On the road in Mississippi: No ghostly sights here -- golf lives in the delta, pines, hills

By David R. Holland, Contributor

WEST POINT, Miss. - If your stray shots come back to haunt you at Old Waverly Golf Club, scene of Juli Inkster's 1999 Women's U.S. Open victory, there may be good reason.

Just down the road is Waverly Mansion, and ante-bellumplantation home built in 1852 by Col. George Young.During the Civil War and the following reconstructionperiod, many homeless families found a place to stayhere, and many believe their spirits remain - butwith typical Southern manners - never spooking theliving or nearby golfers.

But Mississippi's most-sighted apparition, locals say, plays golf near his birthplace in Tupelo at Big Oaks Golf Club. That's Elvis Presley, of course, and you can bet the local tourism folks like to use his image, even to the point of a "staged" photo of the ole hip wiggler playing golf.

If America's most famous rockabilly star was alive today no doubt he would recommend golf in Mississippi.

"You can't believe how far golf has come inMississippi," said Bill Colloredo, general manager ofOld Waverly. "We enjoy taking care of people here -showing them a good time and providing good food,drinks and a great golf course."

But the hospitality is not just found at Old Waverly and gone are the days when outsiders thought Mississippi golf was just mom and pop nine-holers. Today the state is loaded with great championship layouts.

More than 140 beautiful golf courses adorn the state now - from the Delta Region along the Mississippi River, to the Hills Region, the Pines Region and the Gulf Coast. Golf courses have been designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Hale Irwin, Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate.

Wild honeysuckle, brilliant azaleas and tall pines lead to thick forests. And fertile soil makes Mississippi a natural for admirable golf experiences. One can fly into Memphis and be playing golf in northeastern Mississippi in minutes at Cherokee Valley Golf Club in Olive Branch.

Stay and play at the Grand Casino Tunica at Cottonwoods, an Irwin design, then motor down toElvis' birthplace - Tupelo, for golf at Big Oaks.

You can still visit the tiny house where Elvis was born. Don't miss driving by many of his old "haunts" including Tupelo Hardware, where he bought his first guitar, and Johnnie's Drive In where he honed his famous appetite by devouring "dough burgers" just a short walk fromhis house. Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?You betcha.

From Tupelo head for West Point and Old Waverly beforee nding your journey in Philadelphia, home of nationally-ranked DancingRabbit Golf Club and thePearl River Resort (and casinos). From here you can cut over to I-20 and head for the airport in Jackson.

Here's a closer look at golf in northern Mississippi.

Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point

Ranked No. 1 in the state by Golf Digest, Old Waverly Golf Club is a private club, but offers a "stay and play package" on the banks of Waverly Lake for travel golfers. This is a must play.

Designed by Bob Cupp and Jerry Pate, Old Waverly measures 7,018 yards at par of 72, and was created from400 rolling acres where cows once grazed.

Old Waverly features bentgrass greens, lakes and century-old oaks. At the time of her victory here, Inkster shattered theU.S. Women's Open scoring record by six shots finishing 16-under for a five-shot victory over SherriTurner. It was Inkster's 20th title and fourth major.

"In 1982 we thought that a golf course could be builtin the area of the Waverly Mansion," said owner GeorgeBryan, whose family fortune was built on a foundationof lunch meats - Bryan Foods. "We held sessions inJackson to try and get approval for a course at themansion, but the plan eventually fell to the wayside."

Four years later, in 1986, Bryan and his investors settled on the current site and came up with the name that was inspired by an Americanized spelling of Sir Walter Scott's famed Waverly novels.

Big Oaks Golf Club in Tupelo

Seeing water? Big Oaks Golf Club has 70 acres of the wet stuff to prey on your mind and discourage those wild and wet crooked shots. Yes, fishermen, this place is envied by many non-golfers.

Designed by local Tracy May, the course measures 6,784yards at par 72 for its Tight Lies Tour participants.

This award-winner does have generous 419 Bermuda fairways and large bentgrass greens. The water attracts all kinds of wildlife to view throughout the year.

Added amenities include a large driving range with six target greens, a separate chipping green, bunkers, anda putting green. The clubhouse includes a golf shop,snack bar and meeting rooms.

Cottonwoods in Tunica

Settled down in the rich Delta bottom lands where cotton was once king, Cottonwoods at Grand Casino Tunica is a par-72, 6,952-yard layout with a Scottish links feel and rolling fairways framed by three lakes and 80 bunkers. Nine holes border the water.

The signature par-3 17th will get your attention witha peninsula green 181 yards from the back tees.Cottonwoods owns a four-star rating by Golf Digest and just minutes from the three hotels of the Grand Casino Tunica.

In 1991, Tunica was the poorest county in the state,but thanks to 10 casinos and 6,346 hotel rooms, 16,000new jobs were created. This fall 2003 a Mark McCumber-designed links layout will open named Tunica National.

Cherokee Valley Golf Club in Olive Branch

Gently rolling hills, wide Zoysia fairways, deep woods, 11 lakes, 78 bunkers and elevation changes make Cherokee Valley Golf Club a true test and a country club experience without the pricey dues.

Thick trees line most fairways on this 6,751-yardpar-72 and the greens can be tricky at an average of6,500-square feet in size. No. 7 is the signature hole- a 155-yard, par 3, demanding a tee shot over waterto a large, rolling green surrounded by mature trees.Watch out for the large scalloped bunker in front ofthe green, which adds visual depth.

Cherokee Valley also sports a state-of-the-art practice facility with a three-tiered driving range,two putting greens and a chipping green. Thelodge-style clubhouse sits atop a high point and has spectacular views of the ninth and 18th greens from both the snack bar and the banquet hall.

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club in Philadelphia

Mississippi's Choctaw Indians hunted on these lands where red-clay cliffs, streams, pines and oaks frame a classic. The 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 you might just blank out and envision Augusta National.

The Azaleas opened in 1997 and is ranked second in the state by Golf Digest behind Old Waverly. This rolling layout measures 7,128 yards at par 72 and the greens can Stimp to 12 if someone really wants to be mean. The Azaleas is the No. 1 Mississippi public access course according to Golfweek and The Oaks is No. 2.

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 will spoil you with its excellent layouts and southern hospitality. It just might become your favorite hangout for golf.

Where to play

Old Waverly Golf Club
1802 Magnolia Dr
West Point, Miss. 39773
Telephone: (662) 494-8780

Big Oaks Golf Club
3481 Big Oaks Blvd.
Saltillo, Miss. 38866
Telephone: (662) -844-8002

Cherokee Valley Golf Club
6635 Crumpler Blvd
Olive Branch, Miss. 38654
Telephone: (662) 893-4444

Cottonwoods at Grand Casino
13615 Old Hwy 61 N.
Tuncia, Miss. 38664
Telephone: (662) 357-6078

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club
One Choctaw Trail
Philadelphia, MS 39350
Telephone: (888) 372-2248 or (601) 663-0011

Other golf choices

Kirkwood National Golf Club, Holly Springs,kirkwoodgolf.com, (662) 252-4888
Shiloh Ridge Golf Club, Corinth, shilohridgeclub.com,(662) 286-8000
Plantation Golf Club, Olive Branch, olivebranchgolf.com, (662) 895-3530
Links of Whispering Woods, Olive Branch, (662)893-2874
Wedgewood Golf Club, Olive Branch, (901) 521-8275
River Bend Links
, Tunica, riverbendlinks.com, (662)363-1005
The Club at North Creek
, Southaven, (601) 280-4653
The Meadows Golf Club
, Tupelo, (662) 840-1985
The Natchez Trace Golf Club
, Tupelo, (662) 869-2166

Under construction

Tunica National Golf & Tennis Club designed by Mark McCumber, (662) 363-1465

Where to stay

The Lodge at Old Waverly, West Point, Stay and Play, features six, 4-bedroom cottages and other rentals, (662) 495-5485, oldwaverly.net.
Pearl River Resort, Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, SilverStar Hotel & Casino, Golden Moon Hotel & Casino,Philadelphia,(601) 650-1234 or (800) 557-0711,pearlriverresort.com.
Grand Casino Tunica, Terrace Hotel, (228) 604-5000ext. 3687(888) 946-1946 ext.3687, grandcasinos.com
The Jameson Inn, Tupelo, (662) 840-2380, (800)526-3766

Where to dine

Magnolia Room, Cameron's, The Grill, Old WaverlyClubhouse
Timbeaux's on The Square, Hernando
Hollywood Diner, Hollywood Casino, Tunica
Twain's, Sam's Town, Tunica
IV's Restaurant, Tupelo

Mississippi tourism Web sites


David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

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 @David_R_Holland.

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