TEXAS GOLF TRIP OF 2003
Now that I've done it, I would like to recommend against going to Texas in early spring. March in Texas is wind and storm season. The wife and I were lucky enough for two weeks to either dodge the storms or hunker down as they went through at night. However, we did play some very wet golf courses and I won't try it again.
On the weekends of this trip, we visited my high school classmates in Clarksville, Tennessee, our son and his lovely wife in Memphis and my 91-year-old aunt in Abilene, Texas. In between those visits we played nine rounds of golf and ate dinner in some nice restaurants. Let me recommend a few of each for your consideration.
The Dancing Rabbit is a casino and golf resort run by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians on their land near Philadelphia, Mississippi, which is about 50 miles northeast of Jackson. They have two courses, both designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate. I don't know what Jerry Pate had to do with it but he got his name on two of the best courses I've ever played. I played the Oaks course two years ago and since the Azaleas course is considered the better of the two I've been anxious to try it. I played both courses in March when all the other Mississippi courses still had winter coats on, both Dancing Rabbit layouts were in unbelievably great condition. They have bent grass greens in a state without them and it is obvious that the Indians have spared no expense in course construction or for maintenance. To paraphrase Jack Nickelson in the movie As Good as it Gets, "The Dancing Rabbit makes me want to be a better golfer."
For the casino gamblers in the audience I'd like to suggest this Mississippi trip. Begin in Tunica and play the new casino course there. I wish I could give you the name but it's VERY new and shared by several casinos. Then drive south and visit the Choctaw's and play both of the Dancing Rabbit courses. After a couple or days in central Mississippi, drive on down to the coast and check into the Grand Casino Resort in Saucier. Only resort guests can play the Grand Bear course designed by Jack Nicklaus. I promise you the golf in Mississippi won't get any better than those four courses. And if you're a lucky gambler, perhaps you pay for golf as you go.
However, on this trip the wife and I were bound for Texas, so we hit I-10 and headed west. We played a wet Louisiana course by Arnold Palmer called The Bluffs on Thompson Creek. Besides being very wet, I did notice that "the bluffs" were about 10 feet high. The course also wandered through an area called Sweetwood Hollow...although there were no hills within sight. Perhaps Kentucky is the only place where you need a hill to have a hollow! I only mention this course in order to recommend the restaurant we found in Lafayette, Louisiana. The Café Vermillionville is located in a historic building on the south side of the city. Joyce started with great beef tenderloin, lentil soup, while I had the spinach salad with that hot bacon grease dressing I love so much. We then split the Steak Louie and a bottle of Greg Norman Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend that went together well. The AAA book gave them 3 stars, but the Millers give four.
We next stopped just west of Houston and played a 1999 Greg Norman design called Meadowbrook Farm. It was a great design in great condition with large smooth greens. I wore my Greg Norman shirt that day and then at dinner we ordered a Greg Norman Chardonnay. The Shark moved a little higher up on my list and I may look for his courses in the future. I've known for some time that the wine was good!
Next we moved on to San Antonio and played Hyatt Hill Country designed in 1993 by Arthur Hills. Hill Country is what they call the area north and west of San Antonio that has some slight elevation changes that pass for hills in Texas. I call the golf course "Hills Country" and it was filled with live oak trees, prickly pear cactus, bluebonnets in bloom and boulder filled creek beds. All these features, with the exception of some of the creeks, are natural to the area and blended by Mr. Hills into a fine test of golf. I believe the creeks, or at least some of them, are actually drainage ditches constructed when the course was built to handle the water from the gully washers that are prevalent in Texas. I also believe the boulders and large rocks in and around these ditches were uncovered during course construction and then given this useful job. What a great idea! It was a beautiful golf course that was well shielded from the resort and nearby roads. The greens were undulating and fast and my golf game did not measure up to this great layout.
While in San Antonio, we of course visited the Alamo and the River Walk. They were both too crowded for this old man, but I would like to recommend a restaurant. La Scala is French, but if that upsets you right now, then it's just a Chinese chef who likes to cook French. I had melt in my mouth Quail and the wife had a tasty Red Snapper stuffed with crab. It is a four star Restaurant!
The other golf course I want to mention is Bear Trace at Chickasaw. The Bear Trace is a five course trail in Tennessee patterned after the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. The Jack Nicklaus team designed all The Bear Trace courses and the one at Chickasaw is the second one I've played. We played Ross Creek Landing last year and were impressed. I'm now ready to say that the Bear Trace compares very well to the more established Alabama Trail.
Mississippi now has a Magnolia Trail and Louisiana has the Audubon Trail to try to cash in on these other successes. I've played two courses on each of those trails and they don't measure up. They are more a collection of previously existing courses and will vary in quality. Play them at your own risk.
The State of Kentucky will soon sell bonds to complete the construction of several new courses in State Parks. The recent improvement at My Old Kentucky Home on the newly named Kenny Rapier Memorial course, and Wasioto Winds down in Pineville give us reason to hope we may soon have a Kentucky Trail of great courses. Until then you can just use the MoeRon Top Ten in Kentucky. We recommend them all.