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Casino courses boost state

Teeing off

There is no doubt that casinos have raised the bar when it comes to golf courses in the state. Some of the biggest names in golf — such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus — have been involved in designing casino golf courses in Mississippi.

Mississippi is getting recognition for having more to offer as a golf vacation destination. The Mississippi Development Authority Division of Tourism recently announced the state had been named the “Best Up-and-Coming Domestic Golf Destination of the Year” by The Golf Insider (www.thegolfinsider.com), the industry’s leading golf-travel-rating publication.

The Golf Insider annually ranks “The Year in Golf Travel” and Mississippi was honored for its high performance, quality offerings and rapidly-increasing number of attractions and value it offered golf travelers in 2002.

Casino golf packages that include hotel rooms and golf can be surprisingly affordable. For example, at the Bridges Golf Club at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, golf packages start at $75 per person including the room (double occupancy), golf, breakfast or lunch, $5 in coins and $5 in match play at the casino.

The Bridges is the only Arnold Palmer-designed course in Mississippi.

“It is a very beautiful course,” said Tonya Davis, resort sales manager for Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis. “Each hole is very different. It is a very scenic and picturesque course. We attract people from all over the country. In the winter and spring there are a lot of people from the North.”

Another Coast golf course that has gotten rave reviews for natural beauty is the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course Grand Bear operated by Grand Casino. The course borders two rivers, the Big Biloxi River and the Little Biloxi River, and features Mississippi wetlands and sandy white beaches designed as part of the course.

Grand Bear has been one of the more expensive golf courses in the state. But through the end of September, Grand Bear is offering a rate of only $59, plus tax, per round per person, for residents of the six southernmost counties in the state. The third casino golf course on the Coast, the President’s Broadwater Golf Club, has been sold to be redeveloped as a Wal-Mart Supercenter. That hasn’t pleased golfers, nor residents of Biloxi who have opposed losing that much green space in the center of town.

In the middle part of the state golfers have the choice of two 18-hole golf courses designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate at the Choctaw’s Dancing Rabbit Golf Club near Philadelphia operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Patrick O’Keefe, CEO of golf operations, said that most people who play golf at Dancing Rabbit are from Jackson and Meridian. They come to play for the day, and then return home usually without spending the night. But visitors from farther away are also common. Weekday golf packages to stay at the clubhouse suites cost $149 per person with an additional person in the room at $70. That price includes unlimited golf, a golf instruction clinic, continental breakfast and unlimited time at the practice range. During the off-season the price drops to $129.

“It is the consummate golf experience in regard to the natural surroundings,” O’Keefe said. “Mr. Fazio designed the golf course to be in the middle of the woods. Each hole is a signature hole of its own. It is a wonderful value for the price.”

Golf packages are also available from the hotel.

Corporate golf tournament events are the forte of Dancing Rabbit Golf Club. Corporate play by groups of 16 or more is up 200% in the past year, O’Keefe said.

A computerized match system handles all items related to tournament golf.

The state’s newest casino golf course will open this October in Tunica, adding to two other 18-hole golf courses already in operation, Grand Casino’s Cottonwoods and Riverbend Links, which is operated by Sam’s Town, Harrah’s and Hollywood Casino.

The Tunica National Golf and Tennis complex will open in mid-October with four indoor clay tennis courts and an 18-hole championship golf course.

“Now we will have three courses within the resort area of Tunica where a group of people can come and stay to play all three courses,” said Webster Franklin, president and CEO, Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Typically when a group of 12 men get together and go on a golf trip, they want to play several courses. In Tunica they can stay at one place and play different courses all within three miles of each other. That will allow visitors to stay an extra day and enjoy their stay even more.”

The tennis portion of the new recreational development is also significant. Tunica National Golf & Tennis Club will have the only indoor clay courts south of Washington D.C. “It will be unique to the southeastern part of the U.S.,” Franklin said.

Scott Gileta, general manager, Tunica National Golf and Tennis Club, said the club will have a semi-private country club atmosphere, yet will be open to the public with very attractive rates ranging from $50 to $65 including cart fees. The golf course designed by Mark McCumber will be enhanced by a golf teaching academy with full video analysis equipment. Other amenities will include a 360-degree driving range with multiple targets and four distinct practice areas. A restaurant with private dining will be available along with a conference room for corporate groups of 20 to 30 patrons.

Gileta said the 212-acre public course was created to guarantee rewarding play for beginners as well as professionals. The course will be operated by KemperGolf Management, a division of KemperSports that operates 75 courses in 28 states.

“This is Kemper’s first venture in Mississippi, and being a part of this growing resort destination exemplifies the exciting future of the area,” Gileta said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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