Great one-shot wonders abound on Gulf Coast

By Tommy Snell, Contributor

Shell Landing Golf ClubArchitects and developers search diligently for holes that define spectacular moments or that stimulate breathtaking pauses from the normal tee-to-green routine. Golfers have come to expect such masterpieces, and one shot wonders, better known as par 3s, offer some of the most famous and palatable delicacies known to par seekers.

Possibly the most famous par-3s are canvassed on golfers' minds through the water-color strokes heard round the links, but had Tom Watson not chipped in on the 17th at Pebble Beach had Tom Weiskopf not deposited a small bucket into the water guarding No. 12 at Augusta National, or had Fred Couples not holed out for a par-3 after dumping his first shot into the pond surrounding the 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass, these fabulous creations would still be etched in the minds of golfers who have swatted their paint brushes of iron on these short holes. Television and communication catapulted this triumvirate into golfing history, but their true greatness lies in their unmistakable design.

Par-3s normally stand as the easiest holes on most courses. Golfers don't have to drive a ball in play on par-3s. One shot to glory!

No wonder No. 17 at Whistling Straits took center stage at the PGA and The Postage Stamp gobbled up the pre-tournament talk at The Open. Par-3s add flair to the triumvirate of golf's cycle, and down south they add a cayenne-like spice to the seafood buffet of architectural gems. Bayous, bays, and rivers provided stunning settings for Palmer, Nicklaus, Love, and McCumber, and of course, will prove a welcome background for any future maestro.

The Mississippi gulf coast contingent of one-shot-wonders will rival any destination for breathtaking views and spectacular challenges, and while the "Playground of the South" constantly cultivates more "short" holes, golfers can expect future architects to meet the test of outdoing their counterparts.

The Great Southern Golf Club

Great Southern's entry into this field ironically distinguishes itself from other holes on "Mississippi's birthplace of golf" by age. Brian Curly of Schmidt-Curly Design completely revamped the 1908 design — the oldest course in Mississippi— in 1999 by moving the green 20 yards to the right and creating a pond with a voracious appetite to devour any errant, dimpled entrée. The bailout area left of the green on the 188-yard par-3 third hole welcomes golfers to a menacing venue where only well-struck chips survive the daunting task of stopping a ball on a slick green that slopes toward the lurking pond.

The Bridges Resort

The Bridges Resort at Casino Magic, an Arnold Palmer creation that sits quietly on the Mississippi Sound, has four diabolical par-3s on one of the most challenging courses lying on the "longest man-made beach in the world." The 770 yards of one-shot wonders sport carries over marsh, and hazards defend all four greens like a mother seagull would protect her young.

The Bridges at Casino MagicThe masterful par-3 seventh at the Bridges measures 188 yards, and the bulkhead that keeps the green from sliding into the marsh holds court on any fat, thin or crooked thief of a golf shot. The bulkhead judge returns the same sentence to water hazard felons: re-tee and hack at it again. This par-3 certainly falls short of PGA "stardom" stature, but for golfers who have ever tried to navigate flights over the nasty cat tails and fiddler crabs, it's etched indelibly into their 19-hole memoirs.

Palmer had no mercy when he signed his name to The Bridges, especially considering the par-3s. They're four of the most beautiful short holes anywhere on the planet, but Calypso was beautiful, too. Golfers better bring their "A" game on the day they tee off in Bay St. Louis, Miss., or they'll find themselves staying as long as Odysseus.

Shell Landing Golf Club

Davis Love III's stunning success on the links has carried over into his ability to design brilliant golf holes, and the 17th at Shell Landing Golf Club shines like a lighthouse signaling a tortoise refuge in the marshes of Gautier, Miss. The snapping turtle tees offer 193 yards of carry over marsh to a large undulating green guarded by two bunkers in the bailout area over the green. Love wanted a course that everyone could play; therefore, he built four member-friendly tees of 167, 139, 130, and 110 yards.

Bobby Mahoney, long time Coast resident, avid golfer, and businessman, painstakingly chose No. 17 at Shell Landing over No. 3 at Great Southern as the best par-3 on the coast simply because of the view.

"There's wide open space all around the hole, which makes the view spectacular," he said. "The marsh provides a beautiful setting that's natural and soothing to the eye." It may be soothing to the eye, but anyone who has to take a stance on those Snapping Turtle tees and strike a precise shot over the meandering bayou is anything but soothed. "I wanted to design a course where houses weren't noticed," said Love. He accomplished more than he expected with the 17th.

Other notable par 3s

The Oaks in Pass Christian and Gulf Hills Country Club in Ocean Springs offer two of the spiciest par-3s in the southeast in their seventh and 17th holes respectively. Golfers playing No. 7 at The Oaks, host to the 1999 and 2000 Mississippi Gulf Coast Open on the Nationwide Tour, must carry 190 yards of water to a very slippery and shallow green that rejects most top-rocks.

Gulf Hills, where Johnny Pott called home when it was the Royal Gulf Hills Dude Ranch, once claimed its 17th was the most photographed hole in Mississippi. According to the website: "Legend has it that the resort was developed especially for the seclusion and entertainment of Chicago crime figure, Al Capone. In fact, remnants of a 'speak easy' and gambling casino still remain."

Nicklaus won't be outdone on any stage, and just as he struck that famous 1-iron on the 17th at Pebble, his design team laced a 195-yard par-3 over the Big Biloxi River in Gulfport. The Grand Bear's 14th hole offers a great visual off the tee, according to John Hurt, golf pro at the Grand Casino's gem.

"The risk of hitting it left off the tee and watching your ball roll down the slope into the river makes No. 14 a great golf hole," he adds. "It's a definite risk-reward hole with plenty of bail-out to the right."

Nicklaus always seems to create fabulous par-3s on his signature courses, and the Grand Bear's 14th certainly offers a stunning beauty and stern test to visitors.

Places to eat

When golfers visit the Mississippi gulf coast, their stipulated round always consists of a fine dining experience at Mary Mahoney's Old French House. After sipping on a casual beverage in the Slave Quarters Bar, guests meet Bobby Mahoney and are treated to a few golf jokes and tall tales while he dishes out the specials of the evening.

Celebrities visiting the coast usually end up at Mary Mahoney's. Author John Grisham enjoyed the famous seafood gumbo so much that he featured it in Runaway Jury and The Partner. For more information call (228)374-0163 or visit MaryMahoneys.com

The Chimney's restaurant in Gulfport overlooks the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, and Dix and Peter Nord complement the stunning views by serving up dishes like Trout 1640 and Chimney's Blackened Stuffed Filet in a turn-of-the-century Queen Anne style home.

For reservations call (228) 868-7020 or visit chimneysrestaurant.com

Places to stay

According to the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, 18,000 rooms dot the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Choices range from luxury casino resorts to hotel chains and from bed and breakfast to condominiums. Golfers looking to book golf packages can one-stop-shop for hotels and golf courses at golfcoast.com.

Tommy SnellTommy Snell, Contributor

Tommy Snell is a freelance golf writer featured in The Sunherald on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. His weekly column In the Bag features commentary on instruction, travel and equipment with perspectives on local and national golf events.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment