The Preserve near Biloxi is Mississippi Gulf Coast golf au naturale

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

VANCLEAVE, Miss. - If you've ever watched M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," you'll remember that the movie centered around a 19th century village hidden in the middle of a vast modern day nature preserve. Golf's version of this scenario can be found on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Preserve Golf Club - No. 14
The Preserve's 14th hole brings the golf course's wide-open nature into great view.
The Preserve Golf Club - No. 14The Preserve Golf Club - No. 12
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The Preserve Golf Club

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8901 Hwy. 57 North
Vancleave, MS 39565
Phone(s): (228) 386-2500, (877) 674-6539
18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 71 | 6774 yards | ... details »

Only unlike the movie, it's actually crowd pleasing. And the ending's infinitely more satisfying.

Welcome to The Preserve Golf Club. It's golf engulfed by nature. The course takes up 240 acres, but it's surrounded by an 1800-acre nature preserve. When you really get into the golf course on the back nine, you'll feel like you've been dropped into the middle of a low country wildlife kingdom where some wacked-out genius stuck a bunch of striking golf holes.

In fact, teeing off on No. 14, with your view stretching far over the tall grass, and the blue lake on the right side of the hole stretching all the way into a horizon of grasses that seems like it never ends, you're tempted to make a call to the Red Cross. Just so they know where to drop in supplies if your golf cart peters out and you're stranded - hopefully with two dozen balls so you can keep playing The Preserve over and over again while you await rescue.

"It feels like you're on safari or something," visiting golfer Chad Jensen said. "I've never heard birds that loud."

Birds tend to be drowned out by planes or some fairway-side homeowner's pool party these days. But at The Preserve, their chirps or screeches resonate clearly. The tall slender long leaf pines that dramatically frame fairways like No. 14 are even more memorable. They look like sticks stretching to the sky.

This is a golf course where the setting guarantees there will never be houses.

If The Preserve wasn't on the Mississippi Gulf Coast - a land where the courses tend to be as natural and woodsy as the new post-Hurricane Katrina Biloxi casinos are modern and glitzy - it probably would come off as even more remarkable.

Here, it fits in with other nature golf escapes like Grand Bear Golf Course, The Bridges Golf Club and Shell Landing Golf Club.

Unless you work for Al Gore, you might not care that The Preserve is a Certified Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. But you will be excited to know that it's one of the newest golf courses on the Gulf Coast, one that carries a lot of buzz among middle-aged guys who swing $500 sticks rather than just college kids who hand out "Think Green" bumper stickers.

"I like that the course is good for the environment and all that," Jensen said. "But I wouldn't play it if it wasn't good golf foremost."

Designer Jerry Pate makes sure The Preserve measures up. Everything flows in front of you on this 6,774 yard nature jaunt. The course is about as tricky as a first-grade spelling quiz. You know what you have to do, where you need to hit shots. The question is whether you can pull it off.

With forced tall grass and marsh land carries galore and bunkers with striking white sand that seems to work as ball magnets, there's no easy answer.

The 12 through 15 stretch shows The Preserve's range of challenges. There's a fun, short (340-yard) dogleg par 4 with a daunting carry from the tees. There's a tough 204-yard par 3 with water waiting behind if you airmail the green. There's that 545-yard par 5 with the best view on the course and a green across more tall grass with a flag that seems to taunt as much as wave in the breeze. There's a long 435-yard par 4 that's actually pretty wide open.

At least no one but the birds will bear witness if you fling a club into a pond.

The verdict on The Preserve Golf Club

As gimmicks go, being in the middle of a nature preserve is one that's hard to top. If you're gambling in Biloxi or just sunning yourself on the Gulf of Mexico, you'll want to save time to play The Preserve Golf Club. If only just to see how far out there in the leafy pines you can get.

If you're a golfer you'll have seen plenty of trees in your life and probably forgotten almost every one of them. Except for maybe the ones that knocked down your golf ball. But The Preserve's leaf pines will stick with you. They're that unusual to someone from out of the area. Meanwhile, the tall grasses come in colors you probably never associated with grass before, providing a picturesque contrast with the green fairways.

It's all part of a golf course where the scenery is allowed to dictate the drama. Pate didn't obsessively try to put his imprint on the land as much as he allowed the surroundings to star.

The Preserve's green fees max out at $135 high season, and it's the rare course that recognizes its customers have busy lives, publishing nine-hole rates as well.

Biloxi hotels

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi brings plenty of style, hi-definition 42-inch plasma TVs, plush beds and pool deck over the Gulf of Mexico. 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 Beau View condos are even a little newer than Hard Rock and full of luxury amenities like gleaming steel refrigerators. Having three bedrooms and a balcony that overlooks the Gulf doesn't hurt either.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin 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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