Golf Chicago!
The Bridges Golf Resort
Golf Chicago! Golf-away Destinations
By Greg Jourdan

Golfin' Mississippi's
Golf Coast

Under the Spanish moss, on the Gulf of Mexico, Golf Chicago! found another Golf Getaway that has been a long-time favorite of many Chicagoans, but not known to everyone.

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast tradition and hospitality are second to none. The region once famous for casinos, white sand beaches, and fresh oysters, now has a growing following of golf fanatics hitting its shores before Chicago lands’ snow thaws. We soon discovered we were not the only windy city invaders on Mississippi turf last January. We also learned that some Windy City golfers would rather keep this paradise to themselves. Our first tee time was at Mississippi National Golf Club, where we were greeted by Chicagoans that were quite distraught at Golf Chicago!’s presence.

“You’re not doing a story about Biloxi, are you?” questioned the Ping-hatted elder.

“Of course…” I replied.

“Oh…send ‘em somewhere else. We’ve been comin’ down here for years. Let ‘em find their own place.”

“Yeah, let them play in the rain. This is our treasure,” chimed his partner.

A roadside lunch of locally brewed Barq’s Rootbeer, gravy fries, and catfish Po’Boys confirmed our suburban greeters’ rants. This coast has some incredible courses and when the sun goes down, risk/reward takes on a whole new meaning in the casinos. Isle of Capri in Biloxi and Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis may not measure the square footage of Vegas, but they are surrounded by great, affordable golf that leaves you with a few extra chips in the budget for the nightlife.

Diamondhead G.C.
Chicago has been connected to this area since the Roaring Twenties when the original Gulf Hills Resort and Dude Ranch was built by Chicago’s Branigan Brothers. We were fortunate enough to find another Windy City native in one of Gulf Hills’ favorite residents, Mr. Robert Meyer, a retired hospital administrator from Chicago who has lived in Gulf Hills for over twenty years. After inviting us to his home between nines, Mr. Meyer told us his family’s history in the area over a few brandy old fashions. His father built the family vacation home in the early 1930’s, which at the time was one of twelve in a secluded community. Over the past 70 years Gulf Hills has been named and renamed enough to turn your head around, but this Jack Daray design has remained a linkster’s treat. The 18 holes weave in and out of bay inlets and the signature tight fairways play to smallish quick greens.

Mr. Meyer treated me to some Gulf Coast tales, and when I looked through some of his brochures, I noted that there is a mention this of Sir Walter Hagen gracing their fairways. When I asked him why he didn’t mention, “You didn’t ask about The Haig”, he mysteriously replied.

I recently read J. Michael Vernons’ new book, The Greatest Golfer Who Never Lived. Sure enough, there is a reference to the 1931 Mississippi State Amateur being played at Gulf Hills Dude Ranch and Country Club. Fiction or not, this track has seen generations of great golfers. It was a must play course then, and new Superintendent, Arnold Verhoven is taking it back to its hey-day.

Our first tour of the course left me wondering why anyone would want to change this classic 1930’s layout. But after a tour with Verhoven, I realized they were just updating the greens and fairways: a little facelift, original head intact. This little gem is changing, so if you played it years ago, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at their efforts. Gulf Hills Golf Club has enough character to fill a William Faulkner novel you’ll use every club in the bag.

If you want to swat a few balls on a classic course, start the trip here their all day play rates make the choice a no brainer. When you get to the clubhouse tell head professional Rich Barhovovic you made the trip down from Chicago., and mention Golf Chicago!

The Oaks
Just east of Gulf Hills on Interstate 10 is the aforementioned Mississippi National Golf Club, one of many Earl Stone designs in the area. Located in Gantier, National is a parallel layout with needle threading tortoise-backed greens. First glance at the scorecard gives hope to those looking to scramble for pars around the 16 bunkerless greens. This track plays just short of 7,000 yards and lets you rip that driver. Once on the turf, you’ll see the work begins trying to get up and down on errant approach shots. Illiterate greens folk can easily knock 35-40 putts before they get home to the new clubhouse. Weekend swingers will appreciate Mississippi National for their generous fairways; low-handi cappers can really have at this former Nike Tour course. The second hole is a brain-burning par 5; headwinds dictate your second shot. Either go for the green and play hero, or hit a safe iron to the landing island, leaving you in good shape for a par.

Another Chicago favorite is St. Andrews in Ocean Springs. Set on the Gulf of Mexico, the famous Lighthouse steers you around this playable 6,533-yard course. St. Andrews may not be the Old Course, but you will turn a few heads Monday at the Office when you say,

“Yeah, I played St. Andrews and had no problem getting on.” Then walk away before the questions roll at you. This is a local favorite you’ll play each returning visit.

If you are lucky during your travels, you visit a little place that you instantly captures your heart. If that town also shares its borders with an Arnold Palmer course, it is time to buy a ring or maybe a house. Bay St. Louis, roughly 30 miles west of Biloxi and on the way to New Orleans, is that kind of town. The Bridges Golf Resort at Casino Magic, an 18 hole Palmer/Ed Seay design that plays up to its high parentage.

The resort entrance reveals a sneak peak at the sculpted back nine; these wooden bridges will take you back to your candy store days, so wipe that chin and buckle up, the bridges may lead to safe ground or a toothachin’ snowman. The 6,841-yard layout has four choices from the tee, each offering a unique challenge. The challenge continues through the green. While our Illinois bridges are posting ice warning signs, the 23 wooden bridges at Casino Magic wind you through a beautiful environmentally friendly wetland track on that well deserved vacation.

The Arnold Palmer Course Design Company’s signature mounding and bunkering frame Hancock County’s crown jewel. At the turn, if you didn’t take advantage of the 11 acre Arnold Palmer Golf Academy and Practice Facility, you’ll need to reload on balatas. A quick piece of advice the starter starter gave us;

“Keep ‘em in the short stuff! Don’t be hawkin’ fer yer balls, there’s gators on this course.” ‘Nuff said!

Two holes to lick your chops on are the fiteenth a par-3, 178-yarder called “Snake Eyes” and the finishing hole Torgy’s Finale, a 541 yard three-shotter that only the gutsy reach in two. Water threatens the entire right side for you slicers, and the green is well guarded by a pond and the many eyes that are watching from the clubhouse windows, so steady those nerves partner.

The Bridges at Casino Magic clubhouse is a castle fit for the King himself. Overlooking the 18th green, the 19th hole offers a classy spot to enjoy a club sandwich and tally up the round. You’ll love knocking that Titleist around the wooden bridges and the Mississippi hardwoods. At nightfall hit the Casino, if the putts didn’t roll on the course maybe you’ll get a hot hand on the tables.

Hancock County is connected to Chicago through Al Capone. Big Al used to barge some of the finest bootleg whiskey up the Mississippi River from prohibition entrepreneurs. Hancock County also calls home to the Ramada Diamondhead Golf Club and Convention Center, a 36-hole resort. These two Earl Stone layouts are in the same tradition of another Chicago favorite, Gull Lake View in central Michigan. The Cardinal and Pine courses are perennial top five picks in Mississippi. Both are lined with impossibly huge trees and enough water to remind you this is Gulf Coast golf! The Lanai Village offers on course condos to suit groups and families. With plenty of non-golf activities the whole clan will want to make this an annual stop. Both courses are fun for all levels of golfers and are mounded to give you that friendly hop.

Stone’s Cardinal and Pine courses both play over 6,800 yards from the back and just over 5,000 yards from the forward tees. The one-shoters are tricky and unique to the terrain, a dartboard for all and a fair test of your golfing prowess. That’s the real beauty of resort courses; play your tee and try to go low. Enjoy the walk, smell the magnolias.

Hancock County also hosts the Buy.COM Tour annually at The Oaks tucked away in Pass Christian, MS. Eighteen sculpted holes bordered by foreboding oaks and lush rolling fairways nestled on over 400 acres of Mississippi beauty. A walk in the park The Oaks is not, Thick rough, deep white sand bunkers, major elevation changes, and the venerable hardwoods await each shot, wait a minute…its better than a walk in the park. This course is not for the faint of heart or the weekend duffer, bring the A game and see what the developers of La Quinta, PGA West, and Kiawah Island Resort created in Hancock County. At $62 during the peak season The Oaks is a steal by Chicago standards. This track could easily charge $80 in the Chicago area and have a waiting list every weekend.

Enjoy the walk, the casinos, the southern charm, and most of all, enjoy the Gulf Coast. A special lady has been helping Chicago golfers make the trip for years. Kristen Llambias and Gulf Coast Vacations, Inc can book the gang a place in any of the Gulfs resorts, hotels, B and B’s, or condos. Give her a call 1 (800) 974-2657], or visit their website, www.gulfcoastvacations.net. Gulf Coast Vacations is the golfing answer to one-stop-shopping. If there is a better hostess than Kristen, I bet it’s your mother! On our trip south she kept popping up checking agendas and offering alternate activities if rain loomed in the forecast.

Do it yourselfers can use her pamphlets and brochures to plan the trip, but I’ll warn you, she has the resources, discounted rates, and a great eye for the hot night spots along the entire coast.

The seasonal temps reach the 60’s during late January and February on the Gulf Coast, that is shirtsleeves for northerners. With the fresh seafood, draping Spanish moss, and those ever tempting casinos, you’ll need a few days to recover from this golf getaway hot spot. The Gulf Coast is a must on golfers To Do list, smell those Magnolias, slurp an oyster, and remember to tip your beer cart girl!

For more information and travel packages log-on to www.wheretoplaygolf.com or call: 1-800-572-5737

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Last Updated: September 3, 2000