Playing A Few Rounds on the Coast of Mississippi
By David Theoret
Although Biloxi, MS is best known for its beaches and casinos, its appeal to golfers and golf travelers is growing quickly. Coastal Mississippi has some amazing and stunning golf courses, with plenty of courses for the public to play, numerous restaurants to eat at, and the opportunity to win big at one of the many casinos. It's a chance for a hole-in-one and a million-dollar jackpot all in the same day! There are 12 courses immediately in the Biloxi area; several more if you don't mind putting a few miles on the rental car. Here's my take on a few of them.
A few of the courses are owned by casinos. Fallen Oak is by far the crown jewel of golf in the Coastal Mississippi area. The course is owned by MGM Resorts International and is available exclusively to guests of Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Designed by legendary course architect Tom Fazio, Fallen Oak has consistently ranked as the best course in Mississippi by Golf Digest and Golfweek and since its opening in 2007 has held the No. 2 position on Golfweek's Best Casino Course list, trailing only its sister MGM Resorts International course Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. Fallen Oak is enjoyable regardless of your golf capabilities. Beginners will marvel at the playability of the course while seasoned golfers will enjoy the challenge. Both will be consumed by the aesthetic beauty of the course as you make your way around. Stay and Play golf packages start at $180/pp, double occupancy.
The Preserve Golf Club is owned and operated by the Palace Casino Resort and was designed by U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate and covers 245 acres of pristine land surrounded by an 1800-acre nature preserve. Pate did a masterful job of incorporating all of the natural beauty the land has to offer including pitcher plant bogs, cypress swamps, longleaf pines, live oak groves, and native prairie grasses into the design of the 18-hole, par-71 layout. The Preserve recently invested in the Visage GPS, which offers touch screen capabilities as well as commentary from experts on how to play a particular hole. Uncharacteristically, the #1 handicapped hole on the course is Number 16 which is a par 3 which plays 225 yards. Depending on pin placement you may have to shape your tee shot on this long par 3!
Windance Country Club is owned by Island View Casino Resort and is one of the area's top resort courses. They've recently installed a state-of-the-art irrigation system to help keep the course green year-round. Windance was designed by Mark McCumber and plays over 6,600 yards from the back tees. As you traverse the layout you'll find rolling terrain on top of very tight fairways and average size greens with less undulation than most. GolfWeek Magazine voted Windance one of America's "Best Courses You Can Play" for five years in a row and Golf Digest has awarded it 4 stars.
Grand Bear was designed by - you guessed it - Jack Nicklaus. I think he's designed the majority of courses that have "Bear" in the name! Grand Bear is built on more than 650 acres of rolling land within the DeSoto National Forest with pine trees that come into play on several holes and lots of pine straw to hit out of. You'll also be challenged as you wind your way through natural cypress wetlands towards championship TifEagle greens protected by deep bunkers. Grand Bear is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular courses in the South. It also has the longest driveway of any course I've ever encountered - 6 miles into the forest. No two holes parallel another and you won't find any homes, roads, or other common distractions; it's just you, Grand Bear, and that little white ball!
Diamondhead Country Club is one of those courses that take a little longer to get to but is well worth the trip. Diamondhead has 36 holes of challenging golf. The Pine Course is skillfully carved into rolling terrain that is rarely seen this close to the coast. It features strategically placed bunkers and water comes into play on a number of holes. Diamondhead's Cardinal Course is more wooded, with less undulation in the terrain. You'll find no parallel fairways and several extra-long sand bunkers that seem to appear from nowhere. If you're looking for scenic beauty and some of the best greens on the gulf coast, come on down! Diamondhead also has the only indoor/outdoor Golf Academy along The Secret Coast.
Shell Landing Golf Club was built by renowned PGA TOUR professional Davis Love III and features five sets of tees that range in length from 5,047 - 7,024 yards making it playable - and enjoyable - for any golfer. Shell Landing Golf Club features both a beautiful natural waterfront setting and some diverse topography. Water comes into play on eight holes and plays a role on most scorecards. Generous tree-lined fairways meander through the pine savannah, which is adorned with seasonal flowers. These well-sculpted fairways give way to large undulating greens that roll true and fast. You'll find conditioning like many of the high-priced casino courses in the area at a fraction of the cost. As you make your way around the layout, you'll have the opportunity to commune with nature; it's not uncommon during a round to see deer, alligators, rabbits, foxes, and a variety of birds. Its signature hole is also a par 3 that plays over 200 yards from the back tees.
The Oaks Golf Club is one of the most memorable rounds of golf you'll play on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The course weaves its way through native wetlands and majestic timberlands and over the years has challenged some of the best players in the game as host of the former Nike/Buy.com Tour in 1999 and 2000. The course bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and over 3,000 trees were lost, although unless you knew better, you'd hardly notice. As you make your way around this par-72 championship layout you'll find lush fairways with strategically place bunkers off the tee and around the green, dramatic green complexes, creating a serene and peaceful golf experience. The course is not owned by a casino and is open to everyone.
When it comes to dining options, you can't go wrong with what each of the casinos has to offer: incredible buffets as well as high-end steakhouses. Get outside the casinos and head into the towns of Ocean Springs and Biloxi and I have a couple of suggestions. Patio 44 in Biloxi is known for its fresh take on classic Creole-style dishes that incorporate the freshest ingredients available from the Delta and Gulf Coast regions, dishes like shrimp and grits, fried catfish tacos, and seafood gumbo. The Buckhead Certified Angus Beef they serve is aged for a minimum of 21 days. Patio 44 also offers one of the most unique - and delicious - appetizers I've ever had. Their Debris Fries are a "southern take" on Canadian poutine. Perfectly cooked French fries with braised beef trimmings, brown gravy, and melted cheese, garnished with green onions. It's a must!
Maison de Lu is Ocean Springs is another great choice. New Jersey native Luann Ellis left the snow and headed for Gulf Coast over 20 years ago and now calls Ocean Springs home. Maison De Lu is located in the heart of downtown Ocean Springs and serves some interesting creations. The Goat Cheese Torte is delicious; layered with sundried tomatoes and pesto and served with warm pita chips. The New Zealand Rack of Lamb is sliced into chops and served with the sauce du jour. The side dishes are amazing; Roasted Red Beets, Roasted Mushrooms and Onions, and a great alternative to potatoes, Twice Baked Cauliflower.
This is just a brief glimpse into everything Coastal Mississippi has to offer golfers. From great drives on the course to short drives to everything you want to do off the course, The Secret Coast has got you covered. For more information, visit them online at www.coastalmississippi.com