By MIKE BAILEY
EL DORADO, Arkansas – Arkansas might not be the first state that comes to mind when you think of great golf destinations, but not only can the golf there be quite good, but this is the perfect time of year to check it out, too, with ideal fall temperatures and spectacular color changes.
This is where you’ll find beautiful rolling topography, especially when you start to get into the Ozark Mountains going north, but there’s a golf course in the southern part of the state that still remains a true hidden gem.
I had the recent pleasure of spending a few days in El Dorado, (they’ll tell you it rhymes with “tornado,” to get the proper pronunciation) Ark., just north the Louisiana border. A couple miles out of town is 10-year-old Mystic Creek Golf Club, which at times even draws comparisons to Augusta National with its pristine conditioning, pure white bunkers and landscape of cathedral pine trees and rolling hills. The elevation change isn’t exactly Augusta-like – something you have to see in person to appreciate – but the terrain is anything but boring.
The course’s original owners set out to create the state’s finest public course. Originally the Resurrection Course at Mystic Creek, it was reportedly the third most expensive course to build in Arkansas, right behind highly acclaimed and private Alotian Club and the Blessings.
Kenneth Dye Jr., of Houston designed the course. Dye, who is no relation to the late Pete Dye, was the principle architect of Finger and Dye Spann, and though he certainly learned much from the late Joe Finger, he has a style all his own.
His courses are generally beautiful and difficult, especially from the back tees. The 7,500 yard, par-72 Mystic Creek exemplifies that philosophy, but it’s so beautiful, it’s hard not to enjoy it, especially if you play the proper tees. Dye’s credits besides Mystic Creek include some pretty impressive public courses, such as Paako Ridge and Pinon Hills, which are among the top two or three courses in New Mexico, as well as quite a bit of restoration work on classic courses.
In 2018, El Dorado-based Murphy USA bought the course. Since then, the LPGA’s feeder circuit, the Epson Tour, has found a home there with the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout. More recently, the course got a stunning clubhouse, made from local timber and designed to blend into its natural forest background. With an excellent restaurant and golf shop, the back balcony, which sits above the 18th green is a favorite spot for members and guests.
As for the layout, every hole, most of them tree-lined, is a visual delight with strategic and large bunkers, many ponds and streams, and flawless Celebration Bermuda fairways and rough, and slick Champion Bermuda greens, which means missed putts can roll out to uncomfortable comebackers.
The course begins and ends with two terrific par 5s, the last with a green that can be difficult to putt to certain pin positions because of the slopes. Water comes into play often, with approach shots that can be a little daunting. One hole that most players will remember is the par-3 12th, which definitely gives you that Augusta vibe because it appears to be a mirror image of the famous 12th you see during the Masters. It’s all carry to a greens complex that is angled back left instead of right. And like Augusta, Mystic Creek also has plenty of azaleas.
Currently, there are no cottages at the course for stay-and-play, but that could be on the horizon. In the meantime, though, you can book golf packages with local hotels like the Haywood, a Tapestry Collection Hotel by Hilton, located in the heart of El Dorado. For about $200, you can currently get two nights lodging and two rounds of golf. Current green fees are $129 during the week, so that’s a really good deal.
You might be asking yourself, though, why venture to Arkansas to play one course since some of the other top public courses in Arkansas are a few hours away. The simple answer is that it’s simply that good, that if you played it three days in a row, you wouldn’t get bored. And if you live near places like Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Tennis., and Jackson, Miss. you’re just four to six hours away.
Plus, El Dorado has a lot more to offer than most towns of its size (17,339). There is a historical district, several really good restaurants, and the Murphy Arts District, which is responsible for a couple of museums and a really nice entertainment venue that brings in acts that have ranged from Styx and comedian Ron White to rapper Ice Cube and even Willie Nelson this summer.
(Mike Bailey is Travel Editor of Pro Golf Weekly www.progolfweekly.com)