Check off another golf destination from my bucket list. When the invitation came to spend a week in Mississippi, the land of cotton and the home of Blues music, it didn’t take me long to accept.
It was billed as a trip of golf, Blues and a literary experience, an unusual combination of subjects that proved, at the end of the day, to be a very highly enjoyable and informative trip.
The itinerary was built around five golf courses more in the northern part of the state: Cherokee Valley in Olive Branch; North Creek Golf Club in Southaven; The Olde Miss Golf Club in Oxford; River Bend Links and Tunica National Golf and Tennis Club, both in Tunica.
Mississippi is where Blues music began so sandwiched between visits to golf courses were side trips to places where Blues music got it start and to touch on its history in places such as the Blues Archive and Living Blues publication office at the University of Mississippi or Ole Miss, as the local folks call it; to Dockery Plantation, just east of Cleveland, where African Americans came to cultivate cotton and in doing so also cultivated a culture that became the Blues; to Ground Zero, a local bar in Clarksdale with its colorful proprietor, Red and his bar or Juke joint, known for the many Blues performers who stop by this iconic watering hole; and to Tunica’s Gateway to the Blues Museum on Highway 61, referred to as the Blues Highway. Aside from the Blues stops there was a visit to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, where all Grammy winners and great artists of Mississippi are highlighted and memorabilia abounds.
On the literary side, there was visit to the home of Nobel prize wining author William Faulkner in Oxford. The famous writer had purchased the property in 1930 and named it Rowan Oak. Faulkner also won a Pulitzer Price and a National Book Award. The home, nestled on a large, park-like, property is a definite trip through time.
As interesting and enjoyable as the side trips were, the golf certainly grabbed my attention. Cherokee Valley in Olive Branch (www.olivebranchgolf.com), opened in 1996 and was designed by Don Cottle Jr.. There is a lot character in this course with each hole named in the Cherokee language.
The Par 72 layout, approximately 15 minutes from Memphis International Airport, where visitors flying into northern Mississippi arrive, played 6,761 yards from the tips. It was a very playable course with a good variety of holes. There were ponds to deal with and the water came even more into play on the back nine.
North Creek Golf Course, in Southaven, again only a short distance from, Memphis Airport, is not a long course at 6,433 from the tips but what it may lack in distance for the big hitters it more than makes up for in the strategy required to play this course well.
Designed by Tracy May and opened in 1998, North Creek has a links flavour and lots of water. You definitely have to pick your targets on every shot. The greens, which were in great condition, were quick with lots of break. Pick your line and stroke with soft hands on the putter (www.wwncgolf.com).
The Ole Miss Course in Oxford, is owned by the University of Mississippi and is home to the school’s golf team.
Opened in 1973 and designed by former PGA great, Cary Middlecoff, the Ole Miss course, being in the hill region of the state, is full of elevation changes and tree-lined fairways. It has a parkland feeling and lots of length playing just over 7,000 yards from the back tees. You can also play this course from 4,849 yards with other distances in between. However, hole yardages can be a bit deceiving because with a lot of uphill and downhill the holes could actually play longer or shorter.
As you might expect on a university team course, the greens were large, slick and lots of breaks. Also, as one might expect, great practice facilities (www.theolemissgolfcourse.com).
In Tunica, which has six casinos in the area making it a destination region if you like to play both the slots and golf, offered River Bend Links and Tunica National Golf and Tennis Club, which were both treats to play.
River Bend, built in 1998 on a former cotton field, and designed by Clyde B. Johnson, was very much a links-style course, wide open, flat and with lots of mounding. The greens were on a the small side but putted very true.
The the course played nearly 7,000 yards from the back tees but, like all the other courses, there were multiple tee decks to pick a yardage that suits an individual’s game.
The course was in excellent condition and the layout had no tricks, everything was in front of you.(www.riverbendlinks.com).
Tunica National was a trip highlight. Groomed to perfection, this Mark McCumber design was an absolute delight. Every hole had six tee areas so lots of choice on picking yardages. The back tees played at 7,204 yards so long hitters had plenty of room to bang away on this relatively flat design.
There is lots of water lining fairways so there was a premium on shot placement.
In addition to the course, Tunica National, a public facility opened in 2004, has a six-hole, Par 3 practice course, a very large clubhouse, a driving range, golf academy and four indoor clay tennis courts. (www.tunicanational.com)
It is important to note that golf rates at any of these five courses were extremely affordable ranging from approximately $33 (US) to the highest, Tunica National, at $65 (US) on weekends and holidays. These were the high rates so playing at various times of the day or various days of the week could be at lower rates. So you could save yourself a few bucks on green fees and treat yourself to the three Bs – Blues, booze and some savory southern barbeque. Yum!