SAUCIER, Miss. - I think there's something wonderfully indulgent about allowing someone to clean and polish your shoes. So after glancing at my sorry, mud-scarred Eccos, neglected for a few consecutive rounds, I looked forward to some self indulgence.
This day, we played Fallen Oak Golf Club in Saucier, Miss. And even before we drove through the fancy gates, the word was out: Have your golf shoes ready to hand an attendant.
On arrival at the bag drop, indeed, my shoes were taken, cleaned better than I could manage to do and left on my cart - all part of the club's "five-star service."
Then I headed to the women's locker room and found a dark, wooden locker with my name engraved on a plaque. Nice touch, and it was appreciated.
That's Fallen Oak, a club that focuses on extra amenities such as caddie service, on-course food and beverages, swing tips on the range and well-appointed locker rooms - marble counters, a multitude of toiletries, even a basket of health bars and candy.
Fallen Oak evokes a private club. And in a sense, it is. Opened in November 2006, it was built by MGM Mirage as an exclusive getaway for guests of the upscale Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, just 15 miles south in Biloxi.
As I played, my camera came out often, always an indication of my feelings about the scenic nature of a golf course. A Tom Fazio design, Fallen Oak Golf Club winds through oaks, pecan groves, pines, marshes, lakes and streams. Fazio chose the site, a 510-acre, rolling piece of land, because of its great potential - a potential more than realized.
He enhanced the natural landscape by adding about 1,000 mature trees, including pines, oaks, magnolias and other hardwoods. There are five tees, labeled simply as first, second, third and so on, offering a good game for every level of golfer.
The first hole, a dogleg left, presents a sampling of what's to come as you play around a winding stream, a pond and bunkers. Sizeable elevations also add to the continuing drama. From the tees on the No. 1-handicap fifth hole, a par 4 at 488 yards, take time to appreciate the splendid views of the next four holes.
No. 18, a par-4, 493-yard, strong finishing hole offers another photo opportunity. It plays down the right side of a ravine. Locals suggest you play from right to left off the grand oak on the right for which the golf course is named. There's plenty of water in sight, flowing from the marshes into a stream, which, in turn, flows into the marsh on the first and ninth holes.
Fazio's bunker complexes at Fallen Oak Golf Club are stunning. Plunging into the sand, beautifully sculptured banks and mounds carpeted with dense Zoysia grass serve as a visual marvel. But they're devilish to escape, though the sand is often easier to navigate with a club than the Zoysia.
Several holes are user friendly with wide landing areas, yet still a challenge off the tee. For example, No. 2 requires a carry over some nasty stuff, but hit it properly and you'll find plenty of room in the landing zone.
Many of Fallen Oak Golf Club's greens are roll-up, and all putting surfaces are immaculate. It's a reflection of the entire course. Greens are seeded with the smooth-rolling TifEagle Bermuda, while 419 Bermuda covers the fairways. Superb maintenance, obviously, is a high priority.
"When you watch how Fallen Oak challenges major champions like Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo," said David Stinson, general manager at Fallen Oak, "you realize that this is a pretty unique course in that it not only poses a challenge to these guys, but makes all golfers feel like they are playing someplace special."
Fallen Oak Golf Club gives its guests a first-class experience from start to the finish, a good reason to book a few nights at the Beau Rivage.
Fallen Oak was named the second-best new upscale course by Golf Digest and ranks No. 19 on the publication's list of 100 greatest public courses. It was named one of the top 10 new courses by Golf Magazine, the "best course you can play in the state" and the second-best casino course in the country by Golfweek. It rates No. 55 on Golfweek's list of 100 best modern courses in 2009. It was listed 29th on Golf Magazine's annual "top 100 courses you can play" in 2008, the highest-ranked Mississippi golf course.
The Governor's Cup, played at Fallen Oak in September 2009, brought Azinger and Faldo to "Faldo-Azinger Captain's Challenge," a three-part, made-for-TV competition. It matched the 2008 Ryder Cup captains in fly fishing, Texas Hold 'Em poker in the Beau Rivage's sumptuous poker room and 18 holes at Fallen Oak.
In addition to a 12,000-square-foot Acadian-style clubhouse with a stylistic glass bar that looks over the 18th green, the clubhouse holds a restaurant, patio, locker rooms and pro shop. Be sure to order the beef sliders and try a super Bloody Mary, which comes with a limp string bean draped over the top of the glass - just one of the club's specialty drinks.
Beau Rivage Resort and Casino (www.beaurivage.com) in Biloxi, an MGM Mirage destination resort, is the place to stay if you want to play Fallen Oak Country Club. As one of the top 100 hotels in the continental United States, according to Conde Nast Travel and Leisure, the 1,740-room, 32-story hotel features premier amenities, including an expansive pool, spa, shopping promenade, 85,000-square-foot casino and 10 restaurants. Visit BR Prime for perfectly prepared steaks and seafood. Jia serves contemporary Asia cuisine. Also, check out the four nightclubs and bars that have showcased entertainers Kenny G, Michael Bolton and Jay Leno.
December 3, 2009