Located deep in Mississippi’s De Soto National Forest, Fallen Oak comes from the same Las Vegas, MGM Mirage stable as Shadow Creek. Some say that Fallen Oak, due to its natural setting, is the better of the two layouts. Both are products of the same architect, Tom Fazio.
During construction, dozens of large specimen trees were relocated, over a hundred acres of turf was laid and more than half a million cubic yards of earth was moved to accentuate the dramatic elevation changes on the property.
From the tips, Fallen Oak plays to almost 7,500 yards, thanks mainly to a collection of long, strong par fives – the 15th is over 600 yards – that begins at the left doglegged opening hole, where water hampers progress between tee and green.
The course held the inaugural Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on the Champions Tour in 2010, won by David Eger with a 54-hole total of 205 (11 under par), one stroke ahead of Tommy Armour III.
The majority of lists of the best courses in Mississippi list Fallen Oak as number one, and that pedigree is apparent in the logistics and cost it took to arrange the round. As they will repeatedly inform you, Fallen Oak is reserved as an exclusive amenity for guests of the Beau Rivage casino hotel in Biloxi, the equivalent experience to MGM’s sister course in Las Vegas, Shadow Creek. Despite our accommodations elsewhere, I had to not only book a room at the casino, but also drive over and check into the hotel to avoid my tee time potentially being canceled as the reservations agent hinted it might be if I didn’t show up for the room. The course itself is truly remote – a bit of a drive from the coast and the casino, yes, but only about 25-30 minutes – and feels completely isolated from the outside world. The place has an air of exclusivity in accordance with its amenity status, from its gated entrance to the sprawling, opulent, but mostly empty clubhouse. Indeed, the course’s exclusivity causes it to get relatively little play, with the busiest days peaking at around 120 players. On the day I played it, there were less than 20. Only the three shortest sets of tees were out, topping the course out at 6,500 yards and likely owing to the softer than normal off-season course conditions; while a 6,900 yard option did intrigue me, the ominously “by permission only” 7,500 yard tips did not, and I was perfectly content to move up given the condition of my game at the time.
My main gripe with Fazio courses in the past has been some rather unimaginative cookie-cutter green complexes in places, but here at Fallen Oak such a thing was not a concern. From the first, which features a horizontal spine about midway through the green, to the enormous and undulating eighteenth, the greens were delightfully creative, extraordinarily quick, and nearly impossible for a Midwesterner used to winter bentgrass. Mainly thanks to those greens and the ever-present wind whipping through the trees, the course certainly lived up to its pedigree in terms of difficulty. The property featured a surprising amount of elevation change compared to nearly every other course on the Coast, in many stretches of holes never allowing the player to get a comfortable flat lie, and featuring enough of a variety of hole lengths that every club in the bag was tested. While the outward nine felt a bit more open, a number of ponds came into play to ratchet up the difficulty, and a few large trees were used in particularly clever fashion, such as the live oaks restricting the second shot on the par five sixth. The huge ninth green featured a small protrusion in its back right portion that fell away and down-grain from the rest of the green; naturally, the pin was located back there, making a three-putt all but guaranteed.
Despite the hillier terrain and narrower hole corridors of the back nine, I enjoyed that side at Fallen Oak more than the front. After a couple of tricky short par fours at the eleventh and twelfth, my favorite three-hole stretch of the course began, taking advantage of the hilliest portion of the property. The thirteenth is a dogleg left par five that exemplifies the discomfort I cited earlier; there is no easy shot from this rumpled fairway, and many a good second shot will kick left to the point that the approach is semi-blind and difficult to judge over the front bunkers. Following this uphill brute is a wonderfully devilish short hole, the par three fourteenth, which plays slightly downhill to what I considered to be the most exciting green on the course. Surrounded by bunkers front and left and set in a lovely opening in the deep forest, the green features two small shelves in the front left and back right that are separated by a ridge; the front left portion, however, feeds off of the green at the front middle, as I learned when I landed my ball a mere six feet right of the flag and watched it roll twenty more feet down the hill to its right. Finally, the fifteenth – another par five – tumbles back downhill opposite the thirteenth and thus plays significantly shorter. This hole was as close as I came to birdie all day at Fallen Oak; despite being on the back fringe in two shots and admittedly inches from rolling over the back of the green into the woods, I three-putted for par.
I’d be remiss in discussing Fallen Oak without bringing up its namesake, the oak tree with a fallen limb that sits along the right side of the fairway on the eighteenth. It’s a beautiful and colossal old tree, kept through some form of witchcraft in the same state as it was found by the Fazio team when designing the course, and makes for a lovely photo opportunity while playing the finishing hole. As luck would have it, a ballooned drive left me on the mulch underneath the tree, but after a lucky break on the approach to avoid the pond and one of the greatest bunker shots of my life, I managed to walk away with a closing par; perhaps the fallen oak proved to be my lucky tree.
Played January 28, 2021
Jeff Kissel visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast for an extended period in early 2021, and wrote about it as a guest on the blog Lying Four; this review was adapted from that story.
Fallen Oak is by far the crown jewel of golf in the Coastal Mississippi area. The course is owned by the MGM Resorts International and is available exclusively to guests of Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Designed by legendary course architect Tom Fazio, Fallen Oak has consistently ranked as the best course in Mississippi by Golf Digest and Golfweek and since its opening in 2007 has held the No. 2 position on Golfweek’s Best Casino Course list, trailing only its sister MGM Resorts International course Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. Fallen Oak is enjoyable regardless of your golf capabilities. Beginners will marvel at the playability of the course while seasoned golfers will enjoy the challenge. Both will be consumed by the aesthetic beauty of the course as you make your way around.
Opened in 2006, Fallen Oak is a very good golf course. I consider this to be one of Tom Fazio’s best designed courses. Of the courses that I have played that Mr. Fazio solely designed, I rate it the sixth best course. On my personal ranking I have it inside my top 150 courses. Courses built by Mr. Fazio have fallen out of favor recently as the minimalists/naturalists have taken over the rankings and difficulty/challenge of a golf course has been seen as a bad thing. The below article regarding the construction is likely viewed as a strong negative by current raters of the major publications of top 100 courses:
Per GolfCoastNews written by Keith Burton on November 7, 2006 (Opening Day) “To build Fallen Oak, Fazio’s crews transplanted more than 1,000 oaks, pines, magnolias and other hardwood trees, some 60 feet or taller; moved 580,000 cubic yards of soil; and laid 125 acres of sod, enough to cover 96 football fields, to give the course a very mature feeling from day one. They laid 20 miles of drainage pipe and 26 miles of irrigation pipe as a precursor to a state-of-the-art irrigation system and created dramatic, sprawling bunkers that hold 3,500 tons of Tour Grade Signature Blend sand.
The course features tiff eagle Bermuda grass on the greens, 419 Bermuda grass in the fairways, zoysia grass flanking the bunkers and creeks, and Bahia grass in the native areas.
The greens are equipped with a SubAir system, which allows the course to control air circulation and moisture content by vacuuming the water out of the greens.”
In my opinion, when a course is located in a beautiful setting and its design and green shaping results in a good mixture of challenge and recovery, then that course should still be viewed positively. Fallen Oak meets that criteria. The only criticism I can think of is that many of the fairway bunkers on the longer holes minimize the chance of recovery if one’s ball is too close to the raised front of the bunker. Secondly, I thought the stretch of holes from eleven through fourteen to be out of character with the rest of the course due to narrower fairways and denser woods.
I played it three years ago, making a reservation as my wife and I did a road trip through Mississippi for me to run a half-marathon in Missisippi. After spending the following day in Natchez, we decided on a whim to drive towards the casino area of Biloxi. As she drove, I looked for a hotel calling a friend who knew the area. He reminded me of the connection between Fallen Oak and Beau Rivage casino. After calling and arranging a one night “stay-and-play” package, I drove early the next morning for the first tee time as a single. Since my wife had allowed me to play and was waiting for my return for us to get to our next destination of Pensacola Beach, I opted for a cart and finished my round at two hours, stopping to admire a few of the holes while also going to most of the “First” tees for a view. As I departed the group after me was arriving for their tee time. Casino guests do not typically like to play early.
I highly recommend Fallen Oak, named after the Oak tree with a fallen tree limb off of the eighteenth hole. It is fun yet challenging, peaceful and beautiful. Even if some are the terrain changes are not natural, there are plenty of rolling and undulating fairways. The wide fairways, lighter use of trees, and ponds create a spacious feeling on most of the holes despite it being a parkland course. One has to hit a poor shot to find the tree lines on most of the holes.
The setting is most pleasant as Fallen Oak is located at a quiet, and undisturbed area near De Soto National Forest surrounded by woods. The only building one sees on the course is the clubhouse. The diversity of the trees create a nice vista, particularly from many of the elevated tees.
There is not an overuse of bunkers and they are placed and sized appropriately to provide a good defense for the poor shot. One can avoid them on most holes but once in them, making a successful recovery shot is tilted towards the lower probability of success. Most of the bunkers have fingers and have raised grass fronts.
The greens are thankfully large and not overly contoured or speedy. I am sure they can get faster than the day I played them when I considered them to be slightly above average in speed. I had no three putts on the day and five one putts leading me to conclude that the greens are relatively easy to read.
The front nine is terrific, equal to Mr. Fazio’s best at Wade Hampton, Shadow Creek, or Congaree. The front nine seemed to play longer although a look at the scorecard shows the yardage to be essentially the same. Yet the back nine has three short holes in eleven, twelve and fourteen. The back nine is hillier than the front nine but not quite as interesting from an aesthetic perspective.
There are five sets of tees. The “First” set is 7487 yards rated 76.5/142 while the “Second” set drops to 6938 yards rated 73.7/141. I played the “Third” set at 6549 yards rated 71.7/138 on this par 72 course. As mentioned earlier, the yardage is balanced with the “first” nines split 3750/3737 while the “third” nines is 3288/3261. The par is 72.
I did not note many holes as being outstanding despite my overall high regard for the golf course. The holes I thought stood out a bit more are one, three, four, five, six, thirteen, seventeen and eighteen. But many of the others are good although there are four average holes. The course is presented excellently and well-conditioned.
The course opens with a very good par 5 of 596/516. I talked with the starter for a bit at the first tee marveling at those who have the game to take on this hole from that back tee. The hole is a dogleg left with a stream going down the entire left side. There are two bunkers on the left spaced about 60 yards apart as the hole turns sharper at the second bunker. The stream then changes to a pond that continues to the left side of the green. The green is large and tilts slightly to the water. I dumped my second into the water trying to avoid a fairway bunker on the right but one putted to save par. There are bunkers to either side of the green with the one on the left saving a ball from entering the water. The green is shaped like a sock with the “toes” behind the bunker on the right side. It is a challenging yet very playable hole.
Two is a longer par 4 of 479/432 as a dogleg left with a short carry to find the fairway. There is a fairway bunker left and another on the left side of the green. The green has a nice contour to it. It’s a good hole, just not as good as some others.
The third is a par 3 of 224/168 requiring one to hit over water to the green which is angled right to left. The “fairway” is crescent shaped and does offer a bailout area short of the green or long right over the shallower right bunker. This hole resulted in my first double bogey as I hooked my tee shot too much into the water trying to get to the left side pin. The green is relatively flat which I instantly lamented upon arrival for being so careless on the tee. It is a very pretty hole due to a small island in the pond, a single tree acting like a sentinel nearer the back of the green followed by the woods well behind the hole all set as a contrast against the pond.
Four is a par 4 of 423/382 playing uphill and a gentle dogleg to the right. This features a bunker on the right corner and one at the right side of the green; the reverse of the second hole. The green is tiered and one that I like as it is surrounded by trees. The approach shot must take into account trees creeping in on the both sides presenting a narrow chute to the triangular green with a mound in the middle and fall-offs to all sides. I felt this hole to be visually very attractive and also had one of the better contoured greens shaped like a heart with its highest point in the middle.
Five completes three very good holes. This is the number one index as a par 4 of 486/426 with a fairway that angles to create a dogleg left although the hole is straight. Two fairway bunkers are 210 yards away from the tees I played on the left side followed by a pond that continues to the left and behind the green. The fairway narrows as it approaches the green with a single greenside bunker on the left front. The fairway tilts towards the water so the play is definitely down the right side. This hole shares the backdrop of the third hole so it is very pretty. It has a benign green with subtle breaks making it difficult to make a putt but not difficult to two putt.
Six is the shortest par 5 on the course at 548/500 but it is well bunkered with flanking fairway bunkers. Then the hole turns to the right with what looks like flanking greenside bunkers except the “left” one is actually in front of the green. I found it on my third after having to hit a recovery shot from behind the trees off the tee on the right. Trees come in from the right about 170 yards from the green but also from the left about 100 yards from the green. Both of these bunkers are actually about 10 yards short of the green creating an illusion. For a short par 5, there is a lot of danger on this hole as it is cleverly designed.
Seven is the driveable par 4 at 330/305 and the shortest par 4 on the course which doglegs right. It is a good risk-reward hole as there are two bunkers flanking the fairway and a pond down the right side continuing behind the green. The fairway narrows after the bunkers. There are two thinner bunkers between the pond on the right and the green to provide some chance of recovery for the player who comes in slightly right. It is not one of the top risk-reward holes I have seen, but it is better than most. Because I do not have the length, I played it conservatively and had a decent chance at birdie which I missed. I felt there should have been a bunker at the back right of the green.
Eight is another par 3 over water at 205/154. I felt as if the 154 tees were too much of a break on this hole. The green has a snake-like bunker to the left side but there is ample room to miss to the right where you pitch slightly uphill. The green is easy to read and was one of my one putts.
Nine is a very good finishing hole as you are back at the clubhouse. This par 4 of 459/405 goes slightly uphill to the green with a fairway bunker on the right and two more smaller bunkers greenside right. The fairway is wide. A small pond follows the right fairway bunker continuing to the green but it should not be in play unless one is coming in from the right rough which is unlikely due to the trees on the right. This is the most interesting green on the front nine and perhaps the one that is the most difficult to read due to its tilts as the high point in the back middle. There is a substantial false front on this green. The green is very small behind the two right bunkers with a slope towards the water. There is room behind the green for recovery.
Ten is a difficult par 4 of 468/393 with large flanking bunkers followed by an slightly uphill second shot to the green. A tree about thirty yards from the green on the left can present an obstacle if one is in the left rough. There is a center deep bunker at the front of the green. The green slopes left to right feeding off the slope of the land to the left of the green. This hole has one of my favorite greens on the course. This is a nice golf hole to start the inward nine.
From the eleventh tee if you look back you will see the eighteenth hole. This is a shorter par 4 of 396/352 that is a dogleg left with a narrow opening through a chute of trees to a smaller green with a bunker on the left. The hole is a bit out of character to the rest of the course as is the twelfth.
The twelfth is another short par 4 of 382/344 that plays straight with bunkers only on the right in the fairway and at the green. The tee shot must navigate encroaching trees about 80 yards from the tee. The reason both holes feel out of character is the narrower fairways and the trees are much thicker on these fairways compared to the other holes on the golf course.
Thirteen is a nice par 5 of 575/510 and a dogleg left with the fairway cantered to the right. From an elevated tee there is a short, forced carry over wetlands and the line is to play down the right due to two bunkers on the left about 70 yards apart. For the approach shot there is a set of smaller bunkers on the right about 75 yards from the green. Finally, there are two more bunkers on the left of the green which are deeper than many others on the course. The green is angled right to left. I liked this hole a lot.
Fourteen is the shortest par 3 on the course at 161/133 played at the farthest point from the clubhouse. There is a large bunker starting from the front left continuing down most of the left and a smaller one right of the raised green which tilts right to left towards the larger bunker. No other hole has an almost wraparound bunker on the course so this bunker feels like it should have been split in two.
Fifteen is a long par 5 of 604/532 playing over a carry slightly uphill ultimately becoming a dogleg right. There is a bunker right center that comes into play for the longer hitters from the back tee while the left center bunker about 60 yards farther up comes into play for average hitters playing from the “three” tees. The green has two bunkers left. There is a lot of room to either lay up with the second, particularly from the right side even in the rough. This is the second hole where I feel another bunker nearer the green is warranted.
Sixteen has another forced carry over marsh on this shorter par 4 of 418/370. This dogleg right offers a bunker on the right corner and two bunkers fronting the right side of the slightly elevated green. Trees pinch in on the right near the bunker but there is a bit too much room to the left side.
Seventeen is a long par 3 of 240/198 to a narrow green with a bunker short left, flanking bunkers and a fall-off behind the green to a stream. There is also a fall-off to the left of the green leading to an uphill pitch. This green is sloped back to front with the back being higher but still filled with undulations. I did not hit the green going to the left but got up and down. It is the best par 3 on the course, although not the prettiest.
The finishing hole is a difficult par 4 of 493/429 playing as a dogleg left and was the only hole on the back nine where I made a double bogey after a poor tee shot, a poorer second leaving the back right bunker between me and the green which I preceded to hit into in an attempt to hit a perfect shot as the green is steeply sloped towards the fronting bunker although with a raised edge. The fallen oak is in play on the right side of the fairway but going left offers three deep bunkers that spill down to lower ground from the fairway. The pond becomes an issue on the approach shot coming in from the left but the large and deep bunker between the pond and the green is a bigger obstacle for most players. There is nice mounding behind this hole. To get to the back/left side of the green is likely going to require one to clear the pond and fronting bunker. Despite my high score I really liked the hole. I did go back and drop my third ball again but still would have had a 20 feet putt to save par confirming that the real miss is short left center of the fairway.
I really liked Fallen Oak and like others believe it should be appreciated more. I have yet to play Mossy Oak so I cannot comment on which course is better and I will leave an open mind. But Mossy Oak would have to be pretty incredible to be better than Fallen Oak. The Beau Rivage is a nice, small casino with sometimes excellent shows, nice restaurants, and good shopping. It is easily the most upscale casino in Bixoli. But I think Fallen Oak is far better than the casino. While I think Shadow Creek is better than Fallen Oak because it offers more consistency in its holes, more variation in shots, and more interesting green complexes, Fallen Oak is a very good golf course. I would put Fallen Oak in the category of under-rated because it is a very worthwhile golf course. At some point I intend to go play Old Waverly and Mossy Oak, but I will not go there without another stop at Fallen Oak.
Tom Fazio has designed an array of top tier layouts but a few have escaped serious acclaim because of location. Fallen Oak clearly falls into that category.
The preceding reviews have spelled out the details of which I concur with for the most part. Amazingly, if someone were to flip geographical locations and place Fallen Oak in Las Vegas and then move Shadow Creek to Mississippi the resulting increase of stature for the layout from the South would be considerable. It's amazing how people can be impacted simply because of one's zip code.
Where Shadow Creek gets plenty of mileage on how it was created -- the more powerful storyline about Fallen Oak is what came from the details Fazio and his talented team provided here. Yes, the course toned down and even eliminated a series of bunkers but from that outcome the essence of playability was clearly improved.
My only dissent with the course comes with the turf used for the tees and fairways -- you simply won't get much of a roll and those who are advocates of "firm and fast" will likely wince at the reality that one needs to carry the ball a good deal more than you would likely prefer. That's not to say the turf quality is anything less than stellar. One would think the grass is cut by a team of people with tweezers!
The overall hole quality is very good. The routing is also quite inventive -- moving to all corners of the property. Fazio doesn't just present the famed "look" where the style outshines the substance. At Fallen Oak there's plenty of teeth ready to bite so you need to stay on your toes throughout the round. Bunker positioning is done especially well -- even with the reduction in number -- the bunkers present clear hurdles to overcome.
It's truly hard to fathom how Fazio has so many stunning courses in his portfolio, yet how a good number truly lack any meaningful architectural heft. Yet, there's littlie question he certainly possesses the wherewithal to create a number of elite layouts where the "look" and "play" dimensions are simply superb creations of the highest order. There are many wagers one can make when staying at the host Beau Rivage Resort & Casino but there's only one sure bet - Fallen Oak.
M. James Ward
When we first approached Fallen Oak there were no cars in the parking lot, only in the concierge area. I found it strange for a facility of this caliber, but soon realized that only guests of the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi can play this gem. They average just 30 rounds per day, so you will not be rushed during your visit. From the moment we arrived we were treated like royalty. Nothing is overlooked by all the staff. To boot, the course was in perfect condition making it a memorable day indeed.
Tom Fazio was reportedly given the authority to select his own piece of land to build on. An architect’s dream. He opted for a property that is about 25 minutes north of the resort but well worth the drive. There is over 70 feet of elevation change which rare in these parts and it borders the De Soto National Forest. Fallen Oak is strategically designed to meander through oak, pecan and pine forested areas that incorporate ten holes where water comes into play.
There are five sets of tees ranging from 5,362 up to 7,487-yards with a slope of 142 and a course rating on 76.5. Mighty tough indeed. A word to the wise, play from the right length or buyer beware.
The first hole sets the stage for your entire round. This three-shot par-5 may make you consider taking out a 3-wood to ensure yourself of coming up short of the left bunker but not leak to far left as a ravine runs down the left side. Your second shot on this dogleg left with test your nerves. The prudent move here is using mid-iron to avoid crossing a pond and land somewhere on a sliver of a fairway. From there you should have a short iron to a green that is partially surrounded by the pond and protected with two large bunkers. Welcome to Fallen Oak.
The 6th hole is another tight par-5 that requires you to reconsider using your driver to avoid the two fairway bunkers. Your second should not be too aggressive since overhanging trees lurk about 100 yards out.
#7 maybe your first opportunity for birdie if take out your fairway wood to avoid the dastardly bunkers. It will still leave you with a short-iron to the green however don’t be right since everything funnels to the water.
8th is entirely over water to a raised green and well worth taking a photograph.
The 15th hole is another intimidating par-5 as all you can see from the tee blocks are bunkers but trust me there is more room then it appears.
16th has an elevated tee zone where you must carry a swamp area before rising to well-guarded green. However, the par-4 finishing hole best sums of your experience. A long par-4, where your drive needs to avoid the three bunkers on the right. Your approach must avoid heading left as a pond and large bunker will surely come into play.
There are number of considerations to play well here. Firstly, you need to know that everything slopes to the water on all fairways. Secondly, the very gnarly zoysia grass around the bunkers, which is a Fazio trademark, are to be avoided at all costs. Even though they replaced all the bunkers, four years ago and removed 22 of them to ease up on the difficulty they still have 78 to contend with. This one of those rare courses where I want the ball to go into the bunker versus being just outside of it. I had a much better chance of getting an up and down from there.
Fortunately, the large TifEagle greens are not too drastic since this layout is challenging enough as it is. Fallen Oak is like no resort course you have ever played. Tough as nails but so darn memorable.
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