Golf seldom comes to mind as an economic recovery tool, especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster. But in the two-plus years since Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the game has been at the forefront of the region’s efforts to attract tourism again. Two new courses—including Tom Fazio’s spare-no-expense Fallen Oak, owned by the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi—have joined roughly twenty layouts that lie along a fifty-mile stretch of pinelands, lakes and marshes. And given the area’s flourishing gaming industry, it makes for a perfect buddy trip for guys who want to test their luck on the fairway by day and on the casino felt by night.
Book a room at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi (rooms from $109; 888-567-6667, beaurivage.com). Not only is the hotel sparkling after a $550 million post-Katrina renovation that included improving all 1,740 guest rooms, but it’s also centrally located—roughly thirty minutes from Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and all the best courses along the coast. Plus, staying at Beau Rivage is the only way to play Fallen Oak.
When Tom Fazio’s Fallen Oak Golf Club ($200–$300; 887-805-4657, fallenoak.com)—a more than $40 million undertaking by MGM Mirage—opened last year, the architect likened the project to Shadow Creek, his transformation of a patch of Nevada desert. Fazio created a 7,487-yard marvel here that features elevation changes, gaping bunkers and rushing streams. Fallen Oak was under construction when Katrina hit, and as it turned out the storm improved the course by clearing out unwanted trees and brush. Grand Bear Golf Course ($50–$99; 888-524-5694, harrahs.com), which sits at the edge of De Soto National Forest in Vancleave, northeast of Biloxi, lost five thousand trees in the hurricane and incurred damage to its bunkers and clubhouse, but it reopened just two and half months later. What’s more, this 1999 Jack Nicklaus layout, owned by Harrah’s Grand Biloxi, is in better shape than ever. At the year-old Preserve Golf Club ($100–$120; 877-674-6539, preservegc.com), designer Jerry Pate offers two distinctive looks: a front side that carves through groves of live oaks and long-leaf pines interspersed with pitcher-plant bogs and cypress swamps, and a linksy back nine buffeted by winds off the gulf. Shell Landing Golf Club ($55–$89; 866-851-0541, shelllanding.com), part of a real estate community in Gautier, east of Biloxi, edges along bayous and has unusually rolling terrain for the Mississippi coast. Flooding left four holes under water, but this Davis Love III design bounced back well. And northerners take note: The twenty-five acre practice area is a great place to scrape off winter rust.
The best restaurants at Beau Rivage are a steak house called BR Prime and the Mediterranean-themed Olives, part of celebrity chef Todd English’s empire. If you choose to venture out, try Mary Mahoney’s Old French House (228-374-0163, marymahoneys.com). A Biloxi landmark within walking distance of the resort, it serves seafood and steaks in a restored eighteenth-century mansion right out of the French Quarter. For down-home dining, hit Ole Biloxi Schooner (228-435-8071, schooner.biloxi.tk) and dig into a crabmeat-and-cheese po’boy or a steaming bowl of gumbo.
Deep-sea fishing charters abound along the coast, and none is better than Captain Jay Trochesset’s Silver Dollar II (228-388-2209, biloxicharterfishing.com), which sails from Biloxi’s Broadwater Marina. Also try the Biloxi Shrimping Trip (800-289-7908, gcww.com/sailfish), a seventy-minute excursion that serves as a history lesson on the art of trawling not just for shrimp but also for blue crabs, stingrays, oyster fish and squid.