Getting away from the Midwest Winter is a real treat and last week not only did I get away from the cold but I got to bring my sticks along for a little Winter Warm Up. The Mississippi Gulf Coast does not get the attention of the RTJ Trail or Scottsdale as a winter destination but based on my one round there this January, perhaps it should.
The Preserve Golf Club is just 15 minutes from North Biloxi, MS, 90 minutes from New Orleans International Airport and just 2 miles from Interstate 10 that basically connects Los Angeles to Jacksonville, FL. Designed by Jerry Pate, whose golf course portfolio is far more extensive than I would have guessed, The Preserve offers you a day of complete solitude on the golf course, carved into the natural landscape as if it had always been there, not bulldozed awkwardly. Tall pine trees, mossy oaks, swamps and wetlands outline this beautiful property.
There is just something about playing alongside the pine trees of the Southeast that reminds you of Augusta National in April and hitting that famous shot by Mickelson of the pine straw. Even though you prefer the fairway, it’s worth missing badly once to try it out.
The Preserve offers five sets of tee boxes so you can find the right yardage for your game. Go all the way back which I wisely avoided and you will be challenged with several very long par-4’s and a couple of very lengthy par-3’s. The front nine begins with a great stretch of holes from 2 – 4 that starts with a challenging par-3 of about 180 yards but a back left pin and wind into us made carrying the greenside bunkers a real challenge. Once you get past that stern test, the par-4, 3rd is all about the right club off the tee. You can choose long iron up to 3-wood or even driver on this short dog leg left with water bisecting the end of the fairway and front of the green, where short is not an option. Another tucked pin to the front right gave very little bail out area and when my ball cleared the water by about an inch I had a much better birdie putt that I had even drawn up in my head. The par-5, 4th is a long, three shot hole of 553 yards and into the wind was three long shots. Miss in the fairway bunkers on the right of the fairway and it is probably 4 shots into the green. A carved out waste area in the fairway also forces you to be more aggressive with your layup or risk taking an unplayable and bringing double bogey into play.
The Back Nine provided my favorite stretch of holes starting with the par-5, 14th. Another three shot hole with water down the right on the drive, and a swampy area short of the green forcing a shorter layup than normal and a longer third shot to a green with a beautiful marsh background. The back pin I played made hitting it close for birdie nearly impossible with double bogey looming over the green. The par-4, 15th is a mid-length hole with a ton of options off the tee as the it doglegs to the left. Lay back or be aggressive but make sure to hit your approach within 20 feet because a putt outside of that length is no bargain. The longest par-3 on the course was the 16th, stretching to as much as 225 yards that is accompanied by the most difficult green on the course. Our middle right pin could have been the toughest hole location to miss right or left with. Right caused a delicate chip up a hill to a green sloping away. Long and left caused you to putt up about a 5 foot rise in the middle of the green and choosing the correct line was nearly impossible. My favorite hole was probably the par-4, 17th, perhaps because it was my lone birdie of the day. It is a drivable par-4, with water from the front of the tee box, all the way to the slope fronting the green. Only 260 yards and severely down-wind from the ‘fun’ tee box, I pured my Rocketballz 3 wood to the middle of the green and nearly curled in my 30 foot eagle putt, but there are lots of ways to play the hole and still make birdie if you are playing from a less ‘fun’ tee box.
All in all, The Preserve offered exceptional service from the Bag Drop to the Player Assistant that walked us through the practice facilities and the GPS on the cart which was a godsend on a cart path only day. Everyone embodied true Southern Hospitality and made me feel more than welcome during my visit. I will be coming back to the Gulf Coast for an easy and affordable Winter Golf Getaway.
Run by the Palace Casino Resort (the only smokeless casino in Biloxi), you can even make a stay and play vacation out of your trip. And who knew as I headed back to Interstate 10, the final treat of my visit is The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint was on the right just before I got back on the highway, so my great golf was accompanied by some great BBQ.