Adjustments make course a monster again
By Rusty Hampton
A plethora of new golf courses have been built in Mississippi over the last two decades, but one that opened nearly 100 years ago has stood the test of time and technology and still rates as one of the most difficult tests of golf in the state.
The Laurel County Club course was designed by Seymour Dunn and opened in 1919. A recent renovation added new tee boxes and some 300 yards of length, bringing the par-72 course to nearly 7,000 yards from the tips. That’s still not long by today’s standards, given how equipment innovations are making some courses nearly obsolete, but Dunn’s design, combined with fast, smallish greens, well-placed bunkers and plenty of elevation changes, makes Laurel one demanding course for golf purists.
Among our panelists, Brannan was the most adamant.
“Laurel, by far,” he wrote in the category of “Toughest Test of Golf.”
Benji Nelson of Madison, who shot 8-under-par 280 over 72 holes to win the 1995 Mississippi Amateur at Laurel, said he played the best golf of his life over those four days. He won by five shots and third place was 12 shots back, meaning only two players in a field of more than 100 broke par.
Nelson, 44, said recently that time has changed his perspective about Laurel.
“I have a much deeper respect for the golf course now than I did as a 25-year-old,” Nelson said. “The fact that Seymour Dunn came over here in 1919, moved very little dirt with primitive equipment and was able to design a golf course with shot values and a degree of difficulty that still stands up to today’s players is absolutely amazing to me.”
Nelson said one key to a good round at Laurel is hitting tee shots the right length to avoid awkward uphill or downhill approach shots. That gives you a better chance to reach the green, because if you don’t, well… “The greens are relatively small and severely sloped on the sides. If you miss a green, you are going to be really challenged to save par.”
Jim Dorman, the Laurel pro, said the recent renovations have helped the course keep up with technology. Instead of flying 9-irons onto greens, players now might be trying to bounce 4-irons into some holes, which is more in tune with Dunn’s thinking a century ago.
The decision to renovate was made, in part, after Mississippi State golf coach Clay Homan, a four-time State Am champion, blistered the course during the 2010 Mississippi Mid-Amateur, shooting 16-under par. The course set-up was not difficult, said Dorman. But still, that was the wakeup call the Laurel membership needed to put a little bite back into the course.
“We didn’t just arbitrarily add length,” Dorman said. “We added length to return the golf course to how it was meant to be played.”
Last summer (with two par-5s converted to par-4s, making the par 70), the winning score in the Mississippi Open was 2-over par.
“Playing this golf course, it makes you a better player,” Dorman said. “After you’ve played here, where ever you go, you can carry your game anywhere you want to play.”
Laurel Country Club
Year course opened: 1919
Designer: Seymour Dunn
Dues: Not released
Greens fees: Private course
Yardage: Almost 6,968 yards