GOLF ATRAVEL Player’s Guide
HK Golfer publisher Charles McLaughlin continues his journey through the southern states visiting Biloxi and the Gulf Coast.
The excellent – and appropriately named – Fallen Oak, a Tom Fazio design
Photography by Charles McLaughlin
HK GOLFER・AUG 2016
HK GOLFER・AUG 2016
ollowing several days in Memphis and northern Mississippi (See previous articles “Walking In Memphis” and “Mississippi: Gateway to Ground Zero”) the “Jazz, Blues and Golf Tour” continues down through Mississippi to Biloxi and the Gulf Coast.. Having had such a great time in Beale Street in Memphis it was fitting that we were heading to the home of a Beale Street legend, Blues Boy (or B.B.) King. Born in Itta Bena, King grew up in nearby Indianola and returned there every year in the first week of June to play his free “Homecoming Festival” concerts. It is now the home of the huge B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center, where we were greeted by the effervescent Evonna Lucas for a tour.
B.B. KING MUSEUM
The museum is actually a huge extension to an old brick building which housed a cotton gin where B.B. himself worked before leaving Clockwise from top: to follow his dream. The restored interior is the BB King Museum now used for rehearsals, meetings and events & Delta Interpretive relating to the legacy of the King and the everCenter; shades of Augusta present reshaping of the delta region by the National at Dancing mighty river that gives the state it’s name. The Rabbit Golf Club; the club's splendid clubhouse; King museum is an awe-inspiring multimedia collection of memorabilia from his beloved distinctive tee marker guitar “Lucille”, to stage outfits, videos of live at Dancing Rabbit 62
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performances, and even his home office and studio. A dedicated theatre plays an informative film of his life and times, and overall this is an outstanding tribute to a great man. King passed in mid 2015 and is buried just outside the museum, where a memorial garden is planned. We pressed on and reached Ridgeland on the outskirts of the state capitol Jackson, where we checked into the TownPlace Suites. The accommodation was in a large new development, next to the huge Outlets of Mississippi mall. Retail therapy aside, it was good to stretch the legs and get some air before heading to top local nightspot Underground 119. This “speakeasy” is toprated locally for it’s great food and cocktails, but it is the live music that draw the crowds and, on the night we visited, was bursting at the seams with aficionados keen to catch the fantastic Jarekus Singleton in action. Seemingly destined for a pro basketball career, an injury led to him focusing on his burgeoning musical talent. The NBA’s loss is our gain and Singleton has been voted both Best Blues Artist and Best Entertainer by the Jackson Free Press. He did not disappoint, an electric stage presence coupled with great singing and exceptional blues guitar playing bringing the house down. Fantastic food and drink and exceptional live blues – just another night in Mississippi! HKGOLFER.COM
A dawn start was required to make our way to the Pearl River Resort and an early tee-time at the award-winning Dancing Rabbit Golf Club. Featuring two championship courses designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate, this 700-acre canvas is a feast for the eyes. With over five miles of ever-present spring-fed streams and stunning floral displays, this resort has been called “The Augusta You Can Play” and it’s easy to see why. Five tees on every hole make this accessible to all standards while presenting a stern challenge from the tips. The Oaks and Azelea courses also offer differing challenges with different grasses being used on greens and fairways on each course. After a warm welcome from Director of Golf Mark Powell, we played the Oaks Course in perfect morning conditions. Featuring pristine Zoysia fairways and slower, grainier Bermuda greens, this is perhaps the best course for the mid-level players. With uphill approaches a common theme, holding greens are a positive. Make sure you take advantage of the superb practice facilities before heading out, especially the bunkers. The bunker sand here is exceptionally soft and can take a little getting used to. With so much beauty and tranquility around it’s hard to pick a standout hole, but the par 3’s stick in the memory most. From the tips, the 190yd 5th hole is downhill to a green sloping away with water beyond and the natural temptation is to leave it short… and be left with a chip to a downhill green with water beyond! The 220yd 11th, with water in front, is a stern test, calling for a draw but with endless trouble on the left, and the 177yd 17th slopes sharply from left to right over a creek in front and offers no bailout. Just go for it! The Azelea course is the older of the two, just as spectacularly beautiful but perhaps edges the Oaks on the difficulty front. With grain free bent-grass greens this is perhaps where the Augusta comparisons come from in terms of speed and difficulty. Where the Oaks offered several putting routes to the hole, the Azeleas calls far more for a precise read and the need to find the right part of the green with the approach. Off the tips, the course hits hard from the first, with a long carry off the tee, a sharply uphill approach and a severely back to front sloping green. It’s easy to putt straight back off again. Then you find out it’s handicap 17! Eeeek! The 3rd is perhaps the most stunning hole on the course with a split fairway, with the raised right portion heavily recommended, but longer to reach off the tee. A great hole. The number 1 handicap hole is the fearsome HKGOLFER.COM
HK GOLFER・AUG 2016
The demanding 18th hole at Fallen Oak, one of US golf's best-kept secrets (top); the awardwinning MGM Beau Rivage (opposite) 64
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8th, a beast at 465 yds. Adding to the challenge is a 70 yard long bunker left and a fairway that slopes to the right. Anything not in the middle of the fairway will also be blocked by trees. Be thankful for a bogey and move on! The back nine starts with a couple of birdie opportunities (a relative term here!) and a round starting at the 10th would be undoubtedly less stressful psychologically given the brutal intro off the 1st. That said, the Azeleas finishes with two of the most challenging holes on the course, the tight riskreward par-5 17th, and the long (475yd), tight par-4 18th, uphill to a severely sloping green with a pond on the right. With one chance to play, the Oaks will offer wider fairways and more fun, but over multiple rounds I feel the Azealas would grow on the golfer more and more as it‘s mysteries were unearthed, rewarding local knowledge. Luckily we were staying in the beautiful clubhouse, a colonial mansion with a wrap around balcony, so it was a short stagger to some well-earned refreshments. Dancing Rabbit Golf Club was also voted “Best Casino Course in America” and we drove over in our golf carts to have drinks in the Golden Moon Casino lobby bar before dinner and a night in the Golden Moon and Silver Star Casinos.
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, HKGOLFER.COM
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. HKGOLFER.COM
If possible, plan to spend the day at Fallen Oak. With first class practice facilities, a multiaward 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! HK GOLFER・AUG 2016
Chuck Jason and Chris Gill performing at The Shed
Renowned throughout the South, The Shed is one of the premier BBQ and Blues joints in the US
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 66
HK GOLFER・AUG 2016
Designed by Davis Love III, Shell Landing is as challenging as it is beautiful 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 HKGOLFER.COM
Shaggy's Biloxi Beach, home of excellent seafood and an enormous deckchair
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… (To be continued) HK GOLFER・AUG 2016
NEED TO KNOW B.B. King Museum 400 2nd St, Indianola, MS 38751 +1 662-887-9539
Golden Moon Hotel and Casino in Choctaw, Mississippi
Underground 119 119 S President St, Jackson, MS 39201 +1 601-352-2322 Dancing Rabbit Golf Club 13541 MS-16, Philadelphia, MS 39350 +1 601-663-0011 Fallen Oak Golf Club 24400 MS-15, Saucier, MS 39574 +1 228-386-7015 Beau Rivage 875 Beach Blvd, Biloxi, MS 39530 +1 228-386-7111 IP Casino Resort & Spa 850 Bayview Ave, Biloxi, MS 39530 +1 228-436-3000 The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint 7501 MS-57, Ocean Springs, MS 39565 +1 228-875-9590 Shell Landing Golf Club 3499 Shell Landing Blvd, Gautier, MS 39553 +1 228-497-5683 Ship Island Excursions 1040 23rd Ave, Gulfport, MS 39501 +1 228-864-1014
Biloxi's IP Casino Resort Spa
HK GOLFERãƒ»AUG 2016