Reading Eagle Ridge Greens

Reading Eagle Ridge Greens

Reading Eagle Ridge Greens

The Course That’s Always Been There

Central Mississippi got a Costco recently, albeit not without some legal bumps along the way. All that to say I’ve got an in on Kirkland golf balls now. If there’s anything I’m better at than getting in on a fad that’s two or three years old (I just bought a Nintendo Switch!), it’s enjoying knockoff merchandise that purports to be just as good as the name-brand stuff. So when my wife came home with a couple dozen Kirklands from her first Costco run, I needed somewhere to test them out. Our tiny backyard wouldn’t work, nor would my upcoming summer golf trip (Pinehurst No. 2 seems like a really bad place to put a store-brand golf ball into play for the first time). I settled on a low-stakes, scruffy old haunt: Eagle Ridge Golf Course. [1]

For most Jackson-area golfers still young enough to be alive, Eagle Ridge is one of those places that’s always been there. The course opened in 1958 — known originally as just “the Raymond golf course,” but soon thereafter Hinds Junior College Golf Course — with a narrow but lively nine-hole routing through tree-lined fairways up and over land that’s unusually hilly for this part of Mississippi. A mundane (albeit wider) second nine opened sometime after 1968 on more benign terrain, with most of its holes laid alongside one another like Girl Scout Cookies in their box. Both nines are defended heavily by trees — even beyond the intentions of the course’s mid-Twentieth Century design: in the late 1970s, the back nine in particular was much more wide open than it is today, with small trees merely marking the edges of playing corridors. Today, the trees have cut off nearly every alternate line of play, turning many holes into an effort at needle-threading rather than strategizing. [1]

But I’d be surprised if there’s a golf course I’ve played more times in my life than Eagle Ridge. It’s cheap to play, short enough for anybody to get around (its current white tees are set at 6,116 yards — barely more than the course’s late-1970s yardage), walkable when the weather allows, and set on land that brings the layout to life (accidentally or not). My groomsmen and I played golf at Eagle Ridge the day before my wedding; it was my kid’s first trip to the driving range. The course itself is deceptively tough. But there’s something easy about the place. [1]


Mississippi doesn’t get out ahead of many trends, but Eagle Ridge nailed a couple of them. For one, the course is bunkerless. In 1958, that must have been a real pisser; today, of course, it’s en vogue. For another, during the week Eagle Ridge doesn’t take tee times — it’s first come, first served. So after paying my greens fee in the pro shop, I was on the tee less than five minutes later, butting in front of the fivesome of old men gathering moss on the practice putting green. Whatever guilt I felt at the very legal (and very cool) indiscretion melted away when I piped a hybrid off the tee, sending my Kirkland bounding over the narrow, downhill fairway. [1]

In addition to the tree-choked window that the first hole’s tee shot requires, Eagle Ridge’s opener offers a glimpse of the course’s other recurring defense: water. The property’s large lake and series of smaller retaining ponds don’t come into play frequently, but they make their appearances count — usually on approach shots, where the hazard cannot be simply overpowered. On the second hole, anything left or long is wet; on the 15th and 16th, retaining ponds scarcely visible from the fairway creep uncomfortably close to the greens. Eagle Ridge’s putting surfaces are small to begin with; bringing water into play dials up the player’s anxiety, even with a short iron in hand. [1]

After a couple of sloppy holes, I smoked my drive on the fourth hole — a short-ish par-4 (354 yards from the tips, 349 yards from the white tees) where the blind tee shot will bound downhill close to the hidden green if the drive is long enough. Mine was, but my delight was short-lived: the speed slot hadn’t helped; it had funneled my ball down to an awkward yardage. Golf is funny: moments earlier, I’d sent my ball nearly 300 yards; now, standing over a 65-yarder that demanded both spin and being kept beneath a tree branch, I muttered, “I don’t know how to hit this shot.” From inside 70 yards, I missed the green and walked off with bogey. Eagle Ridge is short, but that doesn’t mean you can sleepwalk through it. [1]

The Hybrid Mindset

I decided that I sucked at golf, but quickly re-diagnosed myself: I didn’t suck at golf, I just don’t play enough golf. Eagle Ridge is far from perfect, but its quirky yardages lure players into shots that no sane person practices on a driving range. The course reminds you of the difference between hitting balls and playing golf. Eagle Ridge requires the latter. “You know,” I thought to myself, “on this course, you could do a lot worse than hitting a hybrid off the tee for every par-4 on the front nine.” I agreed with myself that this was good advice, just before pulling my driver left of the fairway on the fifth hole (a delightfully bizarre short par-4); I made bogey. By the time I arrived at the par-4 eighth (315 yards from the back, 305 yards from the white tees), I’d re-convinced myself of the wisdom of leaving my driver in the bag; beyond any doubt, my tee ball was the greatest shot in the history of 5-hybrids, and I still made bogey. [1]

Whether it’s trees off the tee or the tiny targets offered by its greens, Eagle Ridge never stops punishing imprecise shots. But anytime you pay just $25 for 18 holes of golf, one of the things not included in your greens fee is pity. [1]

The 10th Hole

The view back down the fairway from Eagle Ridge’s 18th green. My prejudice favors walking 18 holes, but in Mississippi, summertime heat demands that golfers ride either in a golf cart or in an ambulance. I’ll give golf carts one thing, though: you can play really fast. I made the turn in just over an hour, with the 10th hole — Eagle Ridge’s toughest and best — waiting for my trouble. At 456 yards from the back (448 yards from the white tees), it’s far and away the longest par-4 on the course, and probably one of the longest par-4s in Mississippi. The tee shot bends slightly rightward and downhill, but from the gully at the bottom of the slope, the long approach shot is blind; to complicate the shot further, the green is preposterously small, with a roll-off on the green’s right side. Unless the player truly nukes her tee shot, the smarter play is to treat the hole as a par-5 and lay up to a short-iron distance; bogey is a good score (although, in fairness, I tell myself that on every hole). [1]

The 10th green isn’t the only blind spot on the back nine. On consecutive holes — the 15th and 16th — blind water hazards flank the greens. And the sharply uphill approaches on the 13th and 17th holes make judging distance difficult. But the 17th also marks a last-minute return to the site’s best land, making the 18th a worthy finale: a dogleg left over (or into, depending on the drive’s length) a large gully, then a wedge or running shot uphill to a small, slightly domed target. [1]

The Bargain Worth Returning To

Like The Force Awakens, Eagle Ridge masks some boring moments in the middle by sandwiching them between a fun beginning and a memorable finish. It’s central Mississippi’s golf equivalent of a solid, go-to movie on cable: it’s not gonna show up on anybody’s top-100 lists, but it’s reliably enjoyable, and there are worse ways to kill an afternoon. [1] Unfortunately, the Kirklands didn’t prove so reliable. On the straightaway, uphill 13th, I realized I’d never have a better chance to test the Kirkland against something higher-shelf. I smashed it in the middle of the fairway, and then teed up a worn Callaway Chrome Soft — which flew at least 10 yards farther. So much for the knockoff. [1] Eagle Ridge, at least, is a bargain worth returning to.


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