Mississippi's best golf resorts mix high stakes gambling with superb courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

The Pearl River Resort, Old Waverly and Beau Rivage Casino are just a few of the resorts making Tim McDonald's list of the best golf resorts in Mississippi.

Grand Bear Golf Course
Grand Bear golf course is part of the The Grand Casino Biloxi, one of the best golf resorts in Mississippi.
Grand Bear Golf CourseFallen Oak Golf CourseThe Bridges- Hollywood Casino, Bay St. Louis
If you go

BILOXI, Miss. - Mississippi was the home of riverboat gamblers in the Old West, floating casinos in the modern era and, in post-Hurricane Katrina, land-based casinos.

As Mississippi has developed, so have its golf courses and golf resorts. It's one of the few states where you can mix golf and gambling, though all the resorts mentioned here don't have casinos.

Here is our list of the best golf resorts in Mississippi.

Beau Rivage Casino

The resort: The Beau Rivage is the biggest and wealthiest of the Biloxi casinos, probably the only casino here that could pump as much obvious money into a golf course like Fallen Oak.

The casino is truly an impressive sight, inside and out. Post-Katrina, it has new restaurants and a more luxurious casino, which has been re-designed. All the rooms have been re-designed as well.

The Beau Rivage has more than 1,700 guest rooms and suites, with 32-inch flat-screen TVs. It also has seven restaurants, four lounges and bars, 12 shops, a spa and salon, a pool and a convention center.

The golf: Fallen Oak is the newest golf course in the Biloxi area, and it is a humdinger, a big, bold, even spectacular course by one of the world's more well-known architects, Tom Fazio.

Fallen Oak elevates golf in Biloxi, literally and figuratively. It's one of the few courses in coastal Mississippi with substantial elevation changes, and its mere presence will attract golfers to a place that needs visiting golfers badly. It's that good.

If you come straight from gambling at the Beau Rivage, a bit of a drive, be prepared to keep rolling the dice. It's a gambler's course, with more risk/reward options than the blackjack table.

Fairways bend and twist, rise and fall. The greens are huge, averaging about 7,500 square feet, with he-man slope. There are marsh carries, doglegs to be cut and creeks to fly. You'll be thinking on every hole, so you'll need some smarts with your muscle mass - the course tips out at more than 7,400 yards, though you may want to take it on from the forward tees.

Pearl River Resort

The resort: The Pearl River Resort is located in the east central part of the state. A development of the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi, the resort tops our list because of its two superb golf courses, but the resort itself is nothing to scoff at.

The resort has two casino/hotels, the Golden Moon and Silver Star, with more than 5,000 slot machines, 115 table games and 14 poker tables.

Combined, the two properties have more than 1,000 guest rooms, 16 restaurants, as well as one of the South's largest water theme parks, Geyser Falls, a 15-acre "family amusement center," with 12 water slides, a wave pool, lazy river, cabanas and outdoor stage. The park includes Clearwater Key, a man-made white-sand beach.

They also have live entertainment from the likes of the legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The golf: Dancing Rabbit Golf Club consists of two courses by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate, both of which are rated among the best courses in Mississippi by just about everyone.

The Azaleas is considered the best.

Oddly enough, the other course, The Oaks, has a higher slope rating, though most consider it to be the easier of the two.

Old Waverly

The resort: Old Waverly is not exactly your theme-park resort, or the Biloxi casinos. It's more of a sedate development that offers cottages, villas and condos for rent, amid lakes, gardens, walking trails and afternoon fishing on Lake Waverly. It's located in West Point, in the northeast part of the state.

There are also swimming pools, tennis courts, a fitness center and meeting centers and banquet facilities. There are several restaurants: the Magnolia Room has a panoramic view of the lake, and Cameron's is "reminiscent of a Scottish landowner's library." On the lower level is Murphy's, a pub with a polished, oak English bar.

It's the lone non-gambling resort on our list.

The golf: Old Waverly is a highly regarded layout also noticed by all the major golf magazines. It's a private course accessible to guests.

The course, designed by Robert Cupp and Jerry Pate, is just over 7,000 yards with a slope rating of 140 from the back tees. With 400 acres of rolling hills, and willow oaks lining the driveway, there have even been comparisons to Augusta National.

Julie Inkster won the 1999 U.S. Women's Open here. The layout features bentgrass greens and the requisite centuries-old oak trees lining the fairways.

Grand Casino Biloxi

The resort: The Grand Casino Biloxi is located in the heart of the casino district, where the action is.

The hotel has 500 rooms with plasma TVs, a fitness center, outdoor pool with luxury cabanas, LB's Steakhouse and the 16,000 square-foot Bellissimo Spa and Salon.

The new casino floor has 800 slots and 25 table games, and the folks at the Grand say: "We bring you ways to win beyond your wildest dreams."

Don't bet your green fees on it. Save that for the golf course.

The golf: Grand Bear is one of Biloxi's star attractions. It may not have the novelty of the Mississippi Gulf Coast's two glitzy new openings, Fallen Oak and The Preserve, or the history of Great Southern, but this will always be a favorite of those who travel and play golf regularly in Biloxi, including myself.

It's bordered by the DeSoto National Forest, so only the deer and turkey and occasional wild pig are there to laugh at your chili-dips. Instead of condos and homes, you have the truly lovely Biloxi River making cameo appearances, with its dark, flowing water offset by sandy beaches.

The course rolls and dips, with swales and hollows, and has some decent elevation changes, atypical for this part of the world. It's an idyllic setting, with excellent movement. There is water, but not a ton of it.

The fairways are tree-lined and wide, showing off one of Nicklaus' favorite themes - multiple routes to the green.

Hollywood Casino

The resort: The Hollywood Casino is 20 miles west of Biloxi - you're in luck because the Bay St. Louis bridge just recently opened, 20 months after Hurricane Katrina washed away the old one.

You can walk directly from the slot machines at the casino, formerly known as Casino Magic, directly to the golf course.

The hotel has nearly 300 waterfront rooms overlooking the marina, golf course, Jourdan River and the Bay of St. Louis. The casino has a pool and cabana bar, and four restaurants, including my favorite, Shaker's Martini Bar.

There is more than 17,000 feet of meeting space, and all rooms have free high-speed Internet.

A lot of people like to bring their RVs here. Good Sam Park has 100 hookups with cable TV, barbecue grills, a pavilion and 24-hour security. It's a party out there.

The golf: The Bridges is one of the prettiest golf courses you'll find, with marsh views virtually everywhere; only rarely do you see evidence it's on the grounds of a large casino complex. There are no houses or condos to mar the views, and the tumbling dice are too far away to hear.

The fairways still roll and tumble despite Katrina's best efforts, the same interesting variety of holes is still there, and the greens are still large and contoured. The conditioning, even if a hurricane had never hit, is very good.

The Bridges is a must-play in coastal Mississippi. It's one of Arnold Palmer's better works, designed amid an interesting, natural terrain.

This is not an easy, slap-it-around resort course, with its slope rating of 138 from the back tees and 6,841 yards. The large greens are particularly good, just the right touch of slope and undulation to make you work without being overwhelming to the average player.

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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