PHILADELPHIA — The golfing limelight has shifted from the U.S. Women’s Open Championship at West Point to Philadelphia as the Silver Star Resort & Casino prepares for a grand opening for its new 18-hole golf course.
General manager and golf director Patrick O’Keefe has been busy fielding calls from Golf Digest and ESPN and covering a lot of ground with professional photographers in the last few days.
“It’s been incredibly busy,” said O’Keefe, who grew up in the golfing industry in south Florida and has worked for private clubs in Florida and in Boston. “The new golf course is absolutely magnificent. It’s probably the finest I’ve ever seen. People really love it.”
Originally called Phase II of Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, the names of both 18-hole courses were changed “to better reflect their individuality,” he said.
Dancing Rabbit I is now referred to as The Azaleas at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, and Dancing Rabbit II will be called The Oaks at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club.
Internationally renowned golf course designer Tom Fazio and former PGA great Jerry Pate created both 18-hole courses. Designed to follow the Neshoba County terrain’s natural contours, the courses feature cascading waterfalls, challenging bunkers and two miles of meandering spring-fed streams. Each phase is constructed on approximately 350 acres.
The first phase, a par-72 course with 7,114 yards of golfing play, opened July 11, 1997. With Bentgrass greens and grown-in Bermuda fairways, 16 holes have downhill tee shots and 11 holes have elevated greens with changes of up to 70 feet from tee to green.
The second phase, which offered limited play to hotel guests beginning in mid-March, opened June 1. A grand opening is scheduled June 26. Among pre-opening festivities, Wayne Newton will perform June 19 at the Starlight Lounge.
“We’ll have a small gathering with political dignitaries, such as Sen. Trent Lott, Gov. Kirk Fordice, Tom Fazio, Jerry Pate and the tribe (Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians) itself,” O’Keefe said.
The Oaks at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club has aesthetic amenities similar to The Azaleas, O’Keefe said, but with waterfalls and rock ledges that are even more pronounced than in the first phase.
“The way Mr. Fazio carved the golf course makes the vistas almost look like mountains,” he said. “It complements the other golf course very well.”
Instead of grown-in Bermuda fairways, the second phase has Zoysia fairways, which is “perfect for really great lies,” he said.
Within the first year of its opening, Golf Digest named Dancing Rabbit among the top 10 upscale new courses in the country and Golf Magazine ranked it one of the top 100 new courses to play.
“Right now, we’re just underway, working on the organization itself,” O’Keefe said. “We plan to market regionally, nationally and, later down the road, globally. Corporate sponsorships are moving very, very well.”
The golf courses share a 15-acre practice range with seven target greens, a chipping green with sand bunkers and Bentgrass greens and the 19th Hole dining room, appropriately titled The Rabbit Hole.
“We have a new state-of-the-art cart staging area for corporate events and one of the finest scoring areas I’ve seen,” he said. “We have an event coordination office that markets to corporate clients around the region and we are in the planning stages for a new clubhouse to be built within the next couple of years.”
Managed by Boyd Gaming, which is regulated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Philadelphia-based casino boasts five-star restaurants, a 500-suite hotel and is one of the largest casinos in the state.
Silver Star Resort & Casino doesn’t disclose its revenues, but Boyd Gaming Corp. (NYSE: BYD) announced its highest quarterly earnings in three years and record quarterly operating cash flow for the first quarter of 1999. Financial reports also showed a milestone — operating cashflow from property operations exceeded $60 million for the same quarter. Silver Star reported even earnings compared to the prior year, according to information obtained from the company’s Web site.