The Gulf Coast region of Alabama, Louisiana and the state we learned to spell phonetically–M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I–may not be the first place you'd think of for a golfing trip, but the more you learn about what it has to offer, the more you realize what a viable choice it is. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, the Audubon Golf Trail in Louisiana and the Golf Coast Golf Trail in Mississippi are wonderful golfing venues that feature courses designed by some of the greatest architects and players in the game. They include Jones, Donald Ross, Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, David Toms, Hal Sutton and Davis Love III. Add to that great culture, great food, great music and Southern hospitality, and you have one unforgettable golf vacation.
Take the aspects that enhance the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. A Scottish-style course with more than 150 pot bunkers. Another course where water comes into play on 12 holes. A monstrous 701-yard par-5. Holes with 200-foot elevation drops. Courses with names like The Heartbreaker, The Backbreaker and The Mindbreaker. Rolling fairways. Huge pine trees. In all, there are 378 holes at eight locations throughout the state. A ninth site, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals, in Florence, Ala. as well as Ross Bridge, a 10th site located in Hoover, Ala., have recently been added. Green fees start at $35 and rarely rise above $57, plus tax.
"The green fees are one of the great values in golf," says Barbara Thomas, vice president of advertising and marketing for the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. "The courses are very challenging and memorable."
The Audubon Golf Trail in Louisiana–named after John James Audubon, the famous naturalist and artist who painted 80 birds of America during his time in Louisiana–also has plenty to offer. There's the native terrain of bayous and wetlands. Cypress trees that are 400 to 500 years old. Golf courses cut out of sugar plantations. The new TPC of Louisiana at Fairfield. The nine locations have 171 holes full of challenges. Plus, there's nearby New Orleans. As they say, it's a true sportsman's paradise.
In Mississippi, the Golf Coast Golf Trail has 26 miles of diversity that run near or along the Gulf of Mexico. There are old courses like Great Southern Golf Club, which Ross designed in 1908, and modern courses like The Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic, which Palmer opened in 1997. Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association, says the variety of old and new courses makes this area different. _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê "We have courses that are perfect for various budgets and various skill sets," says Drum. "We have short courses, inexpensive courses and championship courses."
The Trail also has great seafood because of its proximity to the Gulf, as well as a magnificent ratio of 12 casinos to 15 golf courses. "We're a destination golf trail," says Drum. "You can find good places to eat, good casinos and good golf courses."
Truly, the Gulf golf trails are a premier stay-and-play destination. Says Eric Kaspar, administrator for the Audubon Golf Trail, "Golf down here has an old-world feel to it. It stems from the rich culture, our history and the beautiful, natural environs. More important, visitors will enjoy the very warm, very welcoming nature of the people. Southern hospitality flows through in everyone and everything."
Also, don't forget the Southern shores, stretching from Gulf Shores, Alabama, all the way to New Orleans. Golf travel aficionados have already dubbed this stretch the next Myrtle Beach, as it seems golf courses continually sprout up each and every year.
So there you have it. The Gulf States are fast becoming a golf destination right along side the nation's other popular golf hotbeds. Come see for yourself. We know "ya'll gonna have a great time."Getting There
Mississippi Unlike the other two Gulf trails, the Mississippi Golf Coast collection is tightly packed along the coast between Bay St. Louis and Gautier (a stretch of 60 miles, or one course per every four miles). The city of Biloxi is located in the middle of the trail, making it the best bet for flight departures and arrivals. Biloxi is but 90 miles from New Orleans, a major airline hub.
Alabama To access the Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, arriving in Birmingham is your best bet, as it's the most centrally located city along the Trail, which spreads from Huntsville in the north to Mobile in the south and covering all points east and west. To reach Gulf Shores, Alabama, Pensacola Airport is a short 40 minute ride away.
Louisiana The Louisiana Audubon Trail is equally spread out, covering all corners of the sportsman's paradise. Audubon treks should begin in New Orleans or in the Trail's northernmost outpost, Shreveport.
More Information Mississippi Golf Coast www.golfcoast.com
Louisiana Audubon Trail www.audubontrail.com
Alabama Robert Trent Jones Trail www.rtjgolf.com
Gulf Shores Golf Association www.golfgulfshores.com
What To Bring & When To Go _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê What To Bring Playing golf in the Gulf States of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi doesn't require an overabundance of packing. Shorts will make things comfortable, especially in the summer. Sunscreen is another plus, particularly when the sun gets strong. Insect repellent is a good option. Cooler weather creates the need for a rainsuit and/or long-sleeve wind shirt.
Don't forget lofted specialty clubs like a 5-wood, 7-wood or even a 9-wood to combat the thick Bermuda rough that's so prevalent in the area. With a 5-wood or 7-wood, it's easier to get the ball up and out of the rough because the clubhead is hitting down into it. On normal lies, the ball will fly higher with a utility wood, which is good when you're hitting into the greens, most of which are bunkered or surrounded by rough.Finally, don't forget to bring extra money, particularly if you're playing in Mississippi, where there are 12 casinos (and 16 golf courses) along the 26-mile Golf Coast Golf Trail, including the king of all Mississippi gaming centers, Tunica (www.tunicamiss.com).
When To Go Mild year-round temps translate into 12 solid months of tee times. Of course, expect cooler temps in the winter months, and humid heat, as well as the greatest amount of precipitation, in the summer months.Average Temps _Ê _Ê New Orleans, La. (High/Low, _¡F) January _Ê_Ê_Ê 63_¡/45_¡ February _Ê_Ê_Ê 66_¡/48_¡ March _Ê_Ê_Ê 73_¡/55_¡ April _Ê_Ê_Ê 79_¡/60_¡ May _Ê_Ê_Ê 85_¡/68_¡ June _Ê_Ê_Ê 90_¡/73_¡ July _Ê_Ê_Ê 92_¡/75_¡ August _Ê_Ê_Ê 92_¡/75_¡ September _Ê_Ê_Ê 88_¡/72_¡ October _Ê_Ê_Ê 81_¡/62_¡ November _Ê_Ê_Ê 72_¡/54_¡ December _Ê_Ê_Ê 65_¡/48_¡ Birmingham, Ala (High/Low, _¡F) January _Ê_Ê_Ê 52_¡/36_¡ February _Ê_Ê_Ê 56_¡/37_¡ March _Ê_Ê_Ê 66_¡/42_¡ April _Ê_Ê_Ê 74_¡/44_¡ May _Ê_Ê_Ê 81_¡/57_¡ June _Ê_Ê_Ê 65_¡/87_¡ July _Ê_Ê_Ê 89_¡/69_¡ August _Ê_Ê_Ê 99_¡/68_¡ September _Ê_Ê_Ê 83_¡/62_¡ October _Ê_Ê_Ê 74_¡/50_¡ November _Ê_Ê_Ê 67_¡/42_¡ December _Ê_Ê_Ê 57_¡/38_¡ Gulfport, Miss. (High/Low, _¡F) January _Ê_Ê_Ê 61_¡/42_¡ February _Ê_Ê_Ê 64_¡/45_¡ March _Ê_Ê_Ê 69_¡/51_¡ April _Ê_Ê_Ê 76_¡/58_¡ May _Ê_Ê_Ê 83_¡/66_¡ June _Ê_Ê_Ê 87_¡/71_¡ July _Ê_Ê_Ê 89_¡/73_¡ August _Ê_Ê_Ê 90_¡/74_¡ September _Ê_Ê_Ê 87_¡/69_¡ October _Ê_Ê_Ê 79_¡/58_¡ November _Ê_Ê_Ê 71_¡/51_¡ December _Ê_Ê_Ê 63_¡/45_¡ _Ê
Where To Play_ÊLouisiana _Ê Carter Plantation (Springfield) David Toms shows love for his home state with the subtle, yet challenging design. Par 72, 7050 yards (74.4/140) (David Toms)
(225) 294-9855 www.carterplantation.com Olde Oaks (Haughton) Hal Sutton's tribute to the natural Louisiana environment. Meadow 9 Par 36, 3681 yards
Cypress 9 Par 36, 3681 yards
The Oak 9 Par 36 3622 yards (Hal Sutton)
(318) 742-0333 www.oldeoaksgolf.com Graywood Golf Club (Lake Charles) Home to some of the strongest par-3s in the state. Par 72, 7233 yards
(337) 562-1663 www.graywoodllc.com Tamahka Trails (Marksville) Routinely hosts local US Open qualifying tournaments. Par 72, 7019 yards (74.4/133) (Steve Smyers)
(318) 240-6300 www.paragoncasinoresort.com TPC of Louisiana at Fairfield (Avondale) Home of the PGA Tour's HP Classic of New Orleans. Par 72, 7600 yards (Pete Dye)
(504) 436-8721 www.tpclouisiana.com _Ê
_ÊMississippi _Ê Diamondhead Country Club (Diamondhead) Challenging yet playable for all skill levels. Par 72, 6831 yards (72.7/132) (Earl Stone)
(800) 346-8741 www.diamondheadms.org Gulf Hills Golf Club (Ocean Springs) One of Mississippi's oldest courses is still one of its best. Par 71, 6266 yards (Jack Daray)
(228) 872-9663 www.gulfhillsgolf.com Great Southern Golf Club (Gulfport) Opened in 1908 and designed by Donald Ross, this is pure golf. Par 71, 6238 yards (70.4/124) (Donald Ross)
(228) 896-3536 www.gsgc1908.com Mississippi National (Gautier) Strategy and shot placements are key on this beautiful course. Par 72, 6983 yards (73.1/128) (Earl Stone)
(228) 497-2372 www.mississippinational.com Shell Landing Golf Club (Gautier) A Davis Love III, neo-classic design. Par 72, 7024 yards (73.2/128) (Davis Love III)
(866) 851-0541 www.shelllanding.com The Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic (Bay St. Louis) Arnold Palmer's only course design in Mississippi. Par 72, 6841 yards (73.5.138) (Arnold Palmer)
(800) 562-4425 www.casinomagic-baystlouis.com Capitol Hill (Prattville) 54 spectacular holes designed to make you play every shot in the bag. The Judge Par 72, 7794 yards (77.8/144) (Robert Trent Jones)
The Senator Par 72, 7697 yards (76.6/131) (Robert Trent Jones)
The Legislator Par 72, 7323 yards (74.1/126) (Robert Trent Jones)
(334) 285-1114 www.rtjgolf.com The Oaks Golf Club (Pass Christian) Known as the ultimate tournament venue in Miss. Par 72, 6885 yards (72.5/131) (Landmark Company)
(228) 452-0909 www.theoaksgolfclub.com _Ê
Alabama _Ê Cambrian Ridge (Greenville) 27 holes of lushness and tranquility. Loblolly Par 35 3551 yards
Canyon Par 36, 3746 yards
Sherling Par 36, ,681 yards (Robert Trent Jones)
(334) 382-9787 www.rtjgolf.com Grand National (Opelika) Beauty with bite. Links Course Par 72, 7311 yards (75.1/135)
Lake Course Par 72, 7149 yards (74.3/136) (Robert Trent Jones)
(334) 749-9042 www.rtjgolf.com Cypress Bend at Craft Farms (Gulf Shores) Popular for numerous doglegs and slick greens. Par 72, 6848 yards (72.4/127) (Arnold Palmer)
(251) 968-7500 www.craftfarms.com Kiva Dunes Golf Club (Gulf Shores) One of the best coastal courses in the South. Par 72, 7092 yards (73.9/132) (Jerry Pate)
(888) TEE-KIVA www.kivadunes.com Oxmoor Valley (Birmingham) Three courses with very distinct and enjoyable personalities. Valley Par 72, 7292 yards (73.9/135)
Ridge Par 72, 7055 yards (73.5/140)
Short (Par-3 Course) Par 54, 3360 yards (Robert Trent Jones)
(205) 942-1177 www.rtjgolf.com The Woodlands at Craft Farms Creativity pays off on every hole here. Par 72, 6484 yards (70.8/123) (Larry Nelson)
(800) 327-2657 www.craftfarms.com
Gulf States Area Accommodations Whether you're heading to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or all three, there is an abundance of great resorts where you can hang your head after full days of golf. Some of our are favorites are listed below:
_Ê Where To Stay _Ê _Ê Kiva Dunes 815 Plantation Road Gulf Shores, Ala. (866) 540-7100 www.kivadunes.com Marriott at Capitol Hill 2500 Legends Circle Pratville, Ala (866) 330-5343 www.pchresorts.com Marriot's Grand Hotel One Grand Blvd Point Clear, Ala. (251) 928-9201 www.pchresorts.com Paragon Casino and Hotel 711 Paragon Place Marksville, La. (800) 946-1946 www.paragoncasinoresort.com Cypress Bend Golf and Resort Center 2000 Cypress Bend Parkway Many, La. (877) 519-1500 www.cypressbend.com_Ê The Villas at Carter Plantation 23475 Carter Trace Springfield, La. (225) 294-7555 www.carterplantation.com Casino Magic Bay St. Louis 711 Casino Magic Drive Bay St. Louis, Miss. (800) WIN-BIG2 www.casinomagic-baystlouis.com _Ê _Ê
_Ê Where To Learn _Ê _Ê Chuck Winstead Golf Academy University Club Baton Rouge, La. (225) 819-0800 www.universityclubbr.com The Academy of Golf Oxmoor Valley Golf Club Birmingham, Ala. (205) 769-1349 www.rtjgolf.com Mississippi Golf Schools The Club at North Creek South Haven, Miss. (800) 365-6640 www.afgs.com
Local Knowledge When fall begins and cooler weather starts rolling in, things really heat up in the Gulf States. Yes, it's time for Southeastern Conference football, and for pigskin fanatics; it doesn't get any better, unless you supplement your football weekend with a round or two of golf. Now, that's living!
For some, golf will always take a backseat to the gridiron exploits of LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Old Miss. Savvy golfers, however, know there's nothing better than combining pigskin and putts on fall weekends.
Challenging courses can be found near the various campuses within the distance of a screen pass or a last-second, game-winning Hail Mary bomb. When the weekend is over, you won't just be yelling "Go, Tigers!" (or whomever you're rooting for). You'll just be going back for more.
Alabama In the campus' hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ol' Colony (www.tcpara.org) is a hidden gem that was one of the first courses designed by native Alabama son Jerry Pate. Large lakes come into play on five holes of the 7,066-yard, par-72 layout. Tall pines and oaks provide the feel of the Old South. The 435-yard, par-4 18th hole is entirely guarded by water on the right and woods on the left. If that's not enough, the front left of the green is elevated and the back is tiered.
Auburn Stay local and go to Grand National (www.rtjgolf.com) in Opelika, Ala., where the scenic Lake Course, featuring 12 holes that run along the shore of Lake Saugahatchee, may do the impossible and take your mind off the gridiron. Here's the skinny on the 7,149-yard, par-72 layout, which is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: Bring extra golf balls because the 230-yard, par-3 15th hole–complete with island green–is likely to diminish your supply.
Louisiana State Ready for a 7,151-yard, par-72 course with a slope of 150 and a rating of 75.3? Then travel 45 minutes from Baton Rouge to The Bluffs on Thompson Creek (www.thebluffs.com), in St. Francisville. This Arnold Palmer design is both a beauty and a beast. "It combines beauty and a challenge," says Patrick Meehan, men's golf sports information director for LSU. "There's no easy hole." The '04 NCAA Women's Championship and the '00 NCAA Men's Championship were held on the Lakes Course.
Mississippi State It may seem like a "hare" long to travel more than an hour from Starkville to Dancing Rabbit Golf Club (www.dancingrabbitgolf.com) in Philadelphia, Miss., but architects Jerry Pate and Tom Fazio have teamed up to create two 18-hole courses full of par-72 diversity. The Azaleas Course is 7,128 yards from the tips, while the Oaks is a mere 7,076 yards. The mega-resort, located on the land of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, also features casino gambling.
Ole Miss Kirkwood National Golf Club (www.kirkwoodgolf.com) in Holly Springs, Miss., about 30 minutes from the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, is a true outdoor adventure from start to finish. Kirkwood's key holes are the back-to-back 188-yard 4th hole, where the green is completely bunkered in front, with water in the back, and the 614-yard 5th hole, which doglegs toward a green elevated 30 feet above the fairway.