grand Bear and Fallen Oak, The Preserve is natural, with no homes in sight. You’ll want to favor accuracy over distance here, with hazards protecting the periphery of nearly every fairway.
The back nine is especially treacherous, due in part to more water but even more so because holes venture out to an exposed part of the golf course where the wind can blow. No. 16 is a dastardly par 3 that has the rare distinction of being the No. 1 handicap.
No matter what you’ve seen on the news, the Mississippi “Golf” Coast is alive and well.
To book a golf trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, visit BiloxiGolf.com.