Everyone knows about the blues, the barbecue, the riverboats, and the casinos, but high quality golf at low quality prices remains Mississippi’s best kept secret. I am just back from my third visit in as many years, and I say, let the secret be told.
The Magnolia State has over 150 courses, mostly public, with two ranked in the nation’s Top 50 and three in the Top 100 you can play, both well above other state’s averages. Besides quantity and quality, there are values at every turn. How cheap? I’m talking greens fees of $40-$90 with tons of stay and play packages for under $120 per person, often much less. For example, Shell Landing is one of the best layouts on the Gulf Coast, and offers packages of two rounds, plus a third at nearby Mississippi National, all for just $175 – three days of golf for less than one mediocre high season round in Florida.
Values abound thanks to a combination of casino subsidized layouts – far more than Nevada, New Jersey or any other state – plus inexpensive real estate, and a generally low cost of living. This applies not just to golf but to everything, from lodging to drinks to all the awesome barbecue, seafood and New Orleans–style cuisine.
Wait, maybe the great, cheap food is Mississippi’s best kept secret…
Anyway, there are five distinct golf regions, but the very best destination is the Gulf Coast, so rich with courses it is nicknamed the Golf Coast, centered on Gulfport and Biloxi, just an hour from New Orleans with its own user friendly airport. There are 14 casino hotels and 32 golf courses here, all in close proximity, and all sorts of package deals abound. The standout is Fallen Oak, the highest rated public course in the state and ranked the nation’s number two casino course behind only its sibling, Las Vegas’ Shadow Creek. Like Shadow Creek, both are designed by Tom Fazio and owned by MGM Mirage Resorts, and Fallen Oak is only available to guests of the Beau Rivage casino – the nicest on the coast. I’d love to tell you it’s a bargain, but it is the exception, the priciest in Mississippi, and will set you back over $300 for a round, maybe a lot more, depending on room rates. But if you can afford it, it is still very worthwhile, a fantastic design with no crowds, first-rate conditioning, caddies, and perhaps the world’s best Bloody Mary.
The other top courses are much more reasonable, and none requires you to stay at a particular place. The cream of the crop are:
The Oaks, fun to play, winding through deep coastal forests and marshes, tons of variety of holes, and a near perfect 4 ½ star rating from Golf Digest Places to Play ($39-$79 seasonally).
Windance, owned by the wonderful family-owned Island View Casino, with the best lodging, food and entertainment in Gulfport. Mississippi is famous for its gumbo, but some of the very best is right here in the humble clubhouse! Stay & Play packages start at $99 per person.
Shell Landing, a Davis Love signature design, full of large flat bottomed bunkers, with several approaches and forced carries over water, is owned by the IP Casino and as mentioned above, is a tremendous value. It also sits very close to the original location of The Shed, one of the nation’s best barbecue joints, now with half a dozen outposts along the Golf Coast. Their pulled pork sandwich recently won best in the nation from Live with Regis and Kelly, but the ribs are the best thing on the menu and are not to be missed! This alone is worth the trip to Mississippi.
Grand Bear Golf Club, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design and Golf Magazine Top 100, owned by Harrah’s Grand Casino. Further inland, it enjoys 650 blissfully home free acres in the middle of untouched DeSoto National Forest, and is very well maintained. Nicklaus used very challenging tournament-style greens and deep bunkers, and his trademark watery finish, with three of the closing four holes on the Big Biloxi River. Stay & Play packages start under $100.
The Preserve, owned by the Palace Casino – which will be reopening in a greatly renovated and more luxurious form this summer – lives up to its name as one of only 21 courses in the world with Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. The pristine 245-acre site sits in a nearly 2000-acre nature preserve and completely evokes the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At around a C-Note, the Preserve is among the priciest, yet still a bargain, and often has stay and play packages for about the same price!
Mississippi’s tourism board has an excellent and helpful golf section on their website, while the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association has an entire site devoted to putting together value-added lodging and golf packages.