From the Coast to the Capital, Southern Mississippi is All About Good Times
Like many Americans, the citizens of Mississippi have plenty of passions. There’s college football, of course. (Believe it: Auburn vs Alabama has nothing on Mississippi State vs Ole Miss.) There’s seafood. There’s an hour or two or a long weekend at a local casino. And, yep, there’s golf.
Well-known golfers coming out of Mississippi include PGA Tour player Pete Brown, amateur standout Ann Gregory (who eventually called the Chicago area home), the Golf Channel’s Jim Gallagher, Jr. and current PGA Tour Champions member Glen Day. Dr. Cary Middlecoff, the winner of three major championships and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame, wasn’t born in the state but he did play at Ole Miss and was the school’s first All-American golfer. On top of all that, Mississippi offers some of the prettiest and most enjoyable golf courses in America. If you’re looking for some good golf, great food and lots of fun, a smart place to start is beautiful Coastal Mississippi.
Considering that it’s located on the Gulf of Mexico and one of the largest ports in the state, it’s not hard to figure out how the city of Gulfport got its name. After a recent visit there, however, I’m ready to call it Golfport not Gulfport. Windance Country Club (windancecc.com), owned by the Island View Casino Resort in downtown Gulfport, was designed by former PGA Tour player Mark McCumber and opened in 1986. Winding its way through a forest of tall pines, this very pretty layout features a number of elevation changes, large putting surfaces and plenty of water in play throughout, making it a fitting setting for the smattering of homesites dotting the back nine. While pretty, Windance is also very playable, with four sets of tees available, measuring between 5,093 and 6,667 yards. Due to many of the holes play- ing uphill, this fun layout can play longer than its total length. The Island View Casino Resort, by the way, is golf central to the several courses on the western side of Coastal Mississippi. It offers two separate hotel towers – including one on the beach – with 974 total rooms and suites (smoking and non-smoking), two casinos, 2,600 slots, 49 table games and numerous dining opportunities.
‘Diamond’ in the Rough
Another fine choice is the Club at Diamond- head (theclubatdiamondhead.com), roughly 25 miles west of Gulfport. Located in the city of Diamondhead, halfway to New Or- leans, this 36-hole facility is as playable as it is pretty. The two courses here – the Pines and the Cardinal – were both designed by Earl Stone and both opened in the 1970s. Mr. Stone, if you don’t know that name, was a Naval officer during World War II who later designed dozens of golf courses throughout the South. In addition to Mississippi, there are Earl Stone courses in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Kentucky. While neither of the fun courses at Diamondhead are considered long by today’s standards, both feature rolling terrain, lots of tall trees, well sloped putting surfaces and enough water and sand to get and keep your attention. Opened in 1970, the Pine course offers a choice of five tees and a measurement between 4,120 and 6.784 yards. The Cardinal course, which opened in 1978, also offers five tees but is slightly shorter, measuring between 4,084 yards and 6,729 yards.
From Diamondhead, head north from Gulfport for roughly 30 minutes to the city of Saucier. There you’ll find Grand Bear Golf Club (grandbeargolf.com), a gorgeous Jack Nicklaus-designed layout that’s only a “bear” if you play it from the wrong tees. Even though I’m a long-time admirer of the playing career of Mr. Nicklaus – 18-time major championship winner on the PGA Tour and arguably the greatest golfer of all time – I can’t always say the same for some of the courses he’s designed. Grand Bear, however, is both an exception to my ambivalence and exceptional. Located deep within the magnificent DeSoto National Forest, at the end of a long, winding road a few miles from the nearest highway, Grand Bear is nothing less than a golfer’s dream. It’s big, it’s beautiful and – best of all – it’s playable, even for a semi-hack like myself. It’s also secluded, with nary a house, condo or swimming pool anywhere in sight or sound. The clubhouse is pretty spectacular, too. If you ask me, that’s what I call golf heaven. Opened in 1999, this fabulous golf course was the site of the Rapiscan Systems Classic on the PGA Tour Champions this past April. Five sets of tees are available at Grand Bear, measuring be- tween 4,802 and 7,204 yards.
‘Pearls’ of Wisdom
If you’ve played your cards correctly and played Grand Bear, the next smart play is to keep going north for about three hours to the Pearl River Resort (pearlriverresort.com). Located in the town of Choctaw (also known as Philadelphia) northwest of the capital city of Jackson, Pearl River is a sprawling facility built on the ancestral lands of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. In addition to delicious dining to suit almost every taste, Pearl River features the Golden Moon Hotel and Casino (600 rooms), the Silver Star Hotel and Casino (500 rooms) and a 23-acre water theme park. For even more of a good time, head on over to Dancing Rabbit Golf Club (dancingrabbitgolf.com) on the nearby banks of the Big and Little Dancing Rabbit creeks. The 36 holes here – the Azaleas and the Oaks – are two of the best and most challenging courses you’ll find anywhere. The Azaleas, designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1997, offers five sets of tees and a measurement between 4,909 and 7,158 yards. Be advised, however, that it also features some serious elevation changes (and the views that go with it). Equally beautiful but not quite as hilly is the Oaks, a Jerry Pate design that opened in 1999. Slightly shorter from the tips but just as challenging, the Oaks has five tees to choose from and a measurement between 5,097 and 7,076 yards.
Just east of Jackson, in the very pretty town of Pearl, is Patrick Farms Golf Club. A Randy Watkins design that opened in 1999, this course was not built to bite your head off or eat your lunch. It’s a fairly wide-open layout that’s also rather flat. The front nine winds its way through a residential area and the back nine will soon do the same (apparently there’s a housing boom around these parts). All-in-all, Patrick Farms is all about fun, not pain. The fairways are wide, the greens aren’t too demanding and there isn’t a whole lot of water or sand. The course measures between 5,032 and 6,907 yards, and there are four sets of tees to choose from.
Feelin’ the ‘Flo’
If you’re in need of one more stay-and-play opportunity, head over to the nearby city of Flowood. There you can check into the brand-new Sheraton Flowood Hotel & Conference Center, conveniently located just five minutes from Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. This very fun facility features 200 modern and comfortable guest rooms – including three junior suites and a “Mayor’s suite” – over 25,000 square feet of meeting space and several places to eat, drink and be merry. The Sheraton Flowood’s very cool lobby bar, “Twins,” offers break- fast, lunch and dinner, plus lots of room for lounging. For a bit more quiet but equally great food, take a stroll down to Rebecca’s, the Sheraton’s all-American on-site restaurant. Dishes include local specialties such as southern style chicken and shrimp and grits. But after you check in be sure to check out the The Refuge Golf Course (refugegolfms.com) right on the property. Designed by Englishman Roy Case and opened in 1988, The Refuge is lined by tall trees that give it (I thought) a bit of a “Northern Michigan” appearance. Over the past couple of years, however, this very attractive layout has undergone a renovation by course architect Nathan Grace that has made it more popular than ever. Even though the course is somewhat on the flat side – al- lowing us short hitters a bit more roll – The Refuge is quite a challenge. The greens are well undulated, there are numerous bunkers, and there’s plenty of water in play that’s not always visible. I’m sure it’s a good test for even the better players. Five sets of tees are available at The Refuge, measuring between 4,439 and 7,013 yards.
But wait. Before you check out of the Sheraton Flowood, be sure to take an elevator ride up to “Missy Sippy,” the hotel’s rooftop bar, for a sunset sip of your favorite drink on the balcony. You’ll be treated to a gorgeous view of downtown Jackson that you won’t soon forget. Like “Missy Sippy,” the great golf, fine food and fun times available on a trip to central and coastal Mississippi is a can’t-miss.
Please go to visitmississippi.org/golf for more information.