REARDON: Elvis Country
One of the luxuries afforded me over the years of covering golf for KMOX is the latitude to exercise my own judgment over where to take that coverage. The freedom to choose where to place one’s focus is uncommon in the media.
Most of that focus has been on the playing of the game, primarily at the professional level. I have to admit that in two key areas of the game I have spent less time than others on the local scene. Golf equipment and golf travel have only been occasional topics for this reporter despite the fact both are key facets of the golf business.
In the case of equipment, I will defend my choice by citing an industry insider in the golf ball business who years ago answered my question about how much of the constant game improvements in equipment are about innovation and how much is about marketing. He forthrightly admitted, annually about ninety percent of the changes are promotional.
In the case of travel I plead guilty. Out of a sense of loyalty to regional operations I have spent a little time on destination golf to the Lake of the Ozarks and more recently the operations around the Branson area. But beyond the state’s borders there has been little content.
So when the invitation came across my desktop this summer from the state of Mississippi to sample golf in the Magnolia State I broke pattern and accepted. Now of course putting the words July and Mississippi together in the same sentence sounds less like an invitation and more like an ordeal. But the truth is, for my five days, the weather in St. Louis was ten degrees warmer than for my golf excursion.
I suspect if you think about golf travel to Mississippi you start and stop that conversation with the courses located along the Gulf Coast. I have always heard from fellow golfers in this area looking at Biloxi for a getaway week of golf and beaches. If you have made the drive you have probably skipped past hundreds of miles of golf alternatives before you arrived at the beaches.
Like much of the country, golf construction broke big in Mississippi in the 1990’s when everyone thought they were flush with a booming economy. The end result is a state with five golf regions with a variety of choices based largely on topography.
For my journey the taste of Mississippi was in the Capital/River and Pines regions extending out from the state capitol of Jackson. A short drive north is the Pearl River Resort with its feature courses at Dancing Rabbit. (The courses derive their name from the historic treaty of the early 1800’s between Native Americans and the US government.)
Director of Golf at Dancing Rabbit, Mark Powell may be familiar to some of the golfers in the KMOX area, along with Janet Leach from the Mississippi Board of Tourism, they have made the trip to St. Louis in the winter for the Golf Show in St. Charles, and Powell will tell you they have a faithful and growing clientele of couples who get a head start on their annual golf year by choosing a few days in the warmer climates of the south in late winter and early spring.
The two courses, located adjacent to the resort’s casino, are collaboration between Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate and cleverly accommodate the diverse growing conditions the state experiences annually.
The Oaks course for my visit was dressed in its summer best with its Bermuda greens and Zoysia fairways. The terrain is Midwestern, the lies are perfect and the green speeds are inviting. The Azaleas course can be a better fit for the cooler months of the year depending on how the spring has impacted the Bentgrass greens. Both courses offer a variety of teeing grounds to match the challenge to whatever the player’s skill level requires.
Just east of Jackson is the Country Club of Canton, an older design with as small a set of greens as you will find. For St. Louis area golfers I would describe this user-friendly layout as reminiscent of the old St. Charles Golf Course on much flatter terrain. To add to the charm of Canton spend a few minutes with the head golf professional Olly Thomson, a Brit by way of New Orleans with the most confused dialect you can imagine.
For my trip, the last stop was Annandale Country Club and the Sanderson Farms Championship. The event, which has changed names often over its more than four decade history, has been opposite the Open Championship in Britain for the last few years but may find itself part of the new fall schedule on the PGA Tour as early as next year.
Annadale is a Nicklaus design and worth looking for a connection if the Mississippi journey is in your plans.
From Tunica to Tupelo to Pascagoula when the weather in our area has turned inhospitable to your golfing itch, Mississippi is a close, affordable smorgasbord of options. And at least for this year, allow me to play travel agent and make a suggestion for a three-day escape.
Now that our state’s Missouri Tigers reside in the SEC, road games for Tiger fans offer a golf/football combination. November 23 the team is in Oxford to take on Ole Miss near the end of their schedule.
Put together a group and pack the clubs for a three-day weekend starting with golf in the region on Friday. On Saturday tailgating at the famous Grove is considered the Tiffanys of college football partying with an assurance the Black and Gold Tiger faithful will be treated more cordially than the rival Purple and Gold Tigers of LSU are accorded. On Sunday find a morning tee time and make the return to St. Louis later in the day ready for a short week of work, with Thanksgiving and Black Friday on your calendar.