The Azaleas and Oaks courses at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club are golfing amenities of the Pearl River Resort, owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate, the Azaleas appeared first in 1997, followed two years later by the Oaks.
Both courses are routed through densely forested terrain to the west of Philadelphia, on ancestral land owned by the Native American tribe. Strangely enough, the grasses used to construct the two 18-hole layouts are entirely different: the Azaleas is carpeted with Bermuda fairways and bent grass greens while the Oaks features Zoysia fairways and Bermuda greens.
Unlike its older sibling, The Oaks is routed in an out-and-back fashion and there’s a half-way house situated conveniently at the turn, close to the 10th tee boxes. Grass fronted bunkers help to defend par on this course, and several ponds also come into play. A little escarpment is encountered at the 6th, 16th and 17th, bringing quite a bit of interesting elevation change into proceedings.
The Oaks starts with a short welcoming par 4. Favor the left to avoid the right fairway bunker. There are greenside bunkers right and left, but there is plenty of room. Green light. The long 2nd is much tougher. Favor the left off the tee to avoid the right fairway bunker. There are no hazards around this green. You can run the ball onto the green or even bounce it off the slope left of the green. This is a two tiered green. The first par 3 is mid-length and while you do have to carry some gunch the only real hazard is the right front bunker. A good drive on the first par five will lead to a go for it or not decision. The risk is higher here than on The Azalea, as you will need to carry a ravine. If you play it safe, favor the right side between the two right bunkers. Your pitch will run left. The 5th is a short downhill par 3, it is at least one club less. There is a bunker front left but the green slopes front o back from the middle and there is a small water hazard behind the green. The 6th is a dogleg left. Best shot is a high draw. If that is not in your repertoire be aware that you may drive through the fairway. The approach is downhill and probably one club less. The 7th is also a dogleg left. Check your yardage to ensure you can carry the left side water hazard as this will shorten your approach and provides the largest landing area. There is also a fairway bunker right. This two-tiered green is protected by two front left bunkers. The short driveable downhill par 8th is a fun hole. The green is effectively a peninsula in a water hazard and there is a bunker front right. Additionally, the green slopes front to back. I was pretty euphoric when I hit my drive as I knew it had a chance, the drama built, a couple of good bounces and then it starts rolling towards the pin, and then it goes past and then into the water hazard. The 9th is a 3 shotter. Aim just right of the left fairway bunkers. For your second favor the right to set up your attack wedge.
The 10th is another short par 4. If you are going for it aim just inside left of the right fairway bunkers. The 11th is the longest par three. It is downhill and you do have a carry, but left is death. The long par 4 12th is the number one handicap hole and deservedly so. From the tee there appears to be ample landing area on this dogleg right. Au contraire. The right falls of into a ravine, you must be left to give yourself a chance. You will then have a long approach to a green that has a middle spine, bunkers right and ravines. Good luck. The 13th is also a dogleg right. Big hitters can bomb it over the bunker on the inside elbow, otherwise aim at the fairway bunker straight ahead. The 14th is a long par five. Dogleg right with a gaggle of bunkers on the inside elbow. The green is multi-tiered with a large bunker in front and pot bunkers left and right. The 15th is a dogleg left and you want to carry the inside fairway bunker. Tee shots to the right will be blocked out unless you dial up a cut. A stream cuts the fairway and then is right of the green along with a greenside bunker. This green tilts right. The final par 5 is reachable, but you will have really earned it. There is a long large fairway bunker right in the landing zone. If you play it as a 3 shotter favor the right. There is a deep front left bunker and the creek raps around the back of the green. The last par is short and slightly downhill. However, the green is perched on a rock wall and while wide the green is very narrow. I am surprised that is rated the number 5 handicap, but in our group we had one par, one bogey and two doubles. The 18th bends slightly left and has fairway bunkers on both sides in the landing zone. Two bunkers right, one left adjacent to the water hazard. If you miss left you are hoping it ends up in the bunker.
Good not great.
The Oaks Course is another collaborative design by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate. The course is delicately cut though a hilly white oak and pine forest with four ponds and meandering rivers that come into play on seven holes. Opened in 1999, the younger sibling offers wider fairways. Layout-wise it seems to be the easier but be forewarned. The Champion Bermuda greens average forty paces long and usually run around 10 on the Stimpmeter so expect some three putts.
Director of Golf, Mark Powell summed it up the best. “The trouble here seems to be either left or right where as Azalea trouble is on both sides”. I now understand since most of the fairways slope towards the hazard.
Even though there are only two forced carries from the white tees, you will find numerous risk/reward opportunities to tempt your bravado.
One of the unique features here is “cart paths are hidden so they do not obstruct your view” as Mark explained. Plus, all tee blocks seem to be elevated making it a photographer’s dream.
There are so many memorable holes here but the 18th hole sums up the course the best. The finishing hole forces you to split a tight fairway to avoid the large bunkers on both sides. From there you need a precise mid to long-iron to avoid the pond on the left and long, yet still be in position for any chance on this well contoured green.
Both courses are spectacular. If you like to gamble, the adjacent Pearl River Resort is the ideal place to stay and play.
To read more about Dave Finn's golf travel adventures visit www.golftravelandleisure.com