Appeared in Winter 2010 LINKS
When MGM Mirage set out to build the second course in their casino empire, they turned to Tom Fazio, the man who had designed their first, Shadow Creek, in the foreboding Nevada desert.
At the site of Fallen Oak Golf Club, the playground for high rollers at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, Fazio encountered another out-of-the-way landscape. This time, his canvas was not a desert but a densely wooded tract at the edge of the DeSoto National Forest, 20 minutes from Biloxi.
Although Fallen Oak was not quite the engineering feat that Shadow Creek was, much of the $30 million cost of building the 7,487-yard layout went to clearing or moving thousands of trees, a task for which the construction team received unwanted aid when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the area, delaying the opening until November 2006. (The Gulf-front Beau Rivage re-opened after a $550 million renovation in August 2006, one year after Katrina.)
In addition to providing a sense of sanctuary by surrounding the course, the trees dictate play on holes like the 548-yard 6th, a double dogleg on which strategically placed oaks require players to plot their paths carefully toward the elevated green.
Since Fallen Oak is a casino course, Fazio was sure to include several gambling holes, most notably the 224-yard 3rd over water and the risk-reward 330-yard 7th, which is guarded down the right side by a lateral hazard but gives bombers a small landing area to the left from which shots will roll onto the green for a chance at eagle.
The 50-and-over set will challenge these holes when Fallen Oak hosts the Champions Tour’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, April 30–May 2. But even with names like Watson and Langer on the grounds, the stars of the visually mature layout are the trees, most significantly the namesake oak that lies to the right of the fairway of the 493-yard 18th. A satisfying closing par is hard-earned, as drives have to miss the tree on the right and a series of fairway bunkers on the left, while the approach has to clear a pond.
No matter the outcome of the match, enjoying a drink at the clubhouse’s sunken bar, backdropped by a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the last hole, is a great way to relive the highs and lows and settle the bets before being whisked back to the casino for even more action.
With yet another reason to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Fallen Oak has helped to establish the area as a golf destination, part of its welcome role in the area’s post-Katrina recovery efforts.