Until recently most of Mississippi’s golf courses were small concerns. Many were country club courses, racially segregated and open only to club members and their friends. Only in recent decades has golf become part of a broader effort to present the state as an attractive destination for tourists, and as of 2018 golfers can choose from among over 190 courses in all areas of Mississippi.
Golf first came to Mississippi along the Gulf Coast, which later was nicknamed the Golf Coast. The state’s first course, the Great Southern Golf Club, built by respected architect Donald Ross, opened in 1908, and by 1930, additional courses had been constructed along the coast as well as in Natchez and Vicksburg.
The increasing popularity of golf seems to owe much to the declining number of people who make their livings in agriculture and to the dramatic increase in tourism. American golf has grown popular as a game for urbanites and suburbanites searching for sports in the outdoors. Until recently, Mississippians in general spent plenty of time farming, hunting, and fishing, and relatively few felt a need to embrace a time-consuming and potentially expensive sport as a way to get close to nature. Perhaps more important, Mississippi’s business and government leaders have promoted golf as part of a broader effort to attract tourists that has also involved highlighting the state’s casinos, beaches, and public parks. Many of the state’s most impressive new courses are located in casino areas, in state parks, or along the Gulf Coast.
The state has hosted professional tournaments since men competed in the Gulfport Open in 1944 and 1945. From 1968 to 1993 the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) held the Magnolia Classic at the Hattiesburg Country Club. The tournament subsequently moved to the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, outside of Jackson, and became known as the Deposit Guaranty Classic until 1999, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic from 1999 to 2006, the Viking Classic from 2007 to 2011 (though the tournament was canceled in 2009), the TrueSouth Classic in 2012, and since then as the Sanderson Farms Championship. From 2014 onward it has been held at the Country Club of Jackson. Never among the top tier of PGA tournaments, it has frequently been scheduled at the same time as more elite tournaments such as the Masters, the British Open, or the Tour Championship. In 2015 winner Peter Malnati took home $738,000 of the $4,100,000 purse. Since 2010, Biloxi’s Fallen Oak course has hosted an event on the PGA’s Champions Tour (for golfers age fifty and older). Winner David Frost’s share of the $1,600,000 in 2015 prize money totaled $240,000. Mississippi hosted its first major national golf event in 1999, when the Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point was the site of the US Women’s Open, won by Juli Inkster.
The state has produced a handful of successful professional golfers. Mary Mills won the 1963 US Women’s Open and eight other Ladies Professional Golf Association tournaments in the 1960s and 1970s. Mills was a prodigy, winning eight consecutive Mississippi women’s amateur tournaments beginning when she was just fourteen and continuing through her years at Millsaps College. Male pro golfers from Mississippi include Pete Brown, Jim Gallagher Jr., and Vance Veazey. Brown, born in Port Gibson and raised in Jackson, made headlines as the first African American golfer to win a PGA tournament when he posted the low score at the 1964 Waco Turner Open.
Only on rare occasions has golf had a hand in the issues that most scholars see as central to Mississippi history. Once when University of Mississippi history professor James Silver and the school’s first African American student, James Meredith, played golf in 1963, Silver noted that the crowds observing and protecting Meredith did not help his game: “The walkie-talkies used by the marshals and the military weren’t exactly conducive to good golf.”
- Mississippi Golf: 2006 Official Golf Guide
- David R. Holland, GulfCoastGolf.com website, www.gulfcoastgolf.com
- Mississippi website, www.visitmississippi.org
- James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964)