Mississippi's Dancing Rabbit a lucky charm for golfers

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. - You've probably heard about 36-hole Dancing Rabbit Golf Club by now.

It has gained national fame among golf circles. Golf Magazineranks the Azaleas course at Dancing Rabbit among the nation's top 100 publiccourses and Golf Digest gives both the Azaleas and the Oaks 4 ½ stars.

But there are still a number of golfers sold on the idea that there couldn't be a world-class golf resort in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. Well, if you're smart, book your next ticket to the state capital of Jackson and drive 1 ½ hours northwest to the real capital of Mississippi golf. It will be a trip you'll never forget.

Dancing Rabbit is just one of the many entertainment options of Pearl River Resort, a two-casino mega-resort on the land of the Mississippi Bandof the Choctaw Indians. The Indians are a federally recognized,self-governing tribe of 8,300 members living on or near the reservation.

Since the opening of the Azaleas in July 1997 and the Oaks in June 1999,the two Jerry Pate/Tom Fazio designs have taken off in stature. The coursesgot their name from the treaty that was signed in 1830 between the U.S.Government and the Choctaw Nation.

The treaty was named for the two creeks chosen as the treaty ground. BokChukfi Aahitha means "the creek where rabbits dance" in the Choctawlanguage.

The treaty forced the tribe to give up the last of their originalhomeland, some 20 millions acres, but allowed them to stay in NoxubeeCounty.

It took more than 160 years, but luckily for golfers, Dancing Rabbit GolfClub became a reality, not something of myth or Indian lore.

The Azaleas

Why does the Azaleas get the most recognition? Simple. The 7,128-yardcourse walks a fine line toward greatness.

It's one of the most tame Fazio courses you'll ever play, considering howdifficult he builds his green complexes. The elevation changes are subtle,yet constant. The greens are big, but not so overbearing that they offer upfour-putts. The trees are omnipresent, yet out of play. There are novirtually no forced carries off the tee, yet a handful of streams demandprecision on the second shot.

It has an elegance and style that some courses try to manufacture withbulldozers but can't. The reddish soil adds a splash of color to the greenfairways and landscaped flowerbeds and waterfalls.

The Oaks

Now here's the interesting part. Most golfers swear that the Azaleas istoughest course on the property, yet the Oaks' 136 slope rating from theblues blows the Azaleas' 130 out of the water.

The 7,076-yard Oaks has a similar feel to the Azaleas - the grand whitebirch trees, the forgiving fairways - but it will probably gobble up moreballs. The second shot on the 536-yard fourth and the tee ball of the446-yard seventh are two of the scariest shots at Dancing Rabbit. But theyare offset by two drivable holes, the 327-yard eighth and the 322-yard10th.

Where to Stay

It doesn't really matter where you stay. Both the Golden Moon Hotel & Casino and the Silver Star Hotel & Casino are right across the street fromone another and connected by a enclosed moving sidewalk.

The Golden Moon offers 571 rooms, including 112 suites and 32 VIP suites,spread among 28 floors. The 496-room Silver Star, which boasts 84 suites, isthe cornerstone of the resort. It has bigger meeting facilities (30,000square feet to 11,600 square feet), and more slot machines (3,000 to 1,7000)and table games (75 to 53).

Both offer spas - the Silver Star caters to Oriental, Swedish andtherapeutic massages - and indoor pools and workout centers.

But for golfers, the best experience will be staying in one of the cozysuites located on the second floor above the pro shop in Dancing Rabbit'splantation-style clubhouse.

The rooms are small, but each has a verandah overlooking the course.There's also an upstairs lounge with a TV, where a group of golfers cangather and collect their post-round winnings (or losses). Shuttles can takeplayers to the nearby casinos for dinner.

Just downstairs at a piano in the lobby, John Daly has been known to showup unannounced and start jammin' his favorite country western tunes.

Off the Course

Gambling is the most popular after-golf activity but certainly not theonly one. Just don't stay up too late sitting at the blackjack tables. Youmight miss your tee time the next morning. Or worse yet, lose next month'srent check.

With all the money gamblers have dropped into the casinos within the lastfive years, Pearl River has grown at an exponential rate.

Nightly shows bring in the country's best musicians, magicians anddancers.

If you're not a golfer or you've brought the family, the Geyser Falls isone of the most modern water parks in the world. Covering 15 acres, itfeatures 12 major waterslides, including a 6-story freefall speed slide, awave pool, a continuous river and Backsplash, a unique waterslide.Clearwater Key looks more like Florida with its eight acres of white sandbeaches. There's a reason the park looks like a Disney World transplant. The designer company, Utah's Michael Lee Design, also built Disney's TyphoonLagoon and Epcot Center.

The Lake Pushmataha Recreational Complex, located just west of the waterpark, is in the developmental stages with plans for another 250-room hotel,an 180,000 square-foot-fitness center, and a 10,000-seat amphitheater. Downthe road, another golf course and RV park could be included.

Where to Eat

Although the Silver Star probably has the headline restaurant, Phillip M's, the Golden Moon's Eclipse Grill serves up great steak and seafood.Ventana's Mexican menu is Silver Star's newest hotspot. The GalaxyRestaurant might have the best seat in the house, since it's located atopthe "Moon" in the Golden Moon's highest floor. At dinner, the Star-tacularlight show in front of the casino splashes lights from laser beams and25-foot flames around the hotels.

Between the two hotels, there are 11 restaurants and 10 lounges.

The Verdict

I rarely dump such praise on a resort, but Dancing Rabbit is one of the best 36-hole complexes in the country. It has it all - nice accommodations, good food, great nightlife and most importantly, memorable, yet playable golf. And because it's in Mississippi, the cost is half the price of most comparable big-name resorts in North and South Carolina and Florida.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • me

    bill wrote on: Sep 2, 2004

    i dont like it