On the Road in Mississippi: Y'all will love the golf, history, southern hospitality and vittles

By David R. Holland, Senior Writer

GULFPORT, Miss. - Long before glitzy casinos dotted the Mississippi coastline and the golf boom produced brand-new 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 new 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 just been named No. 35 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List. Golf Digest ranks it No. 2 in the state and The Oaks Course at Dancing Rabbit No. 7.

Here's a capsule look at some choices for golf vacations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and also a look at Dancing Rabbit. Log on to www.golfcoast.com for package information and remember that most of the larger hotel and casinos offer golf packages.

Shell Landing Golf Club, Gautier

The bayous and marshes of Shell Landing serve as home for so many native turtles that they named the tees 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 layout 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, 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."

The Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic, Bay St. Louis

This Arnold Palmer-designed track, the only one 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.

The Oaks Golf Club, Pass Christian

The Oaks was developed and is managed by Landmark National, the same company that developed La Quinta, PGA West, Oak Tree and Kiawah Island Resort. Opened in 1998, this traditional layout measures 6,885 yards at par 72, and was carved through tall pines and around the natural wetlands with many holes enhanced by sunken bunkers and white sand.

It's ranked No. 8 in the state's Top Ten by Golf Digest and has played host to Nike and Buy.com Tour events. Tripp Isenhour owns the course record at 64.

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, Philadelphia

Mississippi's Choctaw Indians hunted on these lands where red-clay cliffs, streams, pines and oaks frame a classic. The award-winning Azaleas layout includes 352 acres meandering through an almost garden feel and the dashing waters of the Big and Little Dancing Rabbit Creeks.

With all this beauty and the addition of 10,000 azaleas and pink-flowering dogwoods did anyone blank out and envision Augusta National?

The Azaleas opened in 1997 and is ranked second in the state by Golf Digest behind Old Waverly, site of the 1999 Women's U.S. Open. This rolling layout measures 7,128 yards at par 72 and the greens can Stimp to 12 if someone really wants to be mean.

Opened in June 1999, The Oaks at Dancing Rabbit stretches out to 7,076 yards at par 72 and golf packages abound at the next-door Pearl River Resort which includes the Silver Star Hotel & Casino and the Golden Moon Hotel & Casino.

You can even stay at Dancing Rabbit's plantation-styled clubhouse. The second floor includes luxurious-appointed rooms. Step outside, sit on the verandah, sip your favorite brew and dream of the old days in Mississippi. And don't be surprised to see John Daly sitting at the piano in the clubhouse - this is one of his favorite hangouts.

Golf in Mississippi - it's Southern hospitality, casinos and deep-sea fishing. Vittles? Try some cheese grits, fried catfish, black-eyed peas and cornbread and sweet tea. Your golf vacation in the Deep South might just feel like y'all have come home.

Where to Play

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club
One Choctaw Trail
Philadelphia, MS 39350
Telephone: 888-372-2248 or 601-663-0011
Green Fees: $70 to $96 including cart. Call for specials and off-season rates.
Website: www.dancingrabbitgolf.com

Shell Landing Golf Club
3499 Shell Landing Blvd.
Gautier, MS 39553
Telephone: 228-497-LOVE or 866-851-0541
Green Fees: $65 to $89, cart included, GPS and range balls
Web Site: www.shelllanding.com

The Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic
711 Casino Magic Drive
Bay Saint Louis, MS 39520
Telephone: 228-463-4047 or 800-562-4425
Green Fees: $75 to $80, includes cart, GPS, range balls. $50 twilight fee.
Web Site: www.casinomagic.com

The Oaks Golf Club
24384 Club House Drive
Pass Christian, MS 39571
Telephone: 228-452-0909
Green Fees: $65 to $88 includes cart
Website: www.theoaksgolfclub.com

Where to Stay

Casino Magic Bay St. Louis
Entertainment & Golf Resort
711 Casino Magic Drive
Bay St. Louis, MS 39520
Telephone: 228-466-8003
Website: www.casinomagic.com
E-mail: tonya.chevis@pngaming.com

Casino Magic Biloxi
195 Beach Blvd.
Biloxi, MS 39530
Telephone: 800-5MAGIC5 ext. 3045 or 228-386-4596
Website: www.casinomagic-biloxi.com

Beau Rivage
875 Beach Boulevard
Biloxi, MS 39530
"One of the Top 100 Hotels in America"
Telephone: 800-239-2771 or 228-386-7171
Website: www.beaurivage.com
E-mail: eparker@beaurivage.com

Hilton
1001 East County Line Road
Jackson, MS 39211
Telephone: 601-957-2800 or 888-263-0524
Website: www.hilton.com
E-mail: lhorton@hilton-jackson.com

Pearl River Resort
Golden Moon Hotel & Casino
Silver Star Hotel & Casino
Box 6048, Highway 16 West
Choctaw, MS 39350
Telephone: 866-44PEARL or 601-650-1234
Website: www.pearlriverresort.com

Where to Eat

Favre's on the Bayou
1048 Kiln Delisle Road
Pass Christian, MS
Telephone: 228-255-6857

Don't miss meeting Green Bay Packers' QB Brett Favre's family. They are all here - mom, dad, brother and sister. And the food is great. Fresh seafood any way you like it and steaks.

Pier 4 Restaurant
Casino Magic
195 Beach Blvd.
Biloxi, MS 39530
Telephone: 800-5MAGIC5 ext. 3045 or 228-386-4596

They say Pier 4's Sunday Champagne Brunch is the best on the Gulf Coast. On other evenings don't miss the Surf N' Turf and the seafood catch of the day.

The Bridges Clubhouse Grill /
The Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic

711 Casino Magic Drive
Bay Saint Louis, MS 39520
Telephone: 228-463-4047 or 800-562-4425
Web Site: www.casinomagic.com

Located in the golf clubhouse overlooking the first tee. Breakfast, sandwiches, grilled items. The casino has Bienville's Bay Buffet, Tuscany, Jourdan River Grille and Jackpot Java.

Other helpful websites

Mississippi Division of Tourism
Janet Leach, Golf Marketing
Box 849
Jackson, MS 39205
Telephone: 601-359-3608
Website: www.visitmississippi.org
E-mail: jleach@mississippi.org

Mississippi is on the short-list of nominees for awards voted on by International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) members and the Golf Travel Writers Association (GTWA). Mississippi is nominated in the category of best "Emerging Golf Destination of the Year."

This is the second consecutive year that Mississippi has been nominated in this category, and it is the only U.S. representative golf destination included on the list, which includes Bahamas, Barbados, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Thailand, and Gold Coast, Australia. The IAGTO Awards are the official annual awards for the golf tourism industry.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association
Kevin Drum, Executive Director
Box 1914
Biloxi, MS 39533
Telephone: 866-383-GOLF
Website: www.golfcoast.com

Log on to check out the other golf courses in the area.

Hancock County Tourism Bureau
Beth Carriere, Executive Director
Box 3002
Bay St. Louis, MS 39521
Telephone 228-463-9222 or 800-466-9048
Website: www.hancockcountyms.org
E-mail: www.hancockcountyms.org

Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB
Steve Richer, Executive Director
Box 6128
Gulfport, MS 39506
Telephone: 228-896-6699 or 800-237-9493
Website: www.gulfcoast.org

Visit Beauvoir, retirement home of the only confederate president Jefferson Davis. Log on to: www.beauvoir.org.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Climate

The mild climate of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has
long attracted tourists and industry alike. Annual
average temperature is 68°, ranging from a 30-year
average of 52° in the coldest month to 82° in the
hottest month. Annual average precipitation is 61
inches, ample rainfall for azaleas and other garden
flowers.

Golf Digest's Mississippi Top Ten

1. Old Waverly G.C., West Point
2. Dancing Rabbit G.C. (Azalea), Philadelphia
3. Canebrake G.C., Hattiesburg
4. Grand Bear G.C., Saucier
5. Annandale G.C., Madison
6. Laurel C.C.
7. Dancing Rabbit G.C. (Oaks), Philadelphia
8. The Oaks G.C., Pass Christian
9. C.C. of Jackson (Red/White)
10. Kirkwood National G.C., Holly Springs

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Senior Writer

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.


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