Take The Bridges over troubled water at Bay St. Louis' Casino Magic

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. - The Bridges is an accurate name for the course of the same name that sits adjacent to the Casino Magic, here at the western reaches of the Mississippi Golf Coast Trail. So if you're a little rocky from too much late-night action, you may want to consider dramamine.

There are 21 of them and, all told, they span nearly a mile, taking you from high point to high point - golf holes, technically - that slither through the marshes and wetlands flowing from and into Mississippi's Jourdan River.

The river, where ospreys, cormorants and brown and white pelicans do their thing, gives a scenic backdrop for Nos. 7 and 8, a par-3 and short par-4. But, the river is distant and most of the water you'll deal with here is of the smaller and more insidious variety: like the 17 lakes, small for the most part, creeks, ponds and hidden mush that can act like quicksand, swallowing your Pro-V1s without fanfare or sympathy.

The water runs along the course and through it, and you frequently have to carry it to reach the green. Of the 160 acres, 14 are marsh and wetlands. Between the bridges and bulkheaded greens, course officials say $1 million was spent.

A few holes along the course get some casino noise, but most of the 6,841 yards traverse areas close to wildlife sanctuaries. The course was recognized by Audubon International, which has worked with golf courses since 1991 in an effort to get courses to better understand their impact on nature.

As one might expect, a great deal of your golf energy will be directed at avoiding these large and small bodies of water, hitting specific shots to specific areas.

"We always tell people it's target golf," Director of Golf Chris Altese said. "The course isn't exceptionally long, but the intent was you'd hit every shot in golf."

The intent was intended by Arnold Palmer, who designed his only Mississippi course here. The course has a slope of 138, so it's one of the more challenging on the trail, but it is still very playable, especially from the middle tees. There are a number of forced carries, but they are offset by generous landing areas, only one of which is blind, on No. 5.

The par-3 No. 12 is a tough little one-shotter, with the only bail-out area short. No. 4 has ponds both sides of the green, which slopes hard right to the water. The first hole is a par-five dogleg right, and you can cut as much of the water as you dare.

The verdict

The Bridges is not as well-maintained as another resort course with which it's sometimes compared, Grand Bear at the Grand Casino. That's because the Grand Bear is open only to casino guests and gets around 22,000 rounds a year.

Compare that to The Bridges, which is open to the public as well as resort guests, and gets roughly 32,000 annual rounds. It's the only casino resort in the area with a course on-site. Nor does it have Grand Bear's sense of splendid isolation, owing to its proximity to the casino.

But, The Bridges does have some serenity going for it and it will test your golf game more than Grand Bear, with its forced carries and tougher holes in general.

"I like this course," said resident Ben Gibbons. "My friend and I play this one and The Oaks. I like this one better and he likes The Oaks."

The best way to play the Bridges is to get a package. They run from $84-$158, depending on the season, and include accommodations, golf and other discounts on things like food and clothing and the spa.

The course was given four stars in Golf Digest's Places to Play. The magazine also ranked it No. 1 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and among the top 10 in the state. It has hosted several celebrity tournaments and has a very nice practice facility, with rolling fairways on the driving range.

Places to Stay

The Casino Magic Casino and Golf Resort is a stationary boat casino, but don't worry, you'll never feel the wakes of passing boats. It has nearly 40,000 square feet of gambling space - more than 1,000 slots and 38 game tables for your gambling habit.

The Bay Tower Hotel, a 14-story, 291-room hotel, is the Mississippi Gulf's newest casino resort hotel. It has more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space. There's a private boardroom, pool, jacuzzi, spa, salon and fitness center.

Plus, there is the Casino Magic Inn with 201 additional rooms and a 100-site RV park. For the non-golfer, there are shopping tours to antiques and the art district in Old Town Bay St. Louis.

Places to Eat

Casino Magic has five restaurants: the Jourdan River Grille - the snapper almondine is magnifico - Bienville's Bay Buffet and Tuscany Steaks and Seafood are the three main eateries. Jackpot Java is a small place where you can get a bite to sustain you through epic gambling binges and the clubhouse has a grill.

Fast Fact

Casino magic is known for being the boxing mecca of the South, hosting more boxing matches than any other venue on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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