Destination Guide

Destination: Mississippi

Long before glitzy casinos dotted the Mississippi coastline and the golf boom produced daily-fee treasures, there was a historic match that just might have caused folks in these parts to re-think the game of golf.

That's the weekend Byron Nelson and Sam Snead came to town in 1943. The site was the 1908 Donald Ross-designed Great Southern Golf Club, host to the PGA Tour's Gulfport Open and the oldest course in the state.

"I really think this historic match defined golf on the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association.

"Nelson and Snead battled it out in a 19-hole playoff and the match ended after Mr. Nelson showed incredible sportsmanship by conceding Mr. Snead's putt to make him that year's champion," Drum said. "Two years later, in 1945, Nelson went on his string of 11 consecutive victories that is still a PGA record."

The same Great Southern Golf Club recently completed a $1.2-million facelift that gave this fun, 6,238-yard classic a new look. It's a shotmaker's track with several Gulf of Mexico backdrops and even a lighthouse photo opportunity.

Today the Gulf Coast is resplendent -- it's the Riviera of the South. The historic drive down Highway 90, including 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico shoreline, gives way to views of ante-bellum homes including Beauvoir, the retirement home of the Confederacy's only president, Jefferson Davis. And now the view includes 12 Las Vegas-styled casinos.

The ritzy golf layouts include Arnold Palmer's The Bridges at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, a Davis Love III signature course named Shell Landing Golf Club in Gautier and The Oaks Golf Club in nearby Pass Christian. You might also want to check Grand Casino's Jack Nicklaus-designed Grand Bear in Biloxi.

But Drum says not everyone comes to the Mississippi "Golf" Coast to play the newest layouts.

"Bob Murphy, the Senior PGA Tour player, was here recently and he played St. Andrews Golf Club in Ocean Springs, which was built in 1968," Drum said. "Murphy said the course reminded him of courses he grew up on in Florida. It's a fun layout with no bunkers, but has great views -- its signature 13th hole is right on the Gulf of Mexico."

Mississippi golf is also gaining notice for Dancing Rabbit Golf Club's Azaleas Course, inland and east of Jackson. Part of a 36-hole complex designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate in Philadelphia, it has been named No. 35 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List. Golf Digest has ranked it No. 2 in the state and The Oaks Course at Dancing Rabbit No. 7.

The bayous and marshes of Shell Landing serve as home for so many native turtles that they named the tees at Shell Landing Golf Club after the species -- Snapping, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Gopher. The golf course is named for an area where fishermen dumped their oyster shells after harvesting.

Just don't snap one into the tall pines and rolling landscape here on this Davis Love III signature layout because the 6,978-yard, par 72 course is demanding. Wayward shots might also find the countless wetlands areas.

"You can't really see it, but just beyond the far side of the par-3, 194-yard signature No. 17 is the Gulf of Mexico," said Kenny Hughes, Shell Landing's director of golf. "I think the travel golfers like this course because of the over-seeding in winter, our packages and service and the fact we are close to the major hotels and casinos."

Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, the only Arnold Palmer-designed track in the state, is named for the 21 wooden bridges that extend almost one mile over 17 lakes and 14 acres of marsh, wetlands and emerald over-seeded fairways. In its original state, upland island areas dotted the wet acreage -- bridges were needed to connect the dots.

The King's Tees, on this Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary course, measure 6,841 yards at par 72 spread out over 600 acres that includes the brand-new 291-room luxury hotel and casino. And it's only 50 miles from New Orleans.

Opened in 1997, the golfer will find water or wetlands everywhere, but the tee landing areas are generous. Watch for deep cross bunkers, no recovery marshland, and bold carries on many holes from the tips. The Bridges is a 4-star Golf Digest Places to Play winner. The course has hosted many prestigious tournaments including The Brett Favre Celebrity Golf Tournament, Mike Ditka Celebrity Tournament, Bridges All-American Intercollegiate Invitation, PGA Tour's Buy.com Pro-Am and the Gulf Coast Open.

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Courses

Course City Rates from
Course City Rates from
The Grand Bear Golf Course
Tee Times | Website
Saucier $42.8
Hillsdale Course at Kings Arrow Ranch
Tee Times
Lumberton $15
Dogwood Hills Golf Course
Tee Times
Biloxi $11
Great Southern Golf Club
Tee Times
Gulfport $23
The Oaks Golf Club
Tee Times
Pass Christian $12.5
Gulf Hills Country Club
Tee Times
Ocean Springs $25
Pass Christian Isles Golf Club
Tee Times
Pass Christian $20
Sunkist Country Club Biloxi $32 - $70
The Preserve Golf Club Vancleave $90 - $135
Shell Landing Golf Club Gautier $55 - $89
Hickory Hill Country Club Gautier $25 - $49
Bay Breeze Golf Course Biloxi $11 - $28
Windance Country Club Gulfport $50 - $85
Fallen Oak Golf Course Saucier $200
Bridges Golf Club at Hollywood Casino Bay Saint Louis $89
Cardinal at Diamondhead Country Club Diamondhead $35 - $70
Pines at Diamondhead Country Club Diamondhead $35 - $70
Bayou Vista Golf Course Gulfport $20 - $29
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