Mississippi Gulf Coast offers world-class action at the tables and on the golf courses

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

It might not get the hype of Vegas, but the Mississippi Golf Coast has a world-class casino scene. High-rollers and partygoers will enjoy resorts like Hard Rock Hotel Casino Biloxi and Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, while golfers will want to spend their days on golf courses like Great Southern Golf Club.

Beau Rivage Tables
Golfers who visit Biloxi also can enjoy great eat gaming at the Beau Rivage Resort.
Beau Rivage TablesHard Rock Hotel - BiloxiPreserve Golf Club
If you go

BILOXI, Miss. - The bar at one casino is packed with characters downing colorful drink specials. The promotional models handing out trinkets don't hurt the scene, either. Not far down the street, the baccarat table is buzzing at another casino.

All you need to get from one point of action to the other is the shoes on your feet.

"If you can't have fun here, you're either dead or an accountant," Shelly Kirchhoff, a casino-hopping 30-something in a mini skirt, said, laughing.

Well, there don't seem to be many cadavers or accountants around this night.

And, no, you're not in Las Vegas. Or that vastly overrated Atlantic City, N.J. Instead, you're on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where no one gets too uptight, and the gambling's more than all right. In fact, readers of TripAdvisor.com rated Biloxi the seventh-best destination in the world for gamblers. That's around the entire globe - and anyone who's ever been to China knows that this planet is increasingly gambling crazy.

Consider that Las Vegas finished No. 1 and Monte Carlo No. 2. You're dealing in some rarefied air.

Of course, if you've actually been to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, this isn't going to surprise you.

There are 11 major casino resorts here, and almost all of them are virtually brand new - in no small part due to Hurricane Katrina's destructive wrath. And while they are largely stand alone giants up and down the coast that you have to drive in-between, there is even something of a little Vegas-style casino neighborhood now.

Hard Rock Hotel Casino Biloxi - the hippest casino in the region - and Beau Rivage Resort & Casino - the most like Vegas' Bellagio - are a short walk from each other, both right along the Gulf of Mexico. Stay at Hard Rock, and you'll have easy access to Beaux Ridge's gaming and vice versa.

Better yet, Mary Mahoney's - one of the best restaurants in the world and that's no exaggeration, just ask Denzel Washington, W. or any of the other celebs who've come in for the distinctive, rich Bayou dishes - sits right across the street from the Hard Rock.

This is one impressive trinity corner of fine time vacationing. And it's only part of what Biloxi's casino power brings.

There's also the benefit they give golfers who aren't even big gamblers. The Mississippi Gulf Coast has 22 golf courses from celebrity architects like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Fazio, Davis Love III and Jerry Pate. This in an area with a long, rich golf history - the Gulf Coast's first golf course, Great Southern Golf Club, was built in 1908, and none other than Byron Nelson and Sam Snead waged a 19-hole playoff here in 1943.

Still, it's doubtful the Gulf Coast would have this kind of golf today without the casinos. They build new courses and pump money into older ones in an attempt to draw guests and often, to outdo each other. A good example is the Mark McCumber-designed Windance County Club, where course conditions have greatly improved since the Island View Casino bought it.

That's good for golfers. The room rates that casino competition triggers is better.

"I think the casinos are the key," said Kevin Drum, executive director of the non-profit Gulf Coast Golf Association. "They bring artificially lower room rates and give you good value all around.

"An all-you-can-eat buffet for $7.99? I think you get some real good value out of that."

Unless you lose about $799 at the roulette table.

That goes back to the truth of the Gulf Coast, though. This place can be as casino crazy as you want it to be. If you're a guy who enjoys hitting the cards hard, you're not going to leave disappointed with the environment. Just like if you're a couple looking for some nightlife that's a long ways from what you get back home, you'll easily find that, too.

Don't be surprised if the blackjack dealers you come across happen to be the nicest dealers you've ever gambled with, either. That's just how people seem to be on the Gulf Coast. There's an openness and an anti-formal touch.

Heck, when I checked into the Hard Rock, I thought the front desk clerk was shamelessly flirting with me. Until I realized that's just how everyone is down here.

"You can't teach it," Hollywood Casino's Bridges Golf Club Head Golf Professional Billy Baumgartner said of the service approach that everyone from a big shot casino maitre d' to the lady slinging pancakes at the local IHOP seems to have. "It comes natural."

Big time casinos might not be so natural to the area, but they gained a ton of respect from the locals with how quickly - and without much question - they rebuilt in the aftermath of Katrina a few years ago.

Sitting in a corner suite at the Hard Rock that looks right over a lively pool deck scene that stretches almost right over the Gulf of Mexico, you just know that the casino life here is impressive. You don't need a survey to tell you things, when it's really as good as it gets.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin 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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