Those familiar with the south will understand that the title “oak” is a reference to live oaks, a hardy species of tree iconic to the region (likewise, the club’s logo will remind many of that at the Kiawah Resort, which features the same tree). Plenty of specimens will be on display as players make their way through this route, which snakes through wetlands near Biloxi.
Although wetlands are rampant in this regionMississippi, they aren't abused as a hazard. Several of the par threes feature ponds as defenses, but the majority of the holes rely upon built-up fairway undulations to provide awkward lies. On a number of holes across the back nine — Nos. 10 and 13 are examples — those who choose to attack the inside of the dogleg may land in areas of native scrub, requiring a difficult recovery.
The playing experience will be a somewhat private one, despite being open to the public; the native forest provides a barrier between fairways. Playing at 7,000 yards, the course is the only design credit for Stephen Caplinger, while Chris Cole has also worked on coastal courses in Texas.
I played The Oaks on a cold and dreary afternoon the day after some heavy rain; it was Valentine’s Day, and to treat my wife I opted to take our toddler with me for a little bit of slightly more quiet time in the house. (Slightly indeed, as we have an infant at home as well.) While the front nine was more interesting terrain-wise, the much flatter back nine presented a different sort of challenge: some seriously muddy fairways. I’m not sure I’ve seen the firmness of a course vary so drastically as a few holes on the early part of the back nine at The Oaks did between the fairway and green. The fairways were utter muddy sponges – my son and I left footprints in wet areas, unfortunately! – yet the greens were extremely firm, some of the firmest I saw in Mississippi. I can’t begrudge the course for the wetness, as it was not their fault I chose to play on such an unfortunate day.
Holes I liked included: the fourth, a dogleg left short par four featuring a green that falls off hard from front left to back right; the fifth, a par three that if you squint looks a bit like a Redan (but doesn’t really play like one); the seventh, a par three over pond to a horseshoe-shaped green; the tenth, a dogleg right par five with a two-tier green; the fifteenth, a reachable par five that’s pinched just enough by some live oaks past the midpoint; and the eighteenth, a long par four playing to a deep and undulating green surrounded by bunkers and a large tree front right.
The Oaks is a fine course, to be sure, but in such a golf-rich area such as the Gulf Coast, it is a bit overshadowed by its peers. I’d certainly recommend playing here if you’re staying in the area, but probably only after playing five or six other courses first.
Played February 14, 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.
The Oaks Golf Club is an in-house design by Stephen Caplinger and Chris Cole from Landmark National that originally opened in February 1998. In August 2005 they took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina and reportedly lost over 3,000 trees but you’d hardly notice.
This is a terrific well-treed parkland golf course with plenty of natural wetlands. The greens were in perfect condition and run very true.
The first four holes are short par-4s but extremely tight and sets the stage for your entire round. Positioning is much more important than distance here as you still must contend with 36 bunkers and water that comes into play on nine of the holes.
Here are some of my most memorable holes.
Hole #7 is an awesome par-3 with a pond on the right and in front and a wooden retaining wall to frame the picture.
The par-5 8th hole starts off from an elevated tee area across an environmentally protect area then uphill to the green with a slight dogleg right.
The 10th hole is shorter par-4 with a huge swampy area the juts out twice so make sure you stay left on this hole.
#12 is 160-yard par-3 entirely over water with an ominous bunker if you are slightly short. The 13th has a long carry over swamp followed by a sharp dogleg right over another swamp.
Hole 14 is a short par-4 with a slight dogleg left but don’t be left on your drive as a ravine runs the entire length of the hole.
18-hole rates with shared power cart range from US$49 to $89. I would highly recommend this course.
My only negatives are that there are no distance markers on the tee-blocks and the fact that the bunkers hold water, but in their defense, we had a huge storm pass through the day before.
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