Thursday, July 28, 2011

Golf in Mississippi or is Mississippi burning up?

“To understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi”—William Faulkner

When I say burning up, I mean temperature. The state of Mississippi has changed dramatically from what was depicted in the film Mississippi Burning, but it’s still stifling in summer. It’s the middle of July and it’s just plain hot and humid—not too steamy, though, to play a few of Mississippi’s wonderful golf courses.

If you like our blues, you will love our greens
Spring and fall are the prime seasons here, but whenever you come, you’ll find lots to do between rounds. Some of the major artists of the 20th century were from Mississippi: Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo; Tennessee Williams, born in Columbus; William Faulkner, born in Oxford; and B. B. King, who first saw light in Indianola. There are fascinating museums at each of these birthplaces. Having promoted many concert dates with BB King, and getting to know him as well as I did, I especially wish I had had time to visit his museum, which gives a taste of the social history of the Mississippi Delta and a firsthand account of Riley B. King’s life on the farm as a sharecropper and all the way through to his worldwide fame as a musician.

People have referred to Mississippi as the birthplace of American music, The fact that it is home to to such music greats as Tammy Wynette, Faith HIll, Jimmy Rogers, Bo Didley and Willie Dixon may be evidence enough of that.

But back to business. Where should you be making tee times in Mississippi? There are some great choices.

Old Waverly Golf Club

Old Waverly in West Point, just two hours south of the Memphis airport, hosted the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open and has been rated in Golf Digest’s top 100—and you can play it. Old Waverly gets nearly half of its revenue from guest play, mostly thru stay and play packages at the club’s own lodgings—townhomes, cabins, and cottages that can accommodate over 100 people. Given the reasonable prices and the wonderful course designed by Jerry Pate and Bob Cupp, Old Waverly is a real deal.

Lake Waverly, a forty-acre lake is the centerpiece of this development with holes 10,11,12,17 and 18 playing along its shores. There are several other small lakes on the property, so water is in play on many holes. Greens are very firm and very fast, even after a downpour of rain, we went back out and they remained firm and fast. The fairways are generous and play well, most of the holes are tree lined and the sand is extremely well maintained.

The clubhouse at Old Waverly was built when the course opened but as you wander through, it looks and feels like an old southern Antebellum home, a bit like walking onto the set of Gone with the Wind. Even the dining room is built with such an intimate look, it feels as though you are eating in someone’s home.

In the proshop,there is a framed display of 4 signed golf gloves. The plaque reads: The only 4 men to ever win all 4 major championships Gene Sarazan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan. Conspicuously missing , is Tiger Woods. I assume this went up before Tiger accomplished this ,and when he was in Mississippi for rehab, he just didn’t have time to get over to Old Waverly to sign a glove.

If you go:
Unaccompanied guest fees $165.00, but check out their stay and play packages.

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club at Pearl River Resort, Choctaw MS

Dancing Rabbit sits on ancestral lands of the Mississippi band of Choctaw Indians, and was named for its location along the banks of the Big and Little Dancing Rabbit Creeks. Many casinos now come with golf courses, but few have two courses of such high caliber—The Azaleas and The Oaks, both designed by acclaimed golf course designer Tom Fazio and PGA great Jerry Pate. They both play from about 7100 yards down to 5000 yards so there is plenty of challenge for all levels of players.

Towering pines and stunning Oaks frame both of these courses, and today I am thankful for that, because it 95 degrees with over 90% humidity and the shade on the cart paths is a lifesaver.

The courses are very different. For starters, the Oaks fairways are Zoysia grass with bermuda greens. Azaleas, on the other hand, has bermuda fairways and bent grass greens. These two types of grasses play very differently. Bent grass is difficult to grow in extreme heat, so its an uncommon grass in this climate.
Every hole at Dancing Rabbit is a work of art laid upon land that is wrapped in over 5 miles of meandering spring-fed streams. Most of these beauties will leave an indelible mark on your memory.

The Oaks meanders through many elevation changes with some outstanding views. As you stand on most of the tee boxes the holes lay out clearly in front of you. The Par threes are all down hill to stunning framed greens. And Tom Fazio sure knows how to bring excitement to drivable short par fours.
Azelias is rated as more difficult and it is. The fairways are tighter and with the bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens almost every approach is likely to take one more club than would be the case on The Oaks.

There are 8 sleeping rooms in the clubhouse, and it’s a very charming place to stay. Having experienced this I will take staying in a clubhouse like this over a hotel any day. There is also one 3 bedroom house on property which is a nice way to go as well. You can always stay at the Casino hotel, which is nice, but you can find accommodations like that anywhere. If you go, stay in the clubhouse!! You won’t regret it.

Restaurants-- There are several here to choose from, in the clubhouse and in the casino offering a large variety of food choices. But Miko Steakhouse, their upscale steakhouse is fabulous. The ribeye steak accompanied by a sweetcorn soufle may be worth the visit all by itself.

If you love gambling, then you have come to the right place. They not only have plenty of slot machines but all the table games as well.

Annandale Golf Club
Annandale Golf Club, just outside of Jackson, is an early Jack Nicklaus design. The Viking Classic is being played there this week and several golf travel writers on this trip are playing in the pro-am. Our team teed off at 8:30 am with Chris Riley. His regular caddie was off this week, so his wife Michelle was on his bag. She was a great competitive golfer in her day, playing not only on her college team but on an LPGA mini tour as well. It was interesting to watch her gather the yardage and map pin positions and green slope information that Chris would need later that week for the competition.

This is the first Pro-am I have ever played in and I have to say it is a real treat. The gifts alone are worth it, but the best part is playing with a pro. There is no other sport where you can play alongside a pro and once you do stand there, you really appreciate the vast difference between their skill level and the skill level of us average Joe golfers.

The southern hospitality really shone through in this event as well. The volunteers did not have signs that read “Quiet.” Instead they read “Hush Y’all.” The service was fabulous, the food was non stop and we truly felt welcome at every turn.

Southern hospitality was king, not only at the Viking Classic, but throughout Mississippi. It is a much more interesting state than I had imagined. Just do your best to avoid the heat of the summer, unless you are headed to the gulf coast.

Larry Berle is a travel writer who writes on many travel topics but specializes in golf travel.  He is author of A GOLFERS DREAM: HOW A REGULAR GUY CONQUERED THE GOLF DIGEST LIST OF AMERICAS TOP 100 GOLF COURSES.   Learn more about his book at and from there you can also access his travel blog.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Park City Utah golf part 2

Park City Golf Club (formerly Park City municipal)

Park City Golf Club is located right in the middle of Park City, snuggled up close to the base of Park City Ski resort. In fact, part of the course is used as for cross country skiing in the winter.
First of all, this is a very walkable course, with some elevation changes, but not so much as to make it unwalkable. There is water on many holes here. The streams today are rushing very quickly as the snow melt from the winter tumbles down from the mountains. There is so much snow melt, that one fairway is partly underwater (not enough to make the hole unplayable and a couple spots where they had to do some light sandbagging to keep the tee box from flooding.)
It plays from 6622 yards to 5558 yards, a good challenge for most players (possible exception the longest of hitters).

The front nine is enjoyable but the back nine is in better condition and the holes are more interesting. More elevation change, playing along the back of the hotel and condos and just a prettier stroll in the park. It is certainly not the least expensive public course in the valley but still a good value at
$43 to walk plus $14 per person for a cart. Rates go down by $11.00 after 3:00 PM.


Promontory, just outside of Park City UT, is a 10 square mile development. It is designed to appeal to golfers and non-golfers alike and it certainly does that. If they build a grocery store in here--you may never have to leave.
There are currently two golf courses, one designed by Pete Dye which opened in 2002 and the other designed by Jack Nicklaus opened in 2007.
They plan 3 more, the next one will be designed by Tom Weiskopf.

Promontory is private, with an initiation fee just over $100,000 and monthly dues of $650 but the Dye course takes 8 public tee times per day (32 players) at $200.00 a round. There are currently 400 members and the membership is growing, even in this flat economy. Custom homes start in the $900,000 range and home sites start at $300,000. The master plan calls for 1900 homes. AS of Jan 2011 783 have been sold

The two courses couldn’t be any more different. First of all the views from all over the property are expansive and breathtaking. I am sure there are spots where you can see for 30 or 40 miles. Every tee box is a picture postcard, and most of the holes are downhill, so you can see clearly the hole as it lays out in front of you.
The Dye course takes you on an elevation rolller-coaster ride through a desert meadow on the front 9, with the back 9 taking you through sage covered mountain valleys. There is plenty of elevation change and rarely a flat lie.
The Nicklaus course, in contrast has generous flat fairways, (that Jack makes look narrow from the tee) half as many bunkers but 15 holes where water comes into play. The water brings an entire new level of beauty to this course. The true challenge is the green complexes. It has been rated as the toughest course in Utah.In 2009 it was awarded #3 Best New Private Course by Golf Digest.
This is only the second course I have been to that is over 8000 yards from the tips (8098) but remember the ball flys 10% further at this altitude and there are many sets of tees to make this playable for all levels.

If you visit and click come for a weekend getaway, two people can stay here for three nights in a luxury 3 bedroom cabin, golf for two and complete access to the clubs amenities for $499. When you consider the golf is $200.00 a round then you are getting this luxury home for $50.00 a night and full access to all the other club activities.

Golf is only one thing here--Here are some of the others. A world class fitness center with a ski trainer like I have never seen before, A kids cabin with more kids activities than you can shake a stick at. An Equestrian center. On July 4 they announced the building of “the shed” it will have basketball, bowling, movie theatre, sports bar, arts studio and more.
Do I even have to mention the world class spa? There is Tennis, snow shoeing, sledding and tubing, mountain biking ice skating and guided hiking (over 50 miles of private trails), fly fishing with a guide all right on property.

World class skiing is 20 minutes away in Park City and the Salt Lake City airport is less than 30 minutes away
If your social life revolves around your house and you dont like a day full of activities, this is not the place for you.

They had a very clever event here last week. On June 21, the longest day of the year, they set the Nicklaus course up to play as the longest course in the world at approx 8400 yards (the very back of every back tee). Now that is a solstice celebration, if I ever saw one.

Park City Utah golf part 3

Victory Ranch Club
There is a reason that Rees Jones has been called “The Open Doctor” and that the USGA uses him to redesign many of the U.S. Open venues. Simply put, Rees has quite a vision and that is why Victory Ranch hired him to design this golf course. Lets start with Rees Jones design philosophy. He says “Primarily, the style of a course is dictated by the contours of the land. The importance of the visual impact of a golf hole from the tee should never be underestimated.”
This mountain course definitely accomplishes both of these philosophical statements.
Victory Ranch is in Kamas UT (but to most golfers is in the Park City cluster of golf courses), sits 12 miles from the center of Park City. It opened as a private club, which it still is, in fall of 2009. The entire Victory Ranch development is 5600 acres, over half of which is and will remain protected land. It offers magnificent sweeping views of the surrounding mountains for at least 20 miles at some points.

Almost every hole plays somewhat down hill so you can see exactly what lays in front of you. Number 12 was the only hole where I stood on the tee box and was not sure if it was a dog leg right or left. All the holes are wonderful, but as is often the case the par fives and especially the par threes are spectacular.
As you stand on the picture postcard Number six tee box, a par three ranging from 104-235 yards across a cavernous gorge, you have to wonder “just how did a course architect stand here and envision a golf hole?” And this hole has 9 different tee boxes for different wind conditions. This is only one of three par threes that play over a gorge or old stone quarry.

The lack of trees and buildings makes everything appear farther than it is. A couple par five greens appear to be over a mile away from their tee boxes--but they are not. The course plays 7599 yards down to 5422 I played 6726) which is long for me but keep in mind that at almost 7,000 feet of elevation the ball travels over 5% further.
You would be hard pressed to find a stretch of holes as impressive as Victory Ranches three closing holes.Number sixteen, an uphill 520 yard par five, seems to hang on a cliff on one side and is framed by a canyon wall on the other. climbing its way to a narrow steep green. Choose one of eleven tee boxes on the par three number seventeen from 242 yards or less while you stand on the highest spot on the course, and prepare to hit across an old rock quarry. This can be quite intimidating when the wind is blowing as hard as it was this afternoon. Number 18 tumbles down the hill back home to finish out a wonderful day on the golf course. It’s 465 yards from the member tees (520 from the tips) but if you catch the hill just right you may have only 150 yards in.

Few trees, few houses, no problem! Almost all the holes are framed by sage and colorful heather which appeared like a moving Monet painting as the wind picked up. The Upper Provo River, which runs through the property was rushing full steam as the snow melt crashes down from the surrounding mountains. No wonder Golfweek named it “Top 10 Best New Courses in the Country”

In spring of 2013 March madness will descend on Salt Lake City and a planning meeting must be underway because there was a small NCAA tournament behind us and one of the foursomes had Jim Nantz, best known for years of being the broadcast voice of the Masters and Sean McMannus chairman of CBS Sports. When the wind wasn’t howling, it was as if I could hear the famous hushed tones of Jim Nantz speaking softly into a microphone as my 40 foot putt fell into the hole.

It is not a busy place, only 60 members so far, so in these tough economic times they have hired OB Sports to manage the facility and allow public to play as “club guests” at $150.00 a round (but get a replay rate within 48 hours for $50). If you pick the right day and time it will be like your own private course
Its worth the trip to Park City-- so just get on a plane and go play it.

Victory Ranch Club phone 435-785-5030
or visit