Pair of courses will challenge even the best golfers, while providing a test of golf near the mighty Mississippi
TUNICA, Mississippi (May 26, 2018) – For the longest time, there was not much to the small hamlet of Tunica, located hard by the Mississippi River in the far northwest corner of the Magnolia State. Famed for little except the area’s disputed claim as the site of explorer Hernando DeSoto’s discovery of Big Muddy, the region eventually became known for its stands of hardwoods and canebrakes and – once the stubborn land could be cleared – the growth of cotton in its fertile delta soil.
Tunica’s flat land is dotted still with a series of Indian mounds, some of the few remnants of an ancient civilization that once populated the area. Today, an extensive survey is under way in north Tunica County, at a spot that state archeologists describe as a very significant Native American site.
Agriculture remained the staple of the local economy until 1992, when Tunica County’s first casino, Splash, opened to record crowds and ushered in the community’s highly successful resort and tourism trade. Just a year later gaming revenues began to equal and then surpass farming as the county’s biggest money-maker.
Located just 30 minutes south of the burgeoning Memphis International Airport, it didn’t take long for the nation’s gaming enthusiasts to find their way to Tunica. In 2000, the county became the nation’s third largest gaming destination, trailing only Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
And – as it is said – where there are casinos, great golf courses usually follow. Soon Tunica opened a trio of tracks that demand your attention and set the mood for the excitement of the region’s nine different casinos and scads of quality restaurants and buffets. One of those golf courses – The Links at Cottonwoods – closed in 2015, but the two that remain still make Tunica a golf and gaming destination.
Tunica also offers visitors more than 6,000 luxurious hotel rooms, frequent performances by headline entertainers, a world-class tennis facility, award-winning museums, lavish spas and outlet and antique shopping.
Tunica National carries the mantle for the region
Tunica National, named by Golf Digest Magazine in 2007 as one of the best golf courses in the country not owned by but nearby a casino (how about that for a lengthy label?), features an 18-hole public golf course, a six-hole, par-3 practice course, a 20,000-square-foot clubhouse, circular driving range and a golf training academy.
At 7,204 wind-blown yards from its back set of five tees, the Mark McCumber-designed course is the most challenging track in the area. Tunica National plays to a par 72 and carries a rating of 73.2 and a slope of 126.
Trees lay out a border and frame many of the holes providing a nice backdrop to the greens. Tunica National has the feel of a mature course.
You’ll love the rolling terrain and unspoiled course conditions at Tunica National. Water impacts more than two-thirds of the property, and the course’s four par-3s are stunning, with only the 181-yard 11th giving the golfer a hazard-free look at the putting surface. Add to the list of challenges the 480-yard, par-4 sixth and the 198-yard par-3 eighth (on which you drive your golf cart through a bunker in order to get back to the cart path) and you know you are in for a tussle if not in top form.
Numerous strategically-placed hazards and bunkers are balanced with often-generous landing areas, which are especially needed on the course’s final three-hole gauntlet. Starting at No. 16, a 587-yard par-5 that seeming always plays into the stout breeze, you wind your way around the far corner of the course and turn back toward the clubhouse. With a green guarded by bunkers on the front left and right, par is a good score here.
Awaiting you are two of the toughest par-4s in the state – the 468-yard 17th, on which everything runs to the left toward the lake that runs down the entire left side, and the equally brutal 443-yard finishing hole, which requires a long-iron approach over that same lake as well as a large bunker that you drive through on the way to the green.
After a day which has had you battling the winds on every shot and every putt, the final few holes can be a bit penal, especially if you find yourself stuck behind a slower-playing group, as was the case in both of our rounds at Tunica National. This is a popular place – with many golfers venturing south from Memphis to play – so don’t count on a round of less than 4½ hours. Tunica National is nothing if not a test – of your game and your patience.
River Bend Links is rollin’ on the river
Tunica’s second course, River Bend Links, bills itself as the only true Scottish links course in the area. Nestled comfortably in the Mississippi Delta just across the tree line from the Mighty Mississip (so close, in fact, that you can hear the whistle of the barges as they travel up and down the river), River Bend Links is the perfect escape for anyone looking to relax and enjoy golfing in a lush, serene setting.
Built in 1998 and designed by Clyde B. Johnston, River Bend Links (pictured above) plays at 6,923 yards and to a par of 72 from the back set of five tees. The course sports sand and grass bunkers and strategically placed mounds as well as nine water features that come into play on seven holes. Despite all that trouble River Bend Links is an extremely player-friendly course, complete with smooth greens and a good 20 yards of extra roll if a player can find the fairway.
The lack of trees along the 18-hole track provides plenty of room for river winds to make their presence known to anyone swinging an iron, but players say the design can produce nice scores when they’re having a good day.
Players used to courses with tree-lined fairways and the ho-hum of everyday country-club golf, really take a hankering to the layout at River Bend Links. The landscape includes a stunning waterfront vista at the 17th-hole tee box.
The plantation-style clubhouse features a pro shop, light meals and cool drinks with a grand view of the picturesque course. Animals still inhabit the area, and during the round you may see deer, fox or wild turkey and plenty of excitement. The “field of dunes” created in this former cotton field may be as close to Scotland as you will get in this part of the country as native grasses and natural hazards provide the beauty and the majority of the challenge.
The 435-yard par-4 seventh (with its small, peaked green), the 194-yard par-3 eighth and the 420-yard, uphill par-4 ninth are three of the best holes on the front side at River Bend Links. Once you make the turn try to air out a drive on the 540-yard par-5 11th(ranked 16thin handicap) to reach the green in two and go for it again on the 566-yard par-5 15th(ranked 18th). Get your strokes while you can as the final two offerings – the 203-yard into-the-wind par-3 17thand the 427-yard, uphill par-4 18th– will clean your clock and can mess up a good round.
River Bend Links, which is rated at 72.6 and slopes out at 128, is a good challenge and is fun to play, but in conditioning and overall appeal ranks third among Tunica’s three tracks. It’s worth the play, and – in a way – completes the trifecta of golf here in this upper left corner of Mississippi.
With easy access from Memphis, good golf, luxurious casinos and restaurants and loads of friendly and helpful folks, it is easy to take a chance on the fun to be had in Tunica, especially if you like a little variety in your golf trips.