The Bridges Golf Club: Palmer's Mississippi marshland mauler is worthy of a King
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. - Your golf ball's going to skid into marsh. It's going to crash into tall grass. It's going to get dirty, grubby, muddy.
And you're going to be cool with that.
That's because the Bridges Golf Club delivers plenty of fun to go with that sure ball battering. This is one of the most entertaining golf courses you'll find anywhere, and it fits right into a Mississippi Gulf Coast region that really lets its courses play out over nature.
When you first arrive at The Bridges, you might not think it will be able to match the spirit of Gulf Coast woodsy tracks like Grand Bear Golf Course, the Preserve Golf Club and
Shell Landing Golf Club. After all, Bridges sits right in the shadow of Hollywood Casino. You can walk right from the blackjack table to the course if you're a little industrious.
Only, once you step onto Bridges' first tee and stare down that flat marsh, on a dogleg par 5 that all but screams breakfast ball, the casino chaos suddenly appears far behind.
You're in nature. And it's elbowing in close.
"A lot of people talk about how tight the course is," Head Golf Professional Billy Baumgartner explains in his office. Baumgartner lets loose a low chuckle.
If they only knew.
Bridges used to be twice as tree-tight before Hurricane Katrina tore through the area and buried the course in its own lumber and 16-feet-high mud piles. Turns out that Katrina saved some scorecard damage. It took out 3,000 pine trees on Bridges' 160 acres.
"It used to be a lot more penal," Baumgartner said.
Of course, if you never played Bridges before Katrina's havoc changed everything in this region but the sweet old homestyle hospitality, you'll still think course designer Arnold Palmer tapped into his diabolical side. Palmer's team came back after Katrina did its rearrangement bid, insuring The Bridges kept its Arnold Palmer signature status and making certain the 14 acres of marsh wetlands on the site still had its starring role.
These aren't ugly, dank marshes either. Bridges has you shooting over and around a lot of striking blue water with green foliage bobbing on the surface.
On the fifth hole, you can see all the way to the Jourdan River. It makes for a very striking tee shot, one that almost comes out of nowhere. You're looking over the tall grass that towers near the tee, and then it's there in the distance, all blue straight ahead - the Jourdan.
If you're not from around here, you'll probably assume it's the Gulf of Mexico. That's how big and blue it looks.
They're not kidding around about the nature stuff at Bridges.
This is the only Audubon Silver-certified golf course in all of Mississippi.
You can see why even when you're staring up at the towering casino on No. 7. The building comes across as the interloper here, rather than the other way around that happens at many golf courses where fairways seem squeezed in between houses.
Team Palmer doesn't just give you something to look at, though. They make the shots compelling, too.
There are driveable par 4s that tempt you like cigarettes tempt a smoker or rare wines tempt a sommelier (No. 8 and No. 14 particularly). There's a bridge over tall grass and marsh on No. 12 that seems to stretch forever. There are holes where you can barely see the flag around the marshes, through the tall grasses and across rolling fairways - especially the downhill par-4 14th.
You're not going to forget which hole is which at The Bridges. You may want to forget how many golf balls you turned into marsh missiles.
"I'm on my third sleeve," one golfer yelled out from the group ahead, letting the world in on his torment.
There's a reason so many first timers at Bridges end up vowing to be second and third timers. Course knowledge equals a better course chance.
Nobody really needs to be held up at nine-iron shaft in order to spend more times in Bridges' wonder test either.
"When Arnold found out that there wouldn't be any houses, that it was going to be golf for golf's sake, I think he and his team got excited," Baumgartner said.
If that's the case, the King's good when he's jazzed.
The Verdict on The Bridges Golf Club
The Bridges Golf Club might be the hardest golf course on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It's certainly one of the best in an options-packed coast area that stretches across state lines all the way into the Alabama Gulf Shores.
Golfer's golfers love Bridges. There are shot options galore, a real chance, no necessity, to delve deep into your golf bag for those clubs that often get ignored like Dungeons & Dragons players at a party. You can be a happy golf geek at Bridges, debate every club selection. Or you can just kick back, down beers and laugh off those close encounters with the muck.
The staff here obviously loves golf, and you'll actually get treated like a guest. This is a place that somehow opened up just four months after Katrina to give FEMA workers, toiling construction guys and dazed locals some form of escape. That spirit still shines through today now that the course has been reborn under the direction of Team Palmer.
Mississippi Gulf Coast hotels
For convenience when playing The Bridges, it's impossible to beat a stay at Hollywood Casino. You can get a room with a view toward the water or over the golf course and enjoy a casino stay that seems more secluded than most casinos.
Another option in Biloxi, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino brings plenty of style, hi-definition 42-inch plasma TVs and plush beds. Plus, it's right across the street from Mary Mahoney's, a must-eat fine dining institution with some of the richest food on the planet.
The Bridges is the only Arnold Palmer signature course in all of Mississippi.
May 19, 2008