PHILADELPHIA, Miss. -- The azaleas were in full bloom this spring after an unusually cold winter at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club at Pearl River Resort, so the comparisons were inevitable.
How much does The Azaleas course, one of two excellent 18-hole layouts at Dancing Rabbit, remind you of Augusta National?
The better question, though, would be this: If you remove the azaleas, what's left, because azaleas don't bloom year-round, even at Augusta National? In the end, a golf course earns its merits on design, conditioning and interest, although the floral display of spring certainly ranks as part of the overall experience here -- and it's impossible to ignore.
To answer the second question, there's plenty left. You would expect nothing less from a Tom Fazio-Jerry Pate design on this rolling, wooded terrain of Mississippi's Choctaw Indian land 65 miles northeast of Jackson.
Dancing Rabbit Golf Club's Azaleas course is both challenging and enjoyable. And certainly scenic.
Still, it's hard to ignore the azaleas in bloom, so there's no better than the spring to play The Azaleas.
Dancing Rabbit's Azaleas course offers plenty of challenge
Measuring 7,128 yards, the par-72 Azaleas course, which opened in 1997, offers a true championship test. While the fairways aren't overly tight, it makes for a long afternoon to spray the driver. Hit into the trees, and you'll play provisionals all day. Keep it in the fairway, and you'll have a chance, although the approaches are anything but easy.
But what's most memorable about The Azaleas? The views. The first time you play the golf course, it seems to get better hole after hole. Elevated tees, elevated greens, doglegs left and right –- the golf course is never boring. You'll find fairway bunkers to help frame the holes and greenside bunkers that are best to avoid.
The greens feature perfect bentgrass, like at Augusta. Fans, necessary to keep the greens alive in the hot, humid summer months are covered in the spring. Their cooling breeze provides a putting surface that's smooth and quick.
Great holes on The Azaleas
Where do we start? From the beginning, the beauty is striking. One of two streams that run throughout the golf course crosses the first fairway on the opening par 4. You'll find azaleas everywhere, including the second hole, a moderately difficult par 5 that's reachable in two by long hitters.
The par 3s are particularly good on The Azaleas course. No. 7, at 184 yards, plays over a valley. A stream and two bunkers front the 13th, an up-and-down test with a definite Augusta look to it. And that's with or without azaleas.
The golf course finishes strong on both nines. The ninth, a 439-yard par 4, features wetlands off the tee and a stream that cuts across the fairway, then runs along the left side of the green. A grove of trees on the right side makes tee-shot placement of critical importance.
The 18th, a long, straight par 4, includes a pond that protects the right side of the green. Par on this hole is an excellent score, as most golfers need a long club for the approach.
Dancing Rabbit Golf Club's Azaleas course: The verdict
Ranked nationally among the best public golf courses in most every major golf publication, Dancing Rabbit Golf Club's Azaleas course truly provides as a special experience. It starts with an elegant Southern clubhouse and a welcoming veranda that just begs you to sit a spell and sip a mint julep.
Without houses on the golf course, nothing impedes the views or the feeling of serenity.
Practice facilities are excellent and include a decent-sized grass range, practice green and chipping green. Lessons are available from the professional staff.
Also, a bunker renovation should be finished by the end of the year, according to Director of Golf Mark Powell. When done, pure, white sand similar to Augusta National's, will replace the original, river-type material.
Stay and play at Dancing Rabbit: Pearl River Resort
The Pearl River Resort features two casino hotels -– Silver Star and Golden Moon. Both include excellent accommodations, great dining options and gaming. But the most intimate accommodations sit inside the beautiful, white clubhouse, complete with eight luxury suites that feature whirlpool tubs, flat-screen TVs and elegant furnishings.
The clubhouse accommodations are ideal for group outings or couples. Wake up and enjoy breakfast downstairs, where you'll find a selection of fresh eggs, grits, biscuits, sausage and gravy for an authentic Southern start.