I'm not sure why the FedEx St. Jude Classic draws such second-tier fields. Perhaps its traditional July dates (it's been moved to this week for the 2006 event) and the thought of trekking up and down the hilly TPC at Southwind in high heat and humidity made players queasy. Maybe the problem is that it's sandwiched between other events that have higher priority for the top players. Hmmm ... high heat ... sandwiched ...
If I were a PGA Tour player, I would make Memphis a must-stop on my schedule, for one simple reason: Barbecue. Give me a hollowed out oil drum or an open pit in the backyard, slap the meats on the grates and let's smoke this joint out!
Admittedly, Memphis is one of America's barbecue meccas. However, that's not the only reason to journey there. If you're into music, Memphis rocks.
• Go to Graceland The colonial-style mansion is certainly impressive enough, but it's no bigger than the average North Scottsdale home. It's a bit cramped inside, though 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.
• Walk down Beale Street Combining the best of music and food is legendary Beale Street in downtown Memphis. Closed to vehicular traffic at night, there are few better thoroughfares in the country for indulging your ears and stomach. Blues clubs dominate, though on any given night, you can catch live rock, country, jazz or big band. A must-visit is B.B. King's Blues Club, though every bit as good is Alfred's on Beale and the Rum Boogie Cafe.
• See Sun Studios Check out the spot where Elvis, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, among others, created their sound.
Traditionalists will want to stay at the Peabody Hotel, the 81-year-old, 14-story, Italian Renaissance Revival classic best known for its morning duck parade through the lobby. Hipper folks will flock to the Madison, a swank, post-modern hostelry housed in an old bank building, which frequently welcomes visiting rock stars and sports teams.
But let's remember why you're here: To soak up a bit of golf-and some serious barbecue. You'll always get arguments (though in this case, there are no losers) but my picks for the top three 'cue joints in Memphis are, in order,
• Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q The original Interstate on 3rd Street is still supreme and it's a perfect stop on the way to or from the airport. Interstate cooks its meats for five hours in specially-built pits that combine natural gas and hickory wood, then pairs them with some of finest sweet-smoky sauce on the planet. Start with the Chopped pork and beef platters or sandwiches, but save room for their one-of-a-kind barbecue spaghetti. I kid you not.
• Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous 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.
• Corky's In East Memphis, they spent little time or money on decor. Instead they pour all their cash back into the product and it's worth waiting in line for, especially the ribs or pork platter.
With all the eating going on, you'll likely want to work off a few calories walking some of Memphis's public-access courses. Unfortunately, it's slim pickins as far as trophy courses go. There are a handful of state park courses that will let you play on the cheap. However, there are better options. The Bear Trace at Chickasaw in Henderson, is one of the five Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear Trace courses he created for the state of Tennessee. It's roughly 80 miles east of Memphis, so it's a bit of drive, but it's surely worth it if you have the time, especially for a maximum rate of $49, cart included. Chickasaw's 7,118 yards zigzag through enormous oaks and pines and hopscotch natural wetlands and Piney Creek, a handsome if pesky hazard.
Closer to Memphis is 10-year-old Cherokee Valley Golf Club, your best bet for nearby public-access golf. Located seven miles southeast of Memphis in Olive Brach, Mississippi, 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.
So, here's to good golf-and to exceptional barbecue in Memphis this week. If you're looking for a couple of other combination plates around the country, here are four suggestions:
Eat at: Arthur Bryant's
Critics might put Oklahoma Joe's, Fiorella's Jack Stack and Danny Edwards' in the same league for Kansas City barbecue, but there's only one MVP and it's legendary Arthur Bryant's. Slow-cooked using hickory and oak woods, Arthur Bryant's ribs have captivated 'cue fans since 1930. Tom Watson calls its sauce "The Elixir." There are three locations, but don't miss the original, at 18th and Brooklyn.
Play at: Tiffany Greens Golf Club
This 1999 Robert Trent Jones Jr. design formerly played host to the TD Waterhouse Championship on the Champions Tour, where winners included Allen Doyle, Dana Quigley, Ed Dougherty and Bruce Lietzke.
Eat at: Goode Co. Texas BBQ
Texas is home to literally hundreds of excellent barbecue establishments that embrace smoky, fall-off-the-bone beef motifs. Especially wonderful is the beef brisket. Black's Salt Lick, Clark's Outpost and Drexler's are other Texas favorites, but it's hard to go wrong with Goode Company. The choice of chopped-beef brisket on homemade jalapeno cheese bread may not make your cardiologist happy, but you'll be smiling for days.
Play at: Redstone Golf Club (Tournament Course)
Home to the PGA Tour's Shell Houston Open, this new Rees Jones-designed layout made a successful debut in 2006 with Stuart Appleby rolling to his second win of the season. Stretching 7,442 yards from the tips, this is core golf, without houses, which makes the entire experience a back-to-nature treat.
Eat at: Stamey's
The concept of barbecueslow-roasting meats over a low firebegan in North Carolina, so it's no surprise there are countless quality eateries that will cater to your cravings. The town of Lexington alone, just southwest of Greensboro, dishes out 20 restaurants for its 17,000 residents. In Greensboro, a solid choice is 76-year-old Stamey's. Pork, not beef, is what rules in the Carolinas, along with a vinagery, peppery sauce. Go with the chopped or sliced pork platter, with slaw and hushpuppies and you can thank me all the way until tee time.
Play at: Tot Hill Farm
Situated in Asheboro, 30 miles south of Greensboro, Tot Hill Farm is a six-year-old design by the late Mike Strantz, who was renowned for his innovative, often wild creations. This one doesn't disappoint. Massive mounds, topsy-turvy putting surfaces and rock walls traversing fairways make for rough-and-tumble play. Sidehill lies, wooded Uhwarrie National Forest terrain and a sinuous creek add to the fun.
Eat at: Honey Bear's
My hometown favorite, run by a Kansas City transplant, sports the motto, "You don't need no teeth to eat our meat," which may be true, but you'll be glad you have your choppers in working order when you clamp down on the Hot Links sandwich. This spicy sausage treat, combined with a superb sauce, will bring a fever to your brow.
Play at: Grayhawk Golf Club
You'll need to cool down after your barbecue experience, especially in the Phoenix heat, and both courses, Raptor and Talon, offer plenty of water hazards and outstanding beverage cart service. Raptor, a Tom Fazio design is a desert-lined, straightforward test with severely undulating greens; the David Graham/Gary Panks-designed Talon features more dramatic holes, such as the swinging bridge par-3 11th and island green pa-3 17th. As a bonus, the giant margaritas at Phil's Grill await post-round.