6,330 yards, 121 slope from the Blues

Course:  The Oaks Golf Club is in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  Mississippi was one of the states I had not yet golfed in and when I was in nearby New Orleans, I looked into how feasible it would be to get a round in.  It turns out it was very feasible, as the Biloxi/Gulf Coast region of Mississippi has plenty of great options to chose from.  In fact, this region has a nice collection of well designed courses, as it receives plenty of visitors for its hotels, casinos and recreational activities.  One of the courses is a stop on the Champions Tour as well.  All of this is just over an hour from New Orleans, so it appeared I would be able to knock another state off the list.

Selecting which course to play turned out to be much tougher than I anticipated, as I started researching, I wanted to play all of them.  Some of the courses required staying at the adjoining hotel, so I ruled those out, but that still left others that were all great options.  The courses ranged from classics that had been around for decades to more modern designs, some providing views of the expansive gulf coast while others were further inland throughout there marshland.  Quite honestly, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more about this area as far as golf goes, as it seems perfect for a golfing vacation, with the number of nice courses, night life, casinos, etc.  I need to get back here at some point, that’s for sure.

The Oaks is ranked as the Eighth best public course in MS on the Golfweek list and has hosted PGA qualifying tournaments.  One of the more modern courses, it opened in 1988 and was designed by Dr. Gil Morgan, who has designed a few other well regarded courses, such as Oak Quarry in Riverside, CA.  The course is more inland and is set around marshland, pines, and, well, oak trees.  The green complexes are inviting, yet sculpted to receive a range of short game shots.  Most of the holes are framed with the pines and oak trees, while water comes into play occasionally, adding challenge and ambiance to the round.

I don’t know what it is, but I always find myself really enjoying golf in the southern states.  Primarily, I typically golf better than usual.  Maybe it’s the Bermuda grass (which I like more than Bent), maybe it’s being away from home and able to focus a bit more on my game, but I suspect it’s the relaxed, casual and hospitable atmosphere I’ve experienced on every single round down here and in the region in general.  It’s a far cry from many of the courses in our area, packed to the gills on weekends, with some course staff rising to the occasion and being able to handle the crowds with aplomb, or the courses that crumble under that pressure and resort to less than friendly and terse mannerisms as a way to deal with increased demand.  Instead of foursomes either being restless with the wait or clueless they are holding up the course, down here it’s customary for groups to waive you on with a smile on their face and greeting you on the tee with a “hit a good one now, we’re all watching,” all in good jest.  As I was making my way to a new hole on the back nine, I was stopped by a nice lady getting her mail.  Apparently she had left cookies for her mailman, but forgot it was his day off, and wanted me to have the cookies.  Many other places I would have thought twice about eating them, but down here this seemed perfectly normal and they were quite good!

I have yet to have a bad experience down south and the Oaks was no exception.  Houses were set well away from the course and did not create any distractions, visually or otherwise.  The serenity of the landscape and trees prevailed all while navigating the interesting features of the course.  The whistling of the oak leaves in the wind reminded me of growing up in Southern California, where we had oak trees doing the same thing.  As for the design of the course, I really enjoyed the par 3’s, felt the bunkers were placed unusually well and appreciated the restraint exercised on the green design, which many would not have been able to resist the temptation to go overboard considering their size and terrain.  The trees along most holes ensured you couldn’t get away with being too far offline while the forced carries made sure distance control and ball striking were of sound fundamentals.

After shaking off the travel of getting there at the range, I was able to start off by myself and finally golf for the first time in the wonderful state of Mississippi.

The First is a 343 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  A dog leg left that arches uphill before the turn, then levels out some what to the green and is framed on both sides by trees, the opening hole sets some themes early on that are seen throughout the round; moderate to narrow fairways beset by trees, gentle rolling elevation changes and receptive greens with most hazards more outside the average landing areas.  The hole certainly demands a well executed tee shot from the get go, but the approach shot provides a lot of reprieve for those that put themselves in a bad spot off the tee.

The First

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 341 yard par 4.  Like the First, it also turns to the left.  A lone pine tree reside on the left as well, which imposed on me more than it should have.  One feature I could not see from the tee are bunker on the inside of the turn as well, which of course I went into just after patting myself on the back with getting the ball to cut the dog leg.  The green sits above the fairway and there are bunkers off to the sides on the front to contend with.  I either got up and down for the fairway bunker for a birdie or had a tap in par here, but am only mentioning it because it was a rare occasion where I survived a fairway bunker with par or better.

The Second

Approach shot territory

The Third is a 381 yard par 4.  The fairway is a little wider than the prior two holes, but you have trees liming each side as well.  Trouble begins to creep in as you get closer to the hole, whereas the green is a little spicier than what you have faced at this point, undulating and pronounced ridges complicating things.

As a general matter, this course does not want you to go long on approach shots.  Most greens end abruptly on the far side and penalties appear to be the most severe on overly long shots.  The same holds true here.

The Third

Approach shot territory

The Fourth is a 337 yard par 4.  I wish I took more photos of it, because this hole is when the course begins to assert itself a bit and gets a tad creative.  The fairway starts out narrow, with trees on the right and a gully area on the left, then bends to the left a little to an open expanse, with the green sitting on a natural ridge line just before the woods.  It’s tough to make out the green contours from approach shot territory, but you do know not to go far and that the green runs left to right.  A nicely done par 4.

Approach shot territory of the Fourth

The Fifth is a 161 yard par 3.  It’s a forced carry over shrubbery to a green on the smaller side, which runs from right to left and a deeper bunker off the left side.  Putting to the hole from the right side is tough, as it definitely gets some speed to it, and it’s the price to pay trying to stay away from the left side drop off.  I really liked the par 3’s on this course and the first one you encounter has some subtle challenge to it.

The Fifth

The Sixth is a 517 yard par 5.  The fairway climbs before turning left and curling down to the green.  Hugging the left side makes the hole shorter, but be careful the trees don’t block you out of your shot. The green is protected by a creek short of the green and a bunker off to the right, requiring a good amount of precision on your approach shot.

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway

The Seventh is a 148 yard par 3.  The course now presents its biggest challenge yet, with a lovely par 3.  Water encroaches on the right side, requiring a forced carry to the green and with a bunker fronting the green, which is perpendicular to the tee area and a little deeper than it looks from the tee, makes distance control an absolute must.  The width of the green provides a little bit of lateral forgiveness, so long as the distance is right.  Off to the right of the green is a steep drop rough with rough, which will hold up to the ball, but really makes a tough recovery shot.  One of my favorite holes on the course.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 485 yard par 5.  The first dog leg right of the course features a forced carry similar to what is seen at the Fifth, with the trees coming into play off the right, especially if you try to cut the turn.  The fairway opens up after the tee shot to a moderately pitched green, with bunkers off to the right and left.  Again, do not go over the green here.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 388 yard par 4.  The Ninth tightens up considerably, with trees constraining the fairway and the tee shot being a forced carry over marshland.  Deep bunkers are on the left of the green while the right side of the green is a little more tolerant.  The far side of the green is jail, consistent with pretty much every other hole.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

Generally, the front nine warms you up with a series of par 4’s before getting very interesting with the sunken green of the Fourth and providing two outstanding par 3’s and some different types of par 5’s before reaching the most challenging par 4 of the front nine at the Ninth.  I’d rank them 7, 6, 5, 4, 9, 8, 2, 3, 1.

The back nine starts with the 472 yard par 5 Tenth.  The tee shot faces wetlands on the right side until about 200 yards or so, then the fairway leads up to a pitched green with carved out bunkers on either side.  Going up the left side leaves you with a better approach shot and avoids the trouble of the wetlands.  A nice hole to start the back nine and a chance to score.

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 403 yard par 4.  I did not take any photos, probably because I ripped a drive and was probably trying to figure out how long it was (not as long as I hoped).  The hole is straight ahead, with a road on the left and water to the right closer to the green.  The fairway is not so wide, so accuracy here is necessary on both shots.  The green is multi-tiered and ending up on the wrong one can make three-putting a very real possibility.  It’s almost as if the Eleventh is intended to take away any strokes you may have gained on the prior hole.

The Twelfth is a 152 yard par 3.  The course calls this par 3 its signature hole, which is a terrific par 3 not unlike the Seventh, but the forced carry over water is much more pronounced and the bunker protecting the front of the green after the water is longer and blocks your view of the green a lot more.  I will say that a hole set up like this makes well executed shots feel that much better, as you carry all that trouble, trust your yardage and fire at the pin.  For me, the tee shot here was one of the the most memorable of the round and walking away with a par felt great.  Another great par 3.

The Twelfth

A look at the green and pretty happy with my tee shot

The Thirteenth is a 381 yard par 4.  The hole dog legs right, with marshland off the right and rough and trees off of the left.  The green is multi-tiered and mounds protect it on the front, making everything run from front/left to back/right.  It’s a tough hole and I’d say the approach is one of the more difficult.

The Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 331 yard par 4.  The score card tells me this is the easiest handicapped hole on the course, but it certainly didn’t feel that way and my score certainly didn’t reflect that.  It’s a short par 4 where you have options off the tee to get the ball in the fairway and avoid the various trouble left (trees and marsh) and right (trench bunkers).  The green runs from right to left significantly, so any shot on the right side, and in particular off the right side, will be tough to get close to a pin below.  A nice subtly challenging short par 4.

The Fourteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 520 yard par 5.  The hole is straightaway and out in front of you.  Trees line either side of the fairway.  Don’t hit it over the green, which is undulating and a little ripply.  The par 5’s are generally nice scoring opportunities here and the Fifteenth is as well.  Just don’t hit it sideways or the strokes could pile up.

The Fifteenth

Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 163 yard par 3.  Rounding out the par 3’s is a hole that goads you into trying for the pin if it’s on the left, even though all the trouble is on the left while relative safety is on the right.  The pot bunker on the left should also be avoided at all costs.

The Sixteenth 

The Seventeenth is a 396 yard par 4 and the second toughest hole on the course, according to the handicap rating.  The tee shot is challenging, as the trees along the left impose and make even less room to get the shot through to the fairway.The longer approach shot makes it challenging, as well as the bunkers along the left side of the hole.  The green is slightly elevated and ending up on the wrong side of it on the approach will make putting a tough chore.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 411 par 4.  Very similar to the Seventeenth, the bunkers on the right are to be avoided and both the tee shot and approach shot need to be as long and straight as possible.  The green is slightly pitched and runs from back to front.  Trees line both sides and will not do anything to help with shots too far sideways.  It’s a difficult finish, but the course emphasizes challenge during the latter end of the round when you should be up for it.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

The back nine starts off a little more exciting than the front and like the front, ends on a challenging note.  In fact, there is a little more challenge on the back nine in general, except for there par 5’s, which are great opportunities to score.  Ranking them, I’d go 12, 13, 14, 18, 17, 10, 16, 11, 15.

In general, The Oaks was a nice consistent course that was challenging in spots and engaged an array of short game options.  There were a few times strategy and course management came into play, but most of it was directly in front of you and if you executed, you were rewarded.  If not, you were penalized appropriately according to the degree of offense.  The course and setting complimented one another nicely and both seemed to be enjoyed together, as the course held enough interest to engage in the surrounding landscape, but was not overbearing in its challenge or design to detract from enjoyment of it.  I would not characterize the course as firm and fast, even though the greens did run a little.  Rather, the fairways seems to stick on the balls and with a number of bunkers in play on many shots, you could do well here if you know your carry distances.  I scored well here and the design was sufficient for me to take pride and accomplishment on the round.

Gripes:  I don’t really have any.  Everyone I interacted with was pleasant, I was waived through several groups as a single and conditions of the course were great.

Bar/Grill:  The clubhouse essentially houses the bar area and pro shop.  The bar/grill area had an inside and outside area and some tv’s set up for viewing.  It was nice enough.  There were other areas of the clubhouse that appeared to be for more formal occasions.

Practice area:  A nice full range and putting green were both available for use.  Lots of bunkers and other targets to take aim at at the range.

Nearby:  Clueless on this one.  Biloxi and the Gulf Coast certainly are.