The 2014 college football season offered an endless array of compelling storylines. One of the most noted was the rise of two schools — from the same state — competing in the ever demanding and competitive Southeast Conference.
For many recent years both the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State were usually on the losing side of the football stick. Not in 2014. Together the two schools combined for a 19-7 record and, as a result, brought national attention to The Magnolia State.
How things have certainly changed. Just nine years earlier in 2005 — the impact of Hurricane Katrina caused widespread destruction throughout the immediate Gulfcoast region. The strongest impact was felt along the Mississippi Gulf Coast area — surges of water extended anywhere from
6-12 miles inland with over 90% flooded.
Now, a full ten years later the same Gulf Coast area — anchored by the communities of Gulfport and Biloxi — have surged forward with a remarkable comeback story centered upon a get away area offering an array of fun diversions — with golf playing a pivotal role.
Far too often many people likely have not even thought much about Mississippi and its developing golf menu. Often times — New Orleans, just about two hours by car draws a high degree in interest given The Big Easy’s long time history — for both domestic and international visitors. On the Magnolia State’s eastern border is Alabama which has gone full throttle ahead with its own offerings through the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Mississippi has done well in the area of “verticality” — attracting visitors within the central time zone located north of the location with a heavy influx of visitors from such States as Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Minnesota. Now, the goal is to expand the profile – giving people a clear reason to see Mississippi as a location which can match what others have been touting for quite some time. Securing nonstop service to other locations — most especially along the Northeast corridor is an ongoing matter. Getting new visitors to change previous preferences is an ongoing emphasis area and the quality of the golf — along with the amenities and prices charged — can certainly play a key role in swaying new visitors to see what the gulf coast area of Mississippi provides.
One of the keys in branding and marketing the greater region has been the staging of a professional men’s tournament — the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic — a regular item on the Champions Tour featuring the best male players 50 years and older. The event has been held six years and has drawn rave reviews from the players and those in attending.
Can the Mississippi Gulf Coast area change the vacation patterns of people who have gone els
ewhere to other locations in the southeast — most notably the Carolinas and Florida? That remains to be seen. The overall golf product provides a range of architectural contributions from the likes of such heavyweights as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Arnold Palmer, to name just three. The USA golf marketplace is going through a major adjustment — total player participation rates are still slumping with golf closures happening much more frequently than course openings. Nonetheless, the Magnolia State is pressing ahead and for those who have grown tired of predictability with other locations the time may be right to head elsewhere and enjoy what’s provided there.
THE PRESERVE GOLF CLUB
Leading the way is The Preserve — a design from 1976 US Open Champion Jerry Pate. Situated on 245 acres — The Preserve also is encircled by 1,800 additional acres of protected nature preserve. In short — you don’t have the annoying and pesky intrusion of houses distracting you from the golf experience.
The Preserve is not a back breaker layout — playing a max of just under 6,800 yards. But be forewarned — if you fail to play from the appropriate tees given your playing ability the course will bite. There’s plenty of width in most spots and the green contours are challenging but not to the point of being a facsimile to your local putt-putt course.
The back nine is clearly the better of the two sides and the finishing four-hole stretch will make you earn your 19th hole celebration. The course charges $140 for prime playing times but there’s a good deal to be had for those who opt to play later in the day as the fees go below the century mark.
Turf quality is very good and the course is a Certified Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary befitting its partnership with the abutting terrain.
The Preserve Golf Club
6,774 Yards / Par-71
72.8 CR / 136 Slope
Architect: Jerry Pate
GRAND BEAR GOLF CLUB
Similar to The Preserve, Grand Bear is not bombarded with interfering homes and other such invasive clutter. In fact, the entrance road to the facility is quite special as it takes you away from the daily grind to a lovely setting where golf is front and center. Opened for play in 1999, Grand Bear was rightly touted as a Nicklaus layout that is quite elastic — providing for sufficient width for average players, yet when stretched to maximum length can prove quite vexing for better players.
The front nine works its away around the Little Biloxi River and is fairly straightforward but like The Preserve, the inner half of holes at Grand Bear pushes the needle higher and calls for sustained excellence in order to reap any benefits on the scorecard.
Turf quality is very good and the practice facilities are equally done well.
Grand Bear Golf Club
7,204 Yards / Par-72
75.5 CR / 143 Slope
Architect: Jack Nicklaus
THE BRIDGES GOLF CLUB at HOLLYWOOD CASINO
One of the most demanding things to do well is design 18-holes of golf when confronted with various wetlands and other water bearing hazards. Getting a course sufficiently playable is no small chore since players will need to handle forced carries in order to keep their golf ball dry.
The Bridges is an Arnold Palmer design and avoiding water in some form or another is job number one when playing. Suffice to say — it pays huge dividends to keep the ball in play because on a number of holes the slightest hiccup can mean a quick return to your golf bag for a ball reload.
While the opening hole is quite simple — the next three holes are anything but. The par-5, par-3 and par-4 trio are quite specific on what’s entailed — and should the player succeed the reward will be one to remember. Conversely, fail to do so, and the justice meter will be equally swift.
Turf conditions are a bit less so than The Preserve and Grand Bear — but the shotmaking requirements — especially off the tee — are also more intense. A portion of the back nine routing gets a bit constricted but the final surge of holes makes up for it nicely.
The Bridges GC at Hollywood Casino
6,841 Yards / Par-72
73.4 CR / 137 Slope
Bay St. Louis, MS
No visit to the area can be complete without a round at Fallen Oak — the site of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic each spring. Designed by acclaimed architect Tom Fazio — a round at Fallen Oak requires a stay at The Beau Rivage Hotel which is located immediately on the gulf coast — no more than 30 minutes away from the course.
Fallen Oak requires a deeper reach into one’s pocket but it’s worth what you get back in a number of ways. The customer service is spot on — not missing a single detail of note. The turf quality is also first rate. Putting surfaces roll true and the facility was smart to pull out over 20+ bunkers in order to enhance playability since a number of them are quite deep and offer little hope in advancing one’s golf ball a noticeable way once within them. Pay heed before launching any tee shots — many of the fairways narrow considerably the longer you attempt to advance the golf ball.
The key to playing well at Fallen Oak is remembering Clint Eastwood’s famed admonition from his Dirty Harry movies, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Only the most gifted of players should even contemplate playing from the championship tees — even the top professionals on the Champions Tour do not venture that far back.
The series of holes near the end of the round provide a quality climax. The home hole 18th is an absolute beat at just under 500 yards — a monstrous par-4 without peer that demands four well-crafted shots to conclude one’s round in fine fashion. There is golf in Mississippi — and then there is Fallen Oak.
Click here for an interview with the general manager of Fallen Oak.
7,487 Yards / Par-72
76.5 CR / 142 Slope
Designed by American Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III, Shell Landing provides sufficient hole diversity is good with plenty of bailout areas for the less-skilled player to enjoy their day even when the circumstances of their play is far less so.
Playability is certainly front and center here. Make no mistake though – challenges do exist on a number of holes but the severity for outcomes is far less pronounced than what you find at Fallen Oak.
Turf quality is good and the course does provide a sufficient practice range area to get yourself loose and limbered for the round ahead.
7,024 Yards / Par-72
73.8 CR / 134 Slope