Dream Weekend: A golf trip to Memphis

Monday June 5th, 2017
The Mirimichi golf course, formerly owned by Justin Timberlake.
Aidan Bradley

Plan your next trip with our new Dream Weekend series, combining expert picks from GOLF.com staff and the travel gurus at Travel & Leisure. We’re bringing you the best recommendations for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing--so you can focus on your round instead of your itinerary. Now on the tee: Memphis.

The FedEx St. Jude Classic has seldom had much luck drawing an elite field. Maybe it’s the hilly TPC Southwind course that’s usually smothered in high humidity. Perhaps it’s the timing of the event. All I know is that if I were a PGA Tour player who enjoys Elvis, blues and barbecue, Memphis would be a must-stop. This year, things are looking up for area golf fans: Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler are among the entrants. For those guys, the ideal weekend is being in contention. For my perfect weekend—Memphis-style—here are the picks for cuisine, culture and golf. 

A view of the night skyline in Memphis.
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Friday

Schedule a mid-morning arrival into Memphis International Airport, then head straight to some of the best barbecue anywhere, the original Jim Neely’s Interstate B-B-Q on 3rd Street, just 10 minutes west from the airport, right off of I-55. Interstate cooks its meats for five hours in specially-built pits that combine natural gas and hickory wood, then pairs them with some of the finest sweet-smoky sauce on the planet. Start with the chopped pork and beef platters or sandwiches, but save some room for their one-of-a-kind barbecue spaghetti. 

2 p.m.
Your Memphis golf weekend starts with its top-ranked public layout, Mirimichi in Millington, 20 minutes north of downtown. Formerly known as Big Creek, this is the course where low-handicap crooner/actor Justin Timberlake learned the game. When it faced demolition in 2009, Timberlake kicked in the funds to save it—and transform it into eco-friendly Mirimichi. He sold it late in 2014, but today, it remains 7,479 yards of serious golf, with water in play on 12 holes, memorably on Timberlake’s favorite, the 181-yard, par-3 11th.  

7 p.m.
For your lodging, you have two clear, if very different choices. Traditionalists will want to stay at the Peabody (June weekend rates from $199), the 92-year-old, 14-story, Italian Renaissance Revival classic best known for its morning and afternoon duck parade through the lobby. The hip crowd will flock to the Madison (June weekend rates from $169), a swank, post-modern hotel housed in an old bank building, which frequently welcomes visiting rock stars and sports teams. We’ll flip a coin—and just because we like seeing waterfowl in a hotel’s public spaces, the Peabody gets the nod.

7:30 p.m.
If you’re walking in Memphis, as Marc Cohn’s song goes, you have to do it on Beale Street. That’s where the majority of rock, jazz and blues clubs are congregated, along with vintage shops and restaurants. A must-visit is B.B. King’s Blues Club, which hits all the right notes. Alfred’s on Beale and the Rum Boogie Café are every bit as good (at least have a cocktail in each, and take in the tunes), but we have to pay homage to the legendary bluesman, Mr. King, who passed away in 2015, and have dinner at his original club. Not unexpectedly, the barbecue is solid, but we’ll do more of that this trip. Better to do one of the southern specialties, from a Smoked Sausage or Shrimp Po’ Boy to the Yazoo Catfish Creole, or else just do a personal favorite, the Debris Burger, two sizeable hamburger patties topped with debris roast beef and gravy, French Fries and covered in cheese sauce. 

Travel & Leisure Tip: Music buffs should stop by some of the excellent record shops that Memphis has to offer, including Shangri-La Records. Goner Records is another great place to pick up some vinyl, and it is also home to an Elvis impersonator shrine that anyone can visit for just 25 cents.

The living room at Elvis Presley's Graceland.
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Saturday

7:30 a.m.
Hit the ground running with a hearty breakfast at The Arcade. Memphis’ oldest café restaurant dates to 1919, and in most respects, hasn’t moved past the 1950s for décor and menu items. The walls are adorned with all kinds of Memphis history and old-timey signs, while the menu is drenched with nothing but simple classics—French Toast, Pancakes, Country Fried Steak—or my choice, Eggs Redneck, which is sausage and biscuits smothered in gravy, with eggs and hash browns. Elvis Presley used to dine here frequently, taking the last booth on the left. 

9 a.m.
“We’re going to Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee,” sang Paul Simon, and that’s exactly what you’re doing. The doors to Graceland open at 9…and you can’t come to Memphis without paying homage to the King by visiting his home. What surprised me is that I was thinking Graceland was some gigantic compound, like Michael Jackson’s old Neverland Ranch. It isn’t. The colonial-style mansion is certainly impressive enough, but it’s no bigger than the average North Scottsdale home. Inside, they’ve preserved the state-of-the-art 1970s look perfectly. Elvis’ favorite spot, the Jungle Room, is pure Rat Pack, and I mean that in a good way. You can also tour his airplane, the Lisa Marie, his automobile collection and can sample his favorite vice, a Fried Peanut Butter and Banana sandwich. You can spend up to $159 for super-VIP access, but since we’ve got golf to play, do the basic $38.75 tour for 1.5 to 2 hours and you’ll still see the important stuff.

1 p.m.
We’re teeing off 40 miles southwest of Memphis at Tunica National Golf & Tennis Club ($65) in Mississippi, a casino-affiliated layout that bears the design imprint of former PGA Tour great Mark McCumber. Tunica National stretches 7,204 yards from the tips, but it’s no beat-down, thanks to roomy landing areas and large, receptive Champion Bermuda greens that roll quick and true. Strategic fairway bunkering keeps big hitters honest. This won’t be the most memorable course you’ll ever play, but it will be good fun all day, and the sturdy trio of closing holes—a 587-yard par-5, a 468-yard par-4 and a 443-yard par-4 will ask for everything you’ve got. Hopefully breakfast and Elvis’ Fried Peanut Butter Sandwich are holding you, but you can always grab a sandwich at Murphy’s Bar & Grill in the Tunica Clubhouse to tide you over.

6 p.m.       
Nine casinos await just down the road from Tunica National. Go try your luck at Gold Strike Casino, an MGM Resorts facility in Robinsonville, on the Mississippi River, which offers stay and play packages with Tunica National. An hour’s worth of slots and table games should offer a nice taste of the region’s gaming appeal—unless you hit a hot streak. Then stay all night—they have an inn with rooms.

9 p.m.
After your shower back at the Peabody, it’s time to be hungry again, for some of the best ribs you’ve ever consumed. Charlie Vergos Rendezvous has been packing them in since 1948 and it’s easy to see why. It’s the closest great barbecue restaurant to downtown and it occupies a funky, memorabilia-filled basement, giving you the sense that you have left the real world behind—which you have, at least for an hour of drive-you-out-of-your-mind barbecue fragrance. Rendezvous is renowned for their dry-rub ribs that are so tender and spicy, there’s no need for sauce.

11 p.m.
You’re welcome to prowl Beale Street some more. I’m headed to bed.

Travel & Leisure Tip: Visit the South Main Arts District, which has exploded with galleries and shops, many in protected buildings. Recent openings include the Blues Hall of Fame (which is across the street from the excellent National Civil Rights Museum) and Stock & Belle, a department store in miniature comprising a salon, an organic grocer, and a clothing and furniture store.

Illuminated signs on Beale Street.
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Sunday

8 a.m.
If you’ve got a night flight, you might want to sleep in and wait for the amazing Sunday Brunch at the hotel where you’re residing. At 11:00 a.m., the Peabody’s handsome Capriccio Grill is transformed into a breakfast/lunch bonanza. The hand-carved prime rib and the Belgian Waffle station are favorites. Save room for dessert, however. The cookies and brownies taste they were just baked by your Memphis-based grandmother. And $39.95 is a fair price for it all. If your breakfast plans require an earlier starting time, visit Brother Juniper’s in east Memphis, which opens at 8:00 a.m. Located adjacent to the University of Memphis campus, its specialties include homemade biscuits with sorghum, Cinnamon Roll Pancakes and three-egg open face omelets. The San Diegan is the most notable, with its bed of sour cream and home fries, topped with portobellos, green onions and tomatoes, with bacon, feta and cheddar cheese. 

10 a.m.
You cross the border into Mississippi for one final round, at 21-year-old Cherokee Valley Golf Club ($39.99-$49.99). Situated in Olive Branch, just seven miles southeast of Memphis, Cherokee Valley is an enjoyable romp through forest and wetlands that features uphill closing holes on each nine, with the hilltop clubhouse perched handsomely in the background. If you forgive the goofy, how-do-you-play-this, watery par-5 first hole, the rest of the 6,761-yard, par-72 course offers a variety of interesting, well-conditioned holes. And it’s awfully fun riding the cart around on the slippery zoysia fairways.

The Cherokee Valley Golf Club at sunset.
Courtesy Cherokee Valley Golf Club

3 p.m.
It’s time to head to the airport. Make a mental note to return to Memphis, if only to spend an extra day partaking of its many attractions, starting with the National Civil Rights Museum, on the Lorraine Motel site where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s a special, if sobering experience. Another Memphis attraction is Sun Studio, which offers a modest tour. Still, it’s worth checking out the spot where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, among others, created their sound.

Travel & Leisure Tip: At 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms Park—a former prison farm on the far eastern edge of the city—is about five times the size of Central Park. Designed by the team behind New York’s High Line, it includes the remote Outback, with pastoral meadows and equestrian trails, and the Uplands, with a playground for kids to blow off steam.

If nothing else, come back to Memphis for more barbecue to go with your side of golf. And don’t forget, Interstate B-B-Q is on your way to the airport—in case you need one last ‘cue fix before you go.

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