FIRST GUY: Man, that stretch limo was long.
SECOND GUY: How long was it?
FIRST GUY: It was so long … the driver got to the casino 15 minutes before we did.
BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI | We have arrived at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport under the cover of darkness on a Monday night in October. And we are rolling to Beau Rivage in a freshly-minted Lincoln that’s longer than a William Faulkner novel.
“Three weeks old,” says the driver.
Beau Rivage, french for “beautiful shore,” is the luxe hotel and casino in this region’s post-Katrina world. And in its own way, it is every bit as stylized as the locally iconic Faulkner’s prose.
Tomorrow morning we are teeing it up, 12 miles north, at Fallen Oak, which to name-drop a point of reference, is about as far away – philosophically, culturally and geographically – as you can get from Bandon Dunes. But the bucket-list buzz of this Tom Fazio layout has drawn us to the gulf coast to see what all the quiet fuss is about.
Meanwhile, on this evening, the big screen in Beau Rivage’s casino sports bar is jumping with images of the Jets and the Vikings. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, like Faulkner, a native Mississippian, has a sore arm and he is losing. None of which has affected the traffic at the blackjack tables. It is brisk. Actually, it is very brisk. Lots of sound and even a little fury. Signifying something.
“It’s starting to pick up,” says one of the hotel’s most senior officials. Nearby, the lobby of Beau Rivage’s adjoining hotel fairly bustles with guests.
It’s starting to pick up here from Katrina’s devastation five years ago, too. And it’s starting to recover from the BP PR oil disaster earlier this year. Picking up so nicely that the concept of a high-end, high-roller, $200-a-round golf course for hotel guests only doesn’t feel conspicuous right now so much as it feels an integral part of owner MGM Mirage’s attempts to recreate the dream it bought when it purchased The Mirage and Shadow Creek in Las Vegas from Steve Wynn earlier in this decade. Part of what you get for your Fallen Oak $200, you guessed it, is roundtrip limo service.
The esteemed Fazio designed Shadow Creek to international golf fanfare in 1989. His work at Fallen Oak is still a bit of a secret but it is becoming less well-kept by the day. The purists, of course, will sniff at the idea of stretch Lincolns to and from the clubhouse. But to them I say this: Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Besides, there’s plenty of steak to go with the sizzle once you get to the golf course.
In early May, the PGA Tour’s Champions Tour played its Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s right in front of you.” Paul Azinger said.
“You could hold a major championship on this course,” Loren Roberts added.
From the tips, Fallen Oak plays to 7,487 yards. Nestled next to the DeSoto National Forest on a 510-acre tract of land it has lots of bells and whistles but they are mostly muted. Like Tom Doak’s work at Old MacDonald in Bandon, Ore., there is plenty of room off most of the tees. The front nine moves more from side to side. The homeward half introduces elevated tees and plays more up and down. But like most of Fazio’s best work, there are no holes on the course that aren’t brothers, sisters or first cousins of every other hole.
The backdrop is all tall magnolias, pecan groves, wetlands, streams, lakes and ancient live oaks. The greens are tiff eagle bermudagrass; the fairways are 419 bermuda with zoysia grass flanking the bunkers and bahia grass bordering the course. The requisite SubAir drainage system alternately heats and vacuums moisture from the greens.
It is not necessarily easy, says one Fallen Oak official, to spend $50 million “and make it look like it has been there forever.” But they have pulled it off.
Fallen Oak has also managed to build a 12,000-square-foot clubhouse that doesn’t intrude. The choice of architecture – Acadian-style Southern Mansion – was important that way. The 70-seat clubhouse lounge offers Kobe beef sliders, still-warm chocolate chip cookies and a signature infused Bloody Mary that has landed Fallen Oak a spot on Golf Digest’s “50 Best 19th holes.”
Even better: No waiting.
“A busy day,” says Fallen Oak general manager David Stinson, “is 40 players.” And, philosophically, the MGM Mirage brass is fine with that.
The rooms back at Beau Rivage are luxuriously appointed, even if the televisions aren’t yet HD. The workout area is state of the art. The spa staff is helpful. The masseuses are skilled and soothing and there are enough of them to handle the late afternoon rush.
So what’s for dinner?
Well, just off the casino are several upscale restaurants, including B.R. Prime, a steakhouse that will cook your 10-ounce Kobe ribeye however you please. And it will only set you back $115.
SECOND GUY: $115 seems like a bit of a stretch for a steak. Just sayin’
FIRST GUY: Hey, they gotta pay for the Limo somehow.