Mississippi Golf

The 7th on Heather's Heaven
John Johnson/Golfoto

The thick, grilled bologna and American cheese with mayo on white bread may -- all by itself -- be worth the trip to Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Mississippi. With treats you'll find nowhere else, the northeast part of the Magnolia State is gaining renown as a smorgasbord of fun food and surprisingly good golf.

From the airport in Memphis, Tennessee, it's a 15-minute drive on Interstate 78 to
Cherokee Valley Golf Club (6,751 yards, par 72), which has hosted Saturday pro-ams featuring PGA Tour players who missed the cut at the nearby FedEx St. Jude Classic. The toughest hole is the serpentine 526-yard 8th, where a drive must flirt with a stately poplar tree. The 9th and 18th holes run uphill to greens backed by rough-covered slopes that require a Mickelsonian touch with a lob wedge. The yardage guide says the par-4 12th is a 308-yard carry from the tips, but from the tee it looks eminently reachable. Forget sucker pins; this is a sucker hole.

Cherokee Valley is an entertaining, challenging place to work out the kinks at the start of your trip to what locals call the Mid-South.

A half-hour south on I-78, in Holly Springs, is
Kirkwood National Golf Club (7,219 yards, par 72). The course went private this year, but stay-and-play packages can be had. It is the short holes here that can lead to big numbers. The 6th is 209 yards uphill; the 12th plays 165 yards over a vast bunker; and the 132-yard 15th demands you land a high shot on a shallow green as lightly as a moth on a silk shirt.

The smart play at the 316-yard 16th is a mid-iron off the tee and a short iron into the two-tiered green. Local knowledge goes a long way here: You might shave eight or 10 shots off your second time around.

The 23-mile stretch of State Route 4 between Holly Springs and Senatobia offers some simple pleasures. You can't help loving crooked-lettered signs like the one advertising a fund raiser for the Wyatte Chulahoma Volunteer Fire Department, which reads, simply, Fish Fry, Cake Walk.

From Senatobia, it's 20 minutes to Bob Cupp's
Mallard Pointe Golf Course (7,004 yards, par 72), which boasts the motto, "This Bird Has a Bite." This is evident at the 462-yard, par-4 9th, where the drive and approach shot are over deep jungle pits. "Two-tiered" does not do justice to the shelf on the 13th green -- "two-storied" is more like it. If the pin is downstairs and your approach finds the upstairs level, consider leaving the pin in and trying to hit it, as the two-stroke penalty may be a more prudent play than the usual four-putt.

Crib Sheet: North Mississippi
CHEROKEE VALLEY
Greens fees $47
662-893-4444; www.olivebranchgolf.com

KIRKWOOD NATIONAL
Stay and play packages from $125
662-252-4888; www.kirkwoodcottages.com

MALLARD POINTE
Greens fees $35
662-487-2400; www.mallardpointegc.com

RIVER BEND LINKS
Greens fees $60
662-363-1005; www.riverbendlinks.com

COTTONWOODS
Greens fees $89 hotel guests
662-363-2788; www.grandcasinos.com

BIG OAKS
Greens fees $39
662-844-8002; www.bigoaksgolfclub.com

OLD WAVERLY
Greens fees $135 for guests, room starting at $95
662-494-6463; www.oldwaverly.net
NORTH CREEK
Greens fees $45
662-280-4653; www.golfnorthcreek.com

For more information, go to www.visitmississippi.org or www.mstourism.com

From Mallard Pointe it's an hour-long drive to River Bend Links, a 6,923-yard Scottish-style layout where, unusually, four par 5s rate the easiest handicaps. Another quirk: Two of the par 3s rank among the hardest holes. The 427-yard 18th features water on both sides like bowling-alley gutters.

The Hale Irwin-designed Cotton-woods course (6,952 yards, par 72) at Grand Casino has several hairpin curves, notably at the 232-yard 12th, where bunkers flank a humped green. A lake guards the island green at the 181-yard 16th and the right side of the 512-yard 17th, making for an intimidating closing stretch.

It takes two hours to cross the state from Tunica to Tupelo, the birthplace of Mississippi's most famous son, Elvis Presley. On January 8, 1935, a tiny, two-room shack welcomed the future king of rock and roll. Seven bucks buys a quick spin through the museum, and you won't be charged for royalties when you hum "Heartbreak Hotel." To see how money changed a simple country boy, visit Graceland on your way back to the Memphis airport.

From 250 acres of wetlands north of Tupelo, Tracy May crafted Big Oaks Golf Club (6,784 yards, par 72), where golfers, flora and fauna share the wealth. Water Moccasin Point is an aptly named spot for the lethal 3rd tee, which demands a drive over a wall of trees -- like clearing the back net at a driving range. The 17th is 221 backbreaking yards over water and bunkers that seem to have been created with mortars. Bogey here feels like birdie.

Comparisons between Old Waverly Golf Club and Augusta National are understandable: The willow oaks lining Old Waverly's stately driveway call to mind Magnolia Lane and both courses have hosted memorable major championships. One decided difference is that Old Waverly welcomes women members. Juli Inskter won the 1999 U.S. Women's Open on Cupp's 7,100-yard layout, helped by a magical bunker shot from a fried-egg lie to within a foot of the hole for par at the 7th. This 205-yard par 3 across a chasm to a plateau green is named Heather's Heaven for the late LPGA star and Old Waverly regular Heather Farr.

The approach to the 18th is an all-time knee-knocker over water and a sheer-faced bunker to a green backed by a steep, rough-frosted hill.

The Mid-South may never be confused with the Monterey Peninsula, but the golf is fun, the food is fine, and the local folks are warm and welcoming. Maybe that's why, despite worldwide adoration and untold riches, Elvis could never stay away for long. And he wasn't even a golfer.

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