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.
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.
Dave Finn is our Canadian Correspondent. To follow his golf travel adventures, visit www.golftravelandleisure.com