Mississippi Gulf Coast golf shines on Golfweek 'courses you can play' list

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Gulf Coast gems Fallen Oak Golf Club, The Preserve, Grand Bear and Shell Landing represent Mississippi golf on Golfweek's "America's Best Courses You Can Play" list.

Fallen Oak Golf Club - Saucier
Fallen Oak Golf Club in Saucier, Miss., tops the state rankings among "Golfweek's Best Courses You Can Play list."
Fallen Oak Golf Club - SaucierThe Preserve Golf ClubGrand Bear Golf Club - SaucierShell Landing Golf Course
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Those who would argue the benefits of gaming need not look further than the state of Mississippi and what it has meant to tourism and the golf industry there.

Four of the top five golf courses in Mississippi, according to Golfweek's latest "America's Best Courses You Can Play" state list, are amenities of casino resorts. Mississippi is the nation's third largest gaming destination.

Four of the five courses are also located on the Gulf Coast. The only exception is Dancing Rabbit's Azaleas Course, which came in at No. 4 on the list.

"While visitors to this 60 miles of Gulf of Mexico coast have known for years the best courses in the state and the region are here, now everyone will know this with four out of five on Golfweek's state list being located here on the Mississippi's 'Golf Coast'," said Kevin Drum, executive director of the Gulf Coast Golf Association & Coast Golf Tourism Partnership.

This year's list is headed up by the Tom Fazio-designed Fallen Oak Golf Club in Saucier, followed by The Preserve in Vancleave, The Grand Bear in Saucier, Dancing Rabbit in Philadelphia and Shell Landing in Gautier.

Shell Landing is the only course not affiliated with a casino. Fallen Oak is an amenity of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, The Preserve is of the Palace Casino, Grand Bear of the Harrah's Grand Casino Biloxi, and Dancing Rabbit of the Pearl River Resort.

To determine the nation's most deserving layouts Golfweek dispatches hundreds of raters across America to examine courses for their overall strength of routing, feature shaping, natural setting, greens, variety and memorability of holes, conditioning and maintenance, landscape management and "walk in the park" test.

The Preserve debuts at No. 2

Four of the golf courses on the list also made last year's list. The new course on the list, The Preserve, makes its debut this year at No. 2 in the state.

Designed by former U.S. Open Champion, Jerry Pate, the par-71 Preserve Golf Club is surrounded by 1,800 acres of nature conservancy preserve. Recognized as a Certified Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary, the layout of the 245-acre course was largely dictated by the native species and surrounding preserve. Tall long leaf pines line the fairways, wooden bridges cross the wetlands and live oaks reach over the course. Wild, wiry grasses provide texture and color against the smooth rolling greens.

"The Preserve Golf Club is simply a great design in the middle of nature," said Stephen Miles, director of operations at The Preserve. "When you add the championship course conditioning and first-class customer service it all adds up to a truly authentic golfing experience.

"The fact The Preserve has been recognized by Golfweek as a top course to play in America, goes well beyond promoting just our course," Miles added. "It promotes the quality of the golf we offer here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, to golfers all across the country."

Yet another honor for Fallen Oak

Top-rated Fallen Oak is actually a "sister" course to the renowned Shadow Creek Golf Club in Las Vegas, both MGM Mirage Resorts properties. Opened in November 2006, Fallen Oak, which is 15 miles north of the Beau Rivage, measures 7,480 yards from the tips.

The course has lush, rolling landscape covered in oak and pine ridges, magnolias, pecan groves, large lakes, winding streams and wetlands. It features 10 bridges and concealed cart paths to protect the terrain's natural features.

David Stinson, general manager at Fallen Oak, said among his course's virtues is that it's very playable by all levels, but it can be a beast from the tips. The course also is inherently beautiful, he said.

"There are no houses, and the golf course has been carved through the Desoto National Forest, Stinson said. "No homes, just a straight forward golf course."

You'll find towering pines, natural cypress wetlands, secluded fairways, deep bunkers and flawless greens on Jack Nicklaus' Grand Bear, which came in at No. 3. The course, which measures 7,204 yards from the Grizzly Bear tees has five sets of tees in all. This course feels a little like Augusta as well as Pinehurst.

In addition to being named the top public course in the state, Fallen Oak also debuted at No. 55 on Golfweek's "America's Best 100 Modern Courses" this year. The honor came on the heels of the publication naming Fallen Oak the No. 2 Top Casino course in the country for the second time.

Dancing Rabbit's Azaleas Course is one of two at the award-winning golf club (Oaks Course is the other). Fazio and Jerry Pate design both. The Azaleas is routed among ancient pines and hardwoods through naturally gently rolling hills and valleys. Over two miles of spring-fed creeks and streams weave their way through the fairways and greens.

Shell Landing Golf Club, designed by PGA Tour star Davis Love III, is a par-72 that features all of the Gulf Coast's diverse natural resources. Named for the rare gopher turtles that thrive in the property's extensive, protected habitat, Shell Landing mixes tall pines, marshes, bayous and wetlands with rolling emerald hills.

Click here to see the complete list.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

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