Fallen Oak Golf Club in Saucier, MS
Tee Time: September 4, 2015, 8:24, 95 F, partly cloudy
Designer: Tom Fazio, 2006
Playing Partners: Jordan Ritenour and Greg Ryan
Tees: Third, Par 72 (71.7 rating/138 slope/6,549 yards)
Course Handicap: 9 (7.0 index)
Stats: 88 (45-43); 36 putts; 6/14 fairways; 8/18 greens; 5 penalty strokes
A stay at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi is required for access to Fallen Oak Golf Club. That is not a bad thing. An MGM casino, the Beau Rivage is the most luxurious casino resort on the gulf coast. The flair and flash of the Las Vegas strip combined with the southern hospitality of the South. It’s literally right on the coast. Exiting the I-10 takes you to the off ramp over the water. With the brand new MGM Park, home of the AA Biloxi Shuckers baseball team, right across the street, a game and some gambling is a great way to spend your night before getting out to your round the next day. The actual course is about twenty miles north in Saucier, through a private gate and down a road into the Mississippi woodlands. This is where you get to you enjoy a little slice of heaven for a few hours.
It all starts with a 516-yard dogleg-left par 5. There is trouble along the entire left side. Trouble ranging from sand traps to a large pond to Hogan the alligator. While you’d prefer to avoid all three, I might heed the last warning the closest and not risk dismemberment. The 2nd is a long, tough par 4 of 432 yards, guarded by a sand trap to the front and left. The first of the many beautiful par 3’s is the 168-yard 3rd, a hole that plays longer than it looks and all carry over water that runs along the left of the green as well. The 382-yard 4th is a fun dogleg-right with a sand trap at the right side of the landing area and trees creeping in from the left. The approach is to a wide, elevated green. At 426 yards and doglegging to the left, the par-4 5th is the little brother in size and spirit to the opening par 5. Don’t sleep on it, it can be just as dangerous. I hear rumors that Hogan’s little brother, Arnie, patrols this pond. (This rumor is about as accurate as those that have Kanye running for president in 2020.)
The snaking, up and down 500-yard par-5 6th is visually stunning from tee to green. You can see the green and flagstick from the tee, past all the sand traps, lumbering oak trees and hazardous rough. It gets exciting to peg your tee in the ground and prepare to play this one, avoiding all the obstacles on this short par 5 en route to a par is like trying to clear an old Super Mario level unscathed. None of us had any mushrooms to really help our cause, sadly. The 7th is the shortest par 4 on the course and also the easiest to score on. The fairway is wide and you can layup short of the bottleneck where the pair of fairway bunkers on each side pinch in. The hole feeds to the green, anything landing short and left will trickle on, the perfect play for that front-left pin placement. The 8th is a more dangerous water par 3 than the 3rd. At 154 yards, it’s a very wide, shallow green that slopes off the back, guarded by a nasty bunker to the left and a steep bank that feeds into the pond from the front. Precision is needed. You swing by the clubhouse on the par-4 9th, a slightly uphill dogleg-right of 405 yards. There is a large fairway bunker placed perfectly to prevent the more aggressive from cutting the corner and shaving a few dozen yards off the approach. From the fairway left of the trap, it’s still 200 yards in, with another pond waiting to the right of the green.
The 393-yard 10th is a straight-up par 4 to an elevated green. The 11th is one of only two holes on the course where you can’t see the green complex from the tee. The 352-yard par 4 hangs a left at about 220 yards out, where towering loblolly pines narrow the approach window. The 344-yard 12th is the last of this trio of sub-400-yard par 4s to open the back nine. It’s a tee shot over a rise and down to a large, receptive green. The 13th is perfection. A 510-yard par 5 with a tee shot through a narrow chute aimed at the kink in the hole past the bunker and in front of the pine straw. The entire hole is a feast of beauty, like filet mignon for your eyes. The towering pines and oaks, deep native grass, rolling mounds and natural-looking sand traps frame the lush fairway and beautiful red-browns of the fallen pine needles. My tour of this hole on my way to making bogey felt like I was floating on a cloud over this perfect piece of land. The 14th is a short, benign par 3 of 133 yards. The very wide green is flanked by traps to the front, making the middle of the green the place to be no matter where the pin is staked.
The final par 5, the 15th, is also the brawniest at 532 yards (602 from the tips). At this point on a Mississippi summer day that reached 91-degrees with 68% humidity, those 532 yards might as well be a 5k. I persevered through the sauna to reach the green, one of the largest by area here at Fallen Oak, and then three-putted. There’s a brief respite at the 370-yard 16th. The other hole you cant see the green from, this plays out about 250 yards and turns right to the elevated, front-to-back sloping putting surface. From below, hitting up to the green this day is a very serene sight. More of those towering pines make you feel extra tiny when joined by the massive cumulus clouds floating overhead. It’s a nice scene to take in. If the humidity and heat hasn’t sucked all your strength yet (maybe you fortified your body with Miller Lite and a breakfast burrito), then 198 yards uphill to a big green wait at the par-3 17th. At this point, even the 120-yard carry over the native grass is a big ask.
I really loved this course. It’s not easy, it’s a struggle, but it’s fair, the course is all in front of you. No hidden surprises (except those aforementioned Copperheads in the native grass). While a challenge, especially from these longer tees (6,549 yards), any skill level can have fun here from the right set of tees. The greens are perfect, challenging but a good putt will go in. Give it a chance and the course will reward good shots. The rough can be thick, and I do mean penalizingly so. But I enjoy that, being forced to make a great swing because you couldn’t make a decent one on the prior shot.
But what really makes this course is just the flat-out stunning beauty from first tee to 19th hole. Even the practice range is the best I’ve seen, with green complexes to warm up to with sand traps and hazards to avoid. The water is pristine glass until you dunk one. The sand is consistent and workable. Today, the temperature in those traps rose by about 25 degrees, so I avoided them after noon. The backdrop of endless trees, from “pines” to oaks to … and all the varying shades of green in their foliage should inspire some gorgeous paintings. The wide expanse of rolling grass visible from tees like the 7th and the feeling that you’re the only players on the course (they only let a handful of rounds go out per day) make this your own playground.And then you have to check out the bar that overlooks the 18th fairway. With huge windows allowing all the light in, and row upon row of excellent liquors waiting for you under those windows, I could kick back with some bourbon, enjoy the air conditioning and watch the clouds float by all day.
#18, Par 4, 429 yards, 6-handicap, My Score: 4
Save the best for last right? The finale at Fallen Oak is a closing hole that should be featured in the textbook “How to Build a Closing Hole”. From the tee you can see it all. The namesake Fallen Oak, standing proudly on the right side of the hole. The stately clubhouse and amazing 19th hole overlooking it. The endless ribbon of fairway stretching past bunkers, along the steep banks into the pond along the left, the green, 429 long yards away seemingly never getting closer, like a point on the horizon. It takes a ballsy approach of near 200 yards past the water, thick rough and fluffy sand to hit this green. But if you do, you will be rewarded. My ball hit 30 feet right on the green and tricked left before settling about 6 feet away.
Layout: A; there isn’t a dull hole out here. The fun factor is why we play golf, and there are so many ways to enjoy here. Short par 3’s, hazardous holes, risk/reward options. Always gotta stay on your toes
Amenities: A; the practice and warmup areas are great. But the absolute best part is finishing the round. On a hot, humid and windless day like today, we were all covered in a lovely layer of sweat. The post round shower and locker room freshening up will go down as the most rejuvenating shower i’ve ever taken post-golf. And you know my feelings about the barroom
Staff: A; always friendly, helpful. And the southern belles that drove the refreshment carts around (one each on the front and back nine) should be in the cart girl Hall of Fame, if such a thing exists
Difficulty: A; this is a tough course, even playing up a set of tees for me. If you hit a tree, you’re going to hit it hard. If you get near the water, you’re going to get wet. If you miss the fairway, you’re going to have to chop one out. If you don’t read the putt right, you will miss in embarrassing fashion. But this is tough, not comically hard, and it’s the kind of tough that makes you feel great about making a good par or better
Scenery: A; the round marched on and any one of us would still utter the word “gorgeous” every other hole or so like clockwork. It’s impossible to not have that reaction surrounded by the constant beauty
Value: A; for us 3 it was $208/ea for the night and round. The course alone is one that could charge 50% more than that easily. Add in the included stay at the casino and you’ve got a tough deal to beat.
Overall GPA: 4.00 (A); look, i know it’s Mississippi. Not always on one’s travel radar. But only 90 minutes from New Orleans, it’s worth a day or two as a detour if you’re down in the Big Easy. Then you’ll be trying to figure out ways to get back.