Golf gaming food and fun on the Mississippi Delta


The St. Jude Classic (June 10-13) is played at the TPC Southwind, an exclusive private club in Memphis, Tenn. But if you're looking for some good, affordable public golf in a fun atmosphere, you don't have far to go.

Just a half hour or so south of the Memphis airport in Tunica, Miss., on the Mississippi Blues Trail, are three golf courses, nine casino hotels and some pretty interesting stuff to do. Sort of like little Las Vegas in the Delta, Tunica is actually the third largest gaming destination in the United States with plenty of great restaurants, entertainment, and, of course, golf.

It's been an amazing transformation. Fewer than 20 years ago, the Delta was cotton fields -- and lots of poverty. Now, 10 million people per year visit the region, which is also the birthplace of the blues. In fact, just south of Tunica in Clarksdale is where blues legend Robert Johnson supposedly made his deal with the Devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49.

The golf, I promise you, won't disappoint, especially considering the paltry green fees compared to other parts of the country. Tunica National Golf and Tennis is a well-above-average Mark McCumber design with lots of water and bunkers. A tree transplant project has restored The Links at Cottonwoods Golf Course at Harrah's Casino back to the wind-swept strategy that designer Hale Irwin envisioned. And River Bend Links has plenty of knolls, ponds and fun greens.

In the evening, I recommend heading over to Clarksdale to check out a couple of joints owned or co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman. Ground Zero is a retro blues club that features many of the country's best performers, both old and new. And Madidi is a fine-dining restaurant that won't disappoint. (It's not uncommon to see Freeman there himself.)

If you really want to get a feel for region's history, check out Hopson Plantation, which serves authentic regional barbecue and blues. And if you really want to get into the spirit, you can stay at the Shack Up Inn, a collection of restored shotgun shacks, complete with couches on the porch. Apparently, artists, especially, love the Shack Up Inn, drawing inspiration from it.