In some respects, golf and the blues have a natural bond. Both rely on a consistent timing—tempos that have been studied and copied since their inception, be it the metronome-like rhythm of a classic swing or the traditional 12-bar beat of a blues riff.
Nowhere are the two more happily married than at the Golf & Blues tournament that takes place in the Mississippi Delta town of Tunica October 12-18, 2014. Less than five miles southeast of the Mississippi River, the annual celebration includes six nights’ accommodation at the Gold Strike Casino, daily breakfasts, four rounds of golf (the Links at Cottonwoods, Tunica National, Cherokee Valley and River Bend), gifts and daily prizes, an opening and closing reception and, of course, some soul-soothingly great music. It’s a week that leaves indelible imprints on its guests, highlighted by a dinner and blues riverboat excursion aboard the Tunica Queen, a motor coach tour to visit Graceland and an evening on America’s Blues Street in Memphis – none other than Beale Street. You will have dinner at the historic Hopson Plantation and entrance into the nearby Ground Zero Blues Club, among a host of other options—all for $1,049 pp (based on double occupancy).
And seriously, where better to lament your hard luck on the links than the home of the blues? Forged in the furnace of the Delta, a region that stretches from Memphis in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi in the south, and from Helena, Arkansas in the west to the Yazoo River in the east, the blues evolved from the powerful, often lamenting chants of southern slaves. From the foundation of those repetitive work song beats and emotionally charged lyrics emerged such immortals of the Mississippi Delta blues genre as Pinetop Perkins, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.
Just as that flatland has provided fertile soil for the evolution of America’s one true indigenous form of music, so too has it served as lush ground for the rise of golf in the region. The green fees might have something to do with it. If there were a bar graph of American golf that measured value on one side and quality on the other, the two lines would intersect at Mississippi. With a climate conducive to year-round play, the Magnolia State offers up 170 courses, many crafted by some of giants of modern architecture, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Pate, Mark McCumber, Davis Love III and Bob Cupp. And while the main attraction might be the PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Classic at the private Annandale GC (Nov. 3-9, 2014), there’s a bevy of four-and-a-half-star rated tracks that are accessible for public play.
Tunica National is a prime example. Smack dab in the middle of the number-one casino destination between Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the Mark McCumber design features a great practice facility and receives more stellar reviews for its service than you can shake a wedge at. While the routing can sometimes be as flat as a pool table, the greens are just as pure, and numerous water hazards provide all the defence the course requires. And the value is ridiculous, topping out at a paltry $65 in high season, which includes your GPS cart!
Want something more extravagant? Fallen Oak GC tops the list. Voted the second-best new upscale course in the U.S. by Golf Digest and No. 1 in Mississippi by Golfweek, this coastal region gem hosts the Champions Tour’s Mississippi Gulf Resorts Classic (March 21-23). Built by MGM-Mirage in 2006 as an added amenity solely for guests of Biloxi’s Beau Rivage Casino Resort, it’s located 20 minutes north of the resort in Saucier. Course architect Tom Fazio chose an exceptional piece of real estate here, with a wide variety of trees, marshes, lakes and winding streams. And for a course this close to the coast, there are some surprising elevation changes. While you’ll pay a steep fee for the privilege ($200 for resort guests), it’s worth it.
Nearby is the award winning Nicklaus designed where green fees range from $65 – $109. Carved through an unspoiled setting of dense pines in the DeSoto National Forest, this course was created for Harrah’s Grand Casino. “With its packed needle rough, championship greens and deep bunkers, Grand Bear has the feel and excitement of Pinehurst, with a touch of Augusta National,” Nicklaus describes.
But if you want an even more Augusta National-like feeling—and for a cheaper price—check out Dancing Rabbit GC in the central Mississippi town of Philadelphia, where you can get an entire hotel package starting at $126 US a night. Walk-on off-season rates are as little as $60, including power cart and range balls!
Dancing Rabbit features a pair of exceptional Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate collaborations: the Azaleas and the Oaks courses, each ranked among the state’s top five by GOLF Magazine. Heaving and twisting across spring-fed creeks and hills and valleys flanked by 75-foot pines and ancient hardwoods, the Azaleas, in particular, features a property the equal of Augusta.
Accommodations are either at the adjacent Pearl River Resort or the second floor of the stately clubhouse itself, each of which open to a verandah that encircles the entire clubhouse and overlooks the lush golf course grounds.
Bang-for-buck options seem to fall out of trees for Mississippi golfers, such as Timberton GC in Hattiesburg, an hour north of the Mississippi coastline. Although the handsome Mark McCumber layout carries a 4.5 star rating from Golf Digest and has hosted many notable events, including PGA Tour qualifiers, the Mississippi State Open and the Men’s Amateur, its peak walking fees are $59 plus tax.
If value like that makes it hard to sing the blues, you can instead sing the virtues of Mississippi golf, and let the professionals take care of the music.
Mississippi Tourism: www.visitmississippi.org
Golf & Blues Mississippi Style: www.southerngolftours.com/?pl=5&dest=MSGB
Dancing Rabbit GC: www.Dancingrabbitgolf.com
Fallen Oak GC: www.Beaurivage.com
Grand Bear GC: www.Harrahs.com/golf/GrandBear