Thanksgiving golf specials: Biloxi and Gulf Shores offer early gifts for holiday getaways

By Tom Spousta, Contributor

For good golf this winter, head south to Mississippi and Alabama for a few rounds on golf courses such as Fallen Oak, The Preserve and Shell Landing.

Shell Landing Golf Course
Shell Landing is considered one of the best Biloxi value plays this time of year.
Shell Landing Golf CourseKiva Dunes Golf Course
If you go

Ah, the holidays. Turkey and stuffing. Hustle and bustle. Snow and Santa Claus.

It's the most wonderful time of the year, as the Christmas song says, but if it's so much fun, how come most people say they need a vacation to recover from the stress endured during the last six weeks of the year?

Maybe because the next thing on the calendar is called winter, and the last thing you might think about would be golf, gambling, resorts, spa massages, fishing and walks on the beach.

But instead of going into immediate hibernation, an escape to Biloxi, Miss., and the Gulf Shores area of Alabama might be the chill pill you need. From the beginning of Thanksgiving week through Feb. 1, you'll find some of the golf travel industry's craziest values and amazing packages along this stretch of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sure, it's a cliché to say, "With deals like this, you can't afford not to go." Does that make it any less true? In these tumultuous economic times, everybody deserves to smile and chuckle as they save and savor rates that include greens fees, cart fees, food and beverage credits and more.

Few if any hotels and casinos are locked into a specific golf course, offering upgrades to a variety of layouts throughout the area.
About the only caveat relates to Fallen Oak, a Tom Fazio masterpiece, where to play you have to stay at least one night at the Beau Rivage. Otherwise, usually available to guests are great layouts such as The Preserve, a gorgeous design by Jerry Pate; Davis Love III's Shell Landing; the Great Southern Club, built in 1908 and the area's oldest course; The Bridges Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer creation and the only course with an on-site casino; and Grand Bear, a Jack Nicklaus design.

Golf on the Gulf Shores of Alabama

An impressive stable of courses awaits not far down Interstate 10 in the golf haven called Gulf Shores. Kiva Dunes, another spectacular Pate design, tops most lists. Arnold Palmer has staked a significant claim there with a trio of strong layouts: the Lost Key Golf Club, Cypress Bend and Cotton Creek.

No, Biloxi is not Las Vegas, but that's the point. recently attested to the area's unique niche by ranking Biloxi the world's seventh-best gambling destination.

"It's sort of a secret time here right now," said Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association. "From just having to wear a light sweater, to the rates. It's a time when I really want my friends to come down from up North."

Call it the lull before the rush ... Thanksgiving through Feb. 1 is still considered off season along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and a standard round ranges in price from $20 to $80. But the bargains are found in the package deals at resorts, hotels and the 10 new condominium towers that have sprouted up since Hurricane Katrina in 2004. "It's a new product for us that has done really well," Drum said of the condos.

Price ranges run the gamut of folks' budgets. At the Isle of Capris Casino and Resort, $93 per night includes golf and a set of three free Insignia wedges (while supply lasts). The IP Casino Resort and Spa also has rates beginning at $93, and even the Courtyard by Marriott in Gulfport has joined the action, offering rates from $72 with golf.

On the higher end, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino starts at around $120, and the Ocean Club condos goes for $140.

"There are not many places you can say are in a growth spurt right now," Drum said.

Ditto for places offering such holiday getaway deals.

Tom SpoustaTom Spousta, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tom Spousta keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. He has covered golf and other sports for USA Today and The New York Times. Tom lives on a Donald Ross-designed golf course in Sarasota, Fla.

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