No oil here Golf alive and well on Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Erik PetersonNovember 3, 2010, 9:26 pm
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The par 3 16th at The Preserve Golf Club (Courtesy The Preserve)

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.
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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.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”