Ask Travelin' Joe: Mississippi Delta, road trip advice and Myrtle Beach

Thursday March 29th, 2007

E-mail your questions to Travelin' Joe at askjoe@golf.com.

Dear Joe,
I will be visiting Tunica, Mississippi, 40 miles southwest of Memphis, next month. Would you please suggest a must-play course or two and less expensive alternatives?—Jim H., Valdosta, Georgia

Jim,
Elvis is still King in these parts, but the golf is catching up quickly. I can't say that there's a single "must-play" in this part of the Delta, but your best bet is Cottonwoods Golf Club, a sturdy 7,000-yard Hale Irwin design at the lavish Grand Casino Tunica complex, a Harrah's (Caesars) property. It goes for $69 weekdays, $89 on the weekends and is worth the dough, thanks to a watery finish and a quality set of par-3s. Not far behind, however, and somewhat less expensive ($50 and under weekdays, $60 and under weekends) is Tunica National Golf & Tennis Club (tunicanational.com), a Mark McCumber layout known for its large, quick greens and strategic fairway bunkering. Closest to the mighty Mississippi River is the aptly named, breeze-fueled River Bend Links (riverbendlinks.com), a mostly treeless, Clyde Johnston product sculpted from an old cotton field. Its setting is filled with dunes and $25 twilight rate are especially appealing.

Dear Joe,
Our group is taking our annual trip to Southern Pines. We love the courses (Talamore, Legacy, Mid-Pines, Pinewild, etc.) but would like to play someplace on the way down. Our route will take us from Ohio through West Virginia (Charleston, Beckley, Wytheville) and Virginia, and then down the Route 52 corridor to Winston-Salem before continuing to Southern Pines. We'd like to find someplace to play between Beckley, WVA and Winston-Salem. What courses are good on the way down?—Jim P., Ohio

Jim,
Where sidetrips in this region are concerned, I'll steer the car towards those roadside emporiums serving up West Virginia brook trout, Virginia baked hams and Carolina chopped pork barbecue (and don't spare the vinegar in the sauce)—but I digress. There's good news for you and your crew if you're seeking superb bargains, because this route is full of them.

Just south of Beckley, within 10 miles, are two worthwhile state park facilities, Glade Springs Resort and Pipestem Golf Club. Glade Springs (www.gladesprings.com), in Daniels, sports two courses, the Cobb, a 1973 George Cobb design (he crafted Augusta National's Par-3 course, among others) with massive bunkers and greens that stretches 7,100-plus from the tips and the Stonehaven, a heavily forested 2003 layout from Ault and Clark that maxes out at 7,200 yards and features a healthy smattering of rock outcroppings. Another 15 miles south is the Pipestem Resort (www.pipestemresort.com) that serves up a handsome Geoffrey Cornish-designed 6,884-yard test that overlooks Bluestone Canyon. Best of all, you can walk it for less than $30 during the week and even with a cart, it's no more than $40 on the weekend.

If you're sticking with an affordable golf theme, head straight to Draper Valley Golf Club (www.drapervalleygolf.com) in Draper, once you cross the state line into Virginia. A longtime member of GOLF Magazine's 50 Best Courses for Under $50 list, this rolling, 15-year-old course has a woodsy feel but is fairly wide open, so if you're looking to get out of the car, stretch the legs and smack some drivers for a pittance, this is the place.

Another 10 miles northeast of Draper on I-81 is the Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech University (rivercoursegolf.vt.edu) in Radford, which will set you back around $70 tops and which offers a graduate school-level test of 7,665 yards as it winds along the New River.

If you're looking for something spectacular that none of your friends have played and don't mind spending a few extra bucks, go 20 miles east of Route 52, via route 58, to the town of Meadows of Dan and the brand new Highlands Course at Primland Resort, about 20 miles north of the North Carolina border. English architect Donald Steel draped Primland across mountain peaks and through the valleys and outfitted the layout with deep bunkers and closely mown green surrounds, which places an emphasis on precise approaches. Yes, it's $175, but do it once—Primland is that unforgettable.

Finally, once the caravan cruises into North Carolina, just outside of Winston-Salem is Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, another can't-miss facility where you'll get change back from your $50 bill, whether you choose the Championship course or the Reynolds course. While the Championship layout is double the price, it's also the boldly bunkered venue that played host to the 1974 PGA Championship, where Lee Trevino edged Jack Nicklaus. Trevino won again at Tanglewood when it held a Senior Tour event from 1987 through 2002.

Dear Joe,
I'm taking a vacation in a couple of weeks to Myrtle Beach with my brother-in-law (and our non-golfing wives). We have bought the American Lung Association's golf privilege card to help with some of the greens fees. It has several courses that are participating, such as: Azalea Sands, Black Bear, Burning Ridge, Crown Park, Cypress Bay, Deer Track, Eagle Nest, Greens Acres, Heron Point, Indian Wells, Indigo Creek, International Club, Island Green, Prestwick, Quail Creek and Wicked Stick. Would you please list your top 5 or 6 from this group? Also, if you think of some not on the list that we just can't pass up, please list them as well. We are both about 18 handicappers, so we don't need anything extremely challenging. Just something with some nice views would be nice.-Richie B., Lavaca, Arkansas

Richie,
Pardon me while I cough at your Lung Association discount card, but it's saddled you with some real hacks as far as course choices go. These are mostly bargain basement layouts for cellar dwellers. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions. Start with Prestwick, a Pete and P.B. Dye design that's easily best of the bunch. Second choice is International Club, with its undulating back nine, followed by Black Bear, then Heron Point. I'd throw in wide-open Wicked Stick at number 5, just so you can say you played a John Daly course. I'd skip number 6-and spend your money on one honest-to-gosh great Myrtle Beach layout, that will provide memorable scenery and challenge without beating your handicap to a pulp. First on my list is Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. After that, pick between the Love Course at Barefoot Resort and Tidewater. A distinctive, mid-priced alternative is The Witch, a wooded, wetlands-tinged Dan Maples design.

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