HK Golfer publisher Charles McLaughlin continues his journey through the southern states visiting Biloxi and the Gulf Coast
Next morning we welcomed the chance to snooze on a four-hour ride to the Gulf Coast and Biloxi. First stop was perhaps one the best-kept golf secrets in the US – the fantastic Fallen Oak Golf Club.
A Tom Fazio masterpiece, like it’s sister course Shadow Creek in Vegas, this lightly used gem is exclusively reserved for guests at the MGM Beau Rivage in nearby Biloxi. The 12,000ft clubhouse alone is first class, with clubs and cars whisked away as you arrive and your shoes taken to reappear cleaned and with new spikes when you are ready to play. You’ll also find your name engraved on a plaque on your locker.
In the interim, you must visit the spectacular lounge and dining room overlooking the 18th where 5-star levels of service, food and drink are dispensed. Prominently featured is the massive trophy awarded to the winner of the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, a Seniors Tour event held here every year. Current champion? Hong Kong’s adopted son Miguel Angel Jimenez!
The GM David Stinson recommended I try the legendary Bloody Mary on offer here and it was perhaps the best I’ve ever tried. Sip one as you try to name the highly priced tipples in the vast display behind the sunken bar, before settling down to some of the finest golf clubhouse fare in the world. This is a club for the well-heeled, and it shows. The feel is ultra high-end country club, but with far friendlier staff than such facilities usually feature.
The course itself does not disappoint. Unusually for courses in this area, there are significant elevation changes to navigate and the conditioning is exceptional. A significant part of investment was in sand-capping the fairways and installing SubAir on the greens. As such, after rain, the course recovers far quicker than any other local track.
As one might expect, trees (over 4,000 of them) frame the holes – including many Fazio moved to achieve this - and meandering creeks and ponds steer the player towards Fazio’s signature deep sand trap features. The par-5 1st immediately encompasses all of the above - a dogleg left, bordered with creeks and a lake.
Played off appropriate tees, this is a superb fun course that lasts long in the memory. Remember to bring a camera as each hole is more spectacular than the last, culminating in the elevated tee on the great finishing hole, a 495 yd par 4, over massive bunkers, with the signature fallen oak on the right and an approach back to the clubhouse with a pond on the left.
If possible, plan to spend the day at Fallen Oak. With first class practice facilities, a multi-award winning course and peerless service and hospitality, it is without doubt one the best club experiences in the US.
We headed to Biloxi for a tour of the MGM Beau Rivage – the tallest building in Mississippi, and the most visited casino in the state. It’s hard to believe that the hotel was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, with the “barge” the casino floated upon (and three floors of the building) being ripped away. Following a hasty change in the law, the casino was rebuilt on land – a first for Mississippi. The dedicated, tireless HK Golfer researchers can also attest that the award-winning Spa at Beau Rivage deserves it’s reputation as the best Spa on the Gulf Coast. With over 70 staff offering more than 100 treatments, including the exclusive Art de Beaute’ Body Treatment, our spa editor confimed that “this is a relaxing, energizing and moisturizing treatment to beautify the skin and the soul. The treatment begins with a watercolor scrub exfoliation followed by a warmed wrap and unique porcelain spoons massage” and who are we to argue. Well worth the AAA rating!
We were spending the night at the nearby IP Casino Hotel & Spa, with time for a quick tour before heading to local barbeque standout The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint. Featured on the TV show “Drive Ins, Diners and Dives” this unique roadside eatery and live Blues joint looks as though it was put together piece by piece from discarded junk… and, unbelievably, it was! Founder Brad Orrison put together the original takeout joint from bits and pieces he had accumulated, regulars brought more and the place kept expanding. When brother Brett came back from being sound engineer at the House of Blues in New Orleans, they knew where they wanted to take the venture. The Shed is now one of the premier BBQ and Blues joint in the South, winning countless awards including being voted “Grand World Champion” in the 2015 Memphis in May World Championship.
We were joining another Blues and Golf Tour for a huge barbeque and blues concert at The Shed, with the entertainment provided by the legendary Chuck “Bluesman” Jackson and his band – who also happen to be golfers on the tour! The combination of award winning bbq, local craft beers and footstompin’ blues from masters of their craft was intoxicating in all senses of the word!
A Canadian, Jackson played at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and has been a keen golfer all of his life. A natural showman, he has a staggering stage presence and was also tremendous company offstage as we discovered the following day when paired with Chuck and colleague Jeff McPhee at Shell Landing Golf Club.
Designed by David Love III, Shell Landing is one of the best courses in the South. Opened in 2000, from the tips the course measures just over 7000 yards. However, while offering some of the best views of this truly beautiful track, this introduces some brutal forced carries and isn’t recommended for the average player. With 5 tees on every hole, this is a spectacular course that can be challenging and also enjoyable for average players. Check out the tips for the views by all means, but don’t let ego ruin your fun!
My biggest challenge was playing shots amidst the non-stop banter between Chuck (a keen lefty) and Jeff, and I’ve rarely had so much fun on a golf course. Both are solid players and it made for a perfect day in glorious sunshine. We all agreed that whilst challenging, this course is remarkably fair. The problems are there before you with few hidden surprises, and CEO Kenny Hughes runs a top team keeping the course in great shape, as well as a warm welcome in the clubhouse before and after your round.
With trees, marshes and ponds on every hole there are few if any sub-standard holes here and highlights of the front nine were the par-5 third, a true three-shotter with a double dogleg and a pond in front of the green, and the sixth, a relatively short par-4 played plateau to plateau with a devilish green. The back-nine standout was the fourteenth, another relatively short par-4 but with a large pond cutting right into the fairway, and hugging the fairway and green throughout. Shades of the 18th at Sawgrass. The 17th is a beautiful par-3, 193yds over marshland to a green framed by pine trees, with three large bunkers beyond. Short is terminal, but beware going too far as the shot back will be lightening quick! Great examples where a course doesn’t have to be brutally long to be challenging.
Our day ended in fine style when we went on a tour of downtown Biloxi accompanied by local micro-brewery beers and fresh pretzels. There is a surprising amount to see in the town, including checking out the Seafood Museum, Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, the Walter Anderson Museum and the Beauvoir Estate – post-war home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
SUNSET BLUES CRUISE
As another endless day went on, it was soon time to head for Gulfport and a sunset Blues Cruise in the Gulf of Mexico with Shipp Island Excursions. As luck would have it, Mark Stafford, the harmonica player from the blues show at The Shed was looking for a lift, so we were treated to an impromptu performance en route to the slipway. Enjoying local food and drink, watching the sunset over the gulf, and watching Chuck Jackson, Stafford and Chris Gill on guitar playing some superb blues. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Ashore again, and after a detour to Shaggy’s Biloxi Beach for a drink and a seat in their legendary enormous deckchair out front, it was back to the Chill Bar in the IP Casino Hotel and Spa, having a nightcap and preparing for an early start with New Orleans the next destination…