Golfing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast dates back to 1902, when the Illinois Central Railroad built the first course, luring Midwest golfers to hop a train and escape the frigid winter. By 1926, the Mississippi Gulf Coast was affectionately known as the Golf Coast, thanks to a handful of courses scattered along the Gulf of Mexico.
Today there are 19 courses open year-round catering to golfers of all caliber and from all walks of life. Mix in a dozen Las Vegas-style casino resorts and this truly is a place to play all day as well as all night.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast lies between New Orleans and Pensacola, Florida, and includes Biloxi, Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Bay St. Louis and surrounding areas. Besides great golf courses, it has the world’s longest man-made beach amid 62 miles of scenic shoreline along the warm and sparkling Gulf of Mexico.
There is something for every golfer. Courses have been designed by renowned architects, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Davis Love III, Jerry Pate and Tom Fazio. The courses have received numerous accolades from Golf Digest, Golf Week, Golf Magazine, and Forbes. The latter publication crowned the Gulf Coast as “Golf’s Best Kept Vacation Secret.” If this area has never registered on your golfing radar, it should be moved to the top of the list.
One of the grand establishments in Biloxi is the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. French for “beautiful shore,” Beau Rivage has 32 stories, 1,745 rooms, 10 distinct restaurants, four nightclubs and bars, an 85,000-square-foot casino, a 1,550-seat theater, an upscale shopping promenade, a fabulous spa and salon, and one of the premier golf courses in the country: the award-winning Fallen Oak Golf Course. This Tom Fazio-designed track will host the fifth annual Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic March 21-23, a PGA Champions Tour event.
If you think this course is only for the pros, think again. Guests of the Beau Rivage can also take advantage of this incredible track, and your Fallen Oak experience begins long before you tee it up at the first hole. A chauffeured limousine, which can easily accommodate a couple of foursomes, picks you up right outside the hotel. After a 20-minute ride through the scenic countryside, you arrive at the expansive 12,000-square-foot clubhouse, an Acadian-style Southern mansion. Before you experience the course, you’re treated to a full complimentary breakfast. You can’t leave Fallen Oak without trying its signature infused Bloody Mary, which gained the clubhouse a spot on Golf Digest’s “50 Best 19th holes.”
Nestled against the DeSoto National Forest on 510 acres, Fallen Oak plays to 7,487 yards from the tips. With an average of only 15-20 rounds per day, Fallen Oak is meant to have the feel of an exclusive club, which it more than achieves, especially with forecaddies in all-white uniforms who serve as your confidant during the round.
While Fallen Oak commands attention and accolades, numerous other Mississippi Gulf Coast courses balance the quality and variety that are available throughout the region. Here are just a few to consider.
The Preserve Golf Club: Designed by U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate, The Preserve opened in 2006 and encompasses 245 pristine acres surrounded by an additional 1,800 acres of dedicated nature preserve. Measuring 6,774 yards from the championship tees, The Preserve Golf Club offers an 18-hole, par 71 championship course that features the Visage GPS system on every cart. The expert hole-by-hole descriptions and tips on how to play before teeing off are invaluable. After your round, you can choose to have your scorecard e-mailed to you. The Preserve amenities include a well-stocked clubhouse, practice facilities and five sets of tees.
The Bridges Golf Club at Hollywood Casino: An Arnold Palmer-designed course that opened in 1997, the Bridges is a par 72 and measures 6,841 yards from the championship tees. Palmer mastered the bayou terrain by building bridges that span nearly a mile, hence, the name.
Diamondhead Country Club: With a name reminiscent of Hawaii, this full-service country club is the area’s only 36-hole facility. The design and length of both courses is very golfer friendly. Diamondhead features a new indoor/outdoor state-of-the-art golf academy. The Cardinal course is a par 72 and measures 6,381 yards, while the Pine course, also a par 72, is a little longer at 6,817 yards.
Grand Bear: Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course’s motto states: Any regular Joe can play Jack. This par 72, 18-hole course was established in 1999 and stretches 7,204 yards. The five tee boxes are affectionately named the Grizzly Bear, Golden Bear, Brown Bear, Black Bear and Teddy Bear.
Shell Landing Golf Club: Davis Love III designed a stunning masterpiece that will challenge and delight golfers of all skill levels. This par 72 measures 7,024 yards, and features tall pines, marshes, bayous and wetlands that combine with rolling emerald hills to frame a truly unique layout.
Exploring the many wonders of the Gulf Coast could take much longer than a few weeks or a month. But the time you spend will give you an understanding and appreciation for this historically rich and culturally diverse part of the globe.
The Biloxi Lighthouse, which was erected in 1848, is the only lighthouse in the U.S. to stand in the middle of a four-lane highway. It’s also great for getting your bearings while exploring the area.
Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ home and presidential library, sits on 51 manicured acres. Davis was the Confederate States president during the Civil War. This stately historical complex includes the restored Beauvoir House, a rose garden, nature trails, and confederate soldiers cemetery.
Ship Island excursions out to the Gulf Islands National Seashore feature enchanting beaches, shelling, birding, and frequent visits from the locals: dolphins!
On the cultural side of things, don’t miss the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, and Mardi Gras Museum in the antebellum Magnolia Hotel, all of which provide a peek into the Gulf Coast past.
Rick Stedman is an avid golfer, RVer and writer.