Philadelphia, PA – As one gets older, we develop goals for our life. Whether it be a target of wealth, mission of health, an idea of family, thoughts of ambition or climbing Mount Everest, we all have our checklist.
When it comes to golf, people hope to achieve plenty of bucket lists. Playing the top-100 golf courses in the United States or around the world, or even in each country, those are pretty lofty goals.
Over the years, my bucket list for golf has certainly changed, as the opportunity to play the top courses has dwindled. Although I have played many of the top courses in America, Pine Valley, Merion, Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and Muirfield Village to name a few, the chances have decreased and the costs have increased.
So now it's playing golf in each state in America. No question, a more realistic goal and, honestly, a more enjoyable time to see this great country of ours.
So when the opportunity presented itself to add to my current bucket list, I jumped at the chance.
That's right, the Magnolia State or as everyone down south calls it, the Hospitality State.
Bordering on four states, Mississippi has great golf from Oxford to Biloxi and all points in between.
Our journey started with Dancing Rabbit Golf Club at Pearl River Resort, part of the Choctaw Indian development outside Philadelphia, Miss. What a great connection!
The Rabbit features a pair of Tom Fazio/Jerry Pate designs that encompass over 700 acres, totaling over 14,000 yards. Both courses are outstanding, rated 4 1/2 stars by Golf Digest's Best Places to Play, with the Oaks a shade more forgiving than the Azaleas layout.
What a great combination. Take on the Oaks Course with its generous fairways and sizeable greens to get used to the conditions and then tackle the Azaleas, with its immaculate conditioning of Bentgrass Greens and Bermuda tees and fairways.
But golf is just a minor part of the overall experience at Pearl River, as the resort boasts a world-class spa, great dining, well-appointed accommodations and for gaming enthusiasts, two full-service casinos, equipped with slots, poker, craps, blackjack and more.
Our next stop on our way to Jackson was the 90-year-old layout, The Country Club of Canton.
Not long by today's standards at just 6,322 yards from the blue markers, CCC is quite a test. With its very narrow fairways and minuscule greens, you'll be hard-pressed to break 80 the first time out.
Wrapped around a 22-acre lake, the course is wonderfully conditioned with several forced carries over water. A fun layout for the guys and gals to stop at and hone your game.
The final piece of this trip's puzzle was to participate in a PGA Tour pro-am at Annandale Golf Club, home site to the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Rated the top course in the state, Annandale was designed by the greatest golfer in the history of the game, Jack Nicklaus.
The tournament has been part of the Mississippi landscape since 1968, and moved to Annandale in 1994. The winners list includes Payne Stewart, Craig Stadler, Fred Funk, Luke Donald and Bill Haas.
What makes this course so appealing is that it suits all levels of play, ranging from just under 6,000 yards to 7,200. And the conditioning, in a word, is plush as can be.
Getting a chance to play a course the professionals play is a real treat and getting the opportunity to stroll the fairways with a tour player, well ... awesome.
Brendon Todd had the fortunate task of leading our foursome during the pro-am and he couldn't have been a better host.
A two-time Web.com Tour winner, Todd, who has seven top-20 finishes in his last eight combined starts on both tours, tried to help us around the course, from tips on putting to swing thoughts. But his biggest contribution was his genuine generosity and kind-hearted nature to the group that made this such a special day.
But the kicker to this trip were the people and the outpouring of affection they afforded to everyone. It's not just ... y'all. It's a way of life. It's kindness, it's honest-to-goodness hospitality. We can all take a page out of their handbook.
That's what I'll take away from the state of Mississippi, that, and the fact that I'm at 34 states and counting!