Can’t-Miss Mississippi

I remember, about ten years ago, the first time somebody recommended I go to Mississippi to play golf. I didn’t actually laugh out loud, but I certainly wasn’t about to entertain the idea. Visiting Mississippi at all seemed to me a strange notion; visiting for golf was surely the suggestion of a crazy person.

Being a fuzzy foreigner, the long-held suspicion was that parts of Mississippi which weren’t actually submerged under hot, stinking swamps were probably so unappealing it would undoubtedly rank in the high 40s, or even lower, on my list of states I wanted to see.

This brand of ignorance is what the state tourism department must do battle with every day – unfounded misconceptions about what is actually a surprisingly fetching and exciting place.

No, I’m not about to tell you Mississippi rivals Tuscany for serenity, charm, and magical panoramas; that its high places put one in mind of the Swiss Alps or Colorado Rockies; that its coastline resembles that of the French Riviera or the Pacific Northwest; or that its nightlife will tempt wild, young hedonists along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans. And I’m certainly not here to urge golfers to choose a few days in Mississippi over a trip to Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst, Maui, Hilton Head, or Scottsdale…unless perhaps they have already done those places, are looking for something new, and need to limit their spending after paying top dollar at the higher-ranked destinations.

The Magnolia Golf Trail is made up of a dozen very good courses of which the highlights are probably the Jerry Pate-designed Preserve, and Davis Love’s Shell Landing near Biloxi, The Bridges, designed by Arnold Palmer 30 miles west along the coast in Bay St Louis, Timberton which opened in 1991 near Hattiesburg, and Bob Cupp’s Mallard Pointe.

There are also a handful of courses that are not part of the Trail but which should definitely be a part of your itinerary. Dancing Rabbit’s two excellent layouts – the Azaleas and the Oaks – were designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate, are owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and are located adjacent to the Pearl River Resort with its 90,000sqft casino.

Fallen Oak, another Fazio creation, hosts the Champions Tour’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, and is also associated with a casino resort – the Steve Wynn-designed, MGM Grand-owned Beau Rivage in Biloxi.

Another fine casino-owned (Caesar’s Entertainment) course is the Jack Nicklaus-designed Grand Bear whose front-nine skirts the Little Biloxi River making for some very entertaining golf.

Make no bones, the Magnolia State has its share of quality golf courses be they stand-alone operations, tribal-owned facilities, or amenities offered by a mega gaming corporation. And if, like me, you can be persuaded to give them a try, the tourism department and I are pretty confident you’ll come back a second time. Develop a taste for the magnificent seafood and score a few dollars on the tables as well, and you might even make a habit of it.