By Tony Leodora
Fifteen years had passed since the first golf trip to the Biloxi, Mississippi area. In those days Biloxi was in the beginning stages of a double boom – casinos and golf courses. It was just beginning to find its stride.
Fast forward to 2016 and the development in both areas is quite evident. There are now in the neighborhood of a dozen casinos and 15 golf courses in the area. And, despite a recession, hurricanes and other factors, all seem to have gotten better with age.
“There really is a lot of great golf in the Biloxi area,” says Kenny Hughes, PGA professional, owner at Shell Landing GC and president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association. “We started with some great natural sites for golf courses, then brought in some of the greatest golf course architects in the country. The end-result is a varied assortment of golf that appeals to a wide range of players.”
The list of architects is an impressive one – Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III, and Mark McCumber, to name a few.
Their work is showcased in golf courses that have gained national reputations. Fazio’s Fallen Oaks, Nicklaus’ Grand Bear and Love’s Shell Landing are well-known in far-ranging golf circles. Others – like McCumber’s Windance and The Oaks, which was developed by the Landmark Group – are hidden gems that leave visitors singing their praises.
And the casinos have developed into handsome properties that provide more than just gaming. They are centers for entertainment, dining and healthy relaxation. Beau Rivage is the most known, and Hard Rock has a national name. But others, such as IP Casino Resort and Spa proved to be a quality experience – from the suites and rooms, to the high-end dining, to one of the largest sports bars in the area, to a festive casino floor with live entertainment.
For those who want to venture out into the town for a different restaurant experience, there is the nationally-known Mary Mahoney’s seafood restaurant. It is a rustically elegant mix of southern and Cajun food … and hospitality. For those who like southern ribs and barbecue, there are a number of good ones in the area, led by the incredibly eclectic Slap Ya Momma’s BBQ.
The reason for the recent trip was the Freedom Trail Challenge – a North-South Ryder Cup-style event that has travelled the country and the world since 1995. The players stayed at the IP Casino and played four rounds of golf — Grand Bear, Shell Landing, The Oaks and Windance.
“Biloxi proved to be a great mixture of solid golf and after-golf fun,” Joe Sosnowski, the veteran captain of the North team. “The guys really enjoyed themselves on this trip.”
After a very close competition that came down to the final match on the last day, the North squeezed out a close but hard-fought victory. No records exist of the won-loss record in the casinos, but it was all part of a good golf trip.