Category: Memphis

June 05, 2013

Memphis is My Fifth Major -- For Eats!

Posted at 12:34 PM by Joe Passov

The 441-yard, par-4 7th hole at Justin Timberlake's Mirimichi.

I'm not sure why the FedEx St. Jude Classic draws such second-tier fields.

Maybe it's the hilly TPC Southwind course that's usually smothered in high humidity. Perhaps it's the timing, seemingly always in front of, or sandwiched between, higher-priority events.

All I know is that if I were a PGA Tour player, I would make Memphis a must-stop on my schedule, for one reason: I'm partial to barbecue. Give me a hollowed out oil drum or a backyard open pit, slap the meats on the grates and let's smoke this joint out!

I'm pleased for Memphis fans this year. Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson are among the attractions. Always an attraction is Graceland, a pilgrimage for Elvis fans, and Beale Street, where rock, jazz and blues clubs, such as B.B. King's, stand side by side. A special, more sobering experience is the National Civil Rights Museum, on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Memphis even has quality public golf, starting with Mirimichi. Formerly known as Big Creek, this is the course where 5-handicap (and Ryder Cup motivational speaker) Justin Timberlake learned the game. It faced demolition a few years back, and Timberlake emptied his wallet that day to save it. Today, it's been transformed into 7,479 yards of serious golf, with water in play on 12 holes, memorably on Timberlake's favorite, the 181-yard, par-3 11th.

I'm also partial to Cherokee Valley, just across the border in Olive Branch, Mississippi. This enjoyable romp through forest and wetlands features first-rate zoysia fairways, where the ball sits up just begging to be hit, as well as uphill closing holes on each nine that lead to a handsome hilltop clubhouse.

Still, you better be walkin' in Memphis because you're going to have to burn off some calories. (Did you know that Marc Cohn, who wrote and performed the song, is married to ABC journalist Elizabeth Vargas, after being introduced by Andre Agassi at the 1999 U.S. Open? Now you do.)

You could warm up your taste buds at Graceland with Elvis' favorite, the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, or chase worthy upscale cuisine at the top hotels in town, the Peabody and the Madison. Still, the reason you booked a flight to Memphis is to sample the 'cue, so that's what we must do.

You'll always get serious arguments (though in this case, there are no losers), but my picks for the top three BBQ joints in Memphis are, in order, Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q, Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous and Corky's.

The original Interstate on 3rd Street is still supreme, and it's a perfect stop on the way to or from the airport. Interstate cooks its meats for five hours in specially-built pits that combine natural gas and hickory wood, then pairs them with some of the finest sweet-smoky sauce on the planet. Start with the chopped pork and beef platters or sandwiches, but save room for their one-of-a-kind barbecue spaghetti. I kid you not.

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous has been packing them in since 1948 and it's easy to see why. It's the closest great barbecue restaurant to downtown and it occupies a funky, memorabilia-filled basement, giving you the sense that you have left the real world behind -- which you have, at least for an hour of drive-you-out-of-your-mind barbecue fragrance. Rendezvous is renowned for their dry-rub ribs that are so tender and spicy, there's no need for sauce.

Finally, there's Corky's in East Memphis, which spends little time or money on d├ęcor. Instead, they pour all their cash back into the product and it's worth waiting in line for, especially the ribs or pork platter. While it's true they've spread their barbecue gospel to supermarkets nationwide and even to QVC, there's nothing like chowing down at the original.

So here's to good golf -- and to exceptional barbecue -- in Memphis this week. I won't miss a minute on TV. It's tough to click the remote when your fingers are slathered in sauce.

March 26, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Scottsdale, Memphis and Palm Springs

Posted at 10:35 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hello Joe,
I'm heading to Scottsdale in mid-April for a quick five days to get reacquainted with heat and sun. I'm staying at the Westin Kierland. We've been to Scottsdale a few times and have had the opportunity to play most of the great courses -- both Troon North courses, Grayhawk, TPC Tourney Course, We-Ko-Pa, Las Sendas, Wildfire, SunRidge, Eagle Mountain, Estrella -- all great tracks. Do you have any gems that are in the area that we should be looking at? We would love to tackle something new. We really enjoy your column. It's given us great advice on numerous courses.

Burlington, Ontario (-27 degrees)

Andy, you've played almost as much golf in my hometown as I have! Here are a few more new ones you should try. First, if you were willing to drive out to Estrella and Las Sendas on opposite ends of town, try a few more terrific layouts on the Phoenix outskirts.

First is Gold Canyon Golf Resort's 's Dinosaur Mountain course (480-982-9449,; $130-$150 in mid-April) 45 minutes east of Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. Some swear that this Ken Kavanaugh design is the equal of anything in Scottsdale, while others claim that houses have detracted some from the aesthetics. Undeniably, however, you'll get a fistful of in-your-face encounters with the Superstition Mountains. Bring your camera and your course management skills.

It's a 50-minute trek from the Westin Kierland, but Southern Dunes Golf Club (480-367-8949,; $99-$109 April 6-May 3) is worth the journey. Managed by Troon Golf, this one-time private men's club where members included Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Jones boasts a Schmidt-Curley design that's rife with superb mountain vistas, imaginative green complexes and bold bunkering.

Recently restored Papago Municipal (602-275-8428,; $84-$109) in Phoenix, home to this week's LPGA event, offers 7,300 yards of desert-parkland mix, albeit with minimal facilities for now.

Finally, don't neglect your own hotel's three nines. Kierland's holes (480-922-9283,; $140-$215, with Twilight rates from $85) don't have the space, terrain or drama to be top-tier, but for location, service and fun factor, Kierland's a good choice, especially the Acacia nine.

Hi Joe,
I am traveling to Memphis for a conference, but would like to get in a few rounds of golf. Any suggestions? Our group is not opposed to traveling and would be willing to make a day trip for a good course.

Jason Davis
Via email

You'll more likely to find a vegetarian ordering seconds at one of Memphis' to-die-for barbecue joints than locating a great public course in the area. That said, you won't starve. Start with the spicy, tender, dry-rub ribs at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous and don't leave town without sampling the sweet-smoky sauce slathered on the meats at Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q (the original Interstate on 3rd Street is still supreme).

For golf, I recommend Cherokee Valley Golf Club (901-525-4653,; $39.75-$55.75), 25 minutes away in Olive Branch, Mississippi. A handsome hilltop clubhouse overlooks a variety filled-layout that weaves through forest and wetlands. Both nines end with memorable uphill tests.

If you're looking to mix golf and gaming, a half-hour south and slightly west of Memphis is a handful of good tracks in Mississippi's Tunica area. Best of the bunch is the Links at Cottonwood (662-357-6079,; $69-$79), a mostly open, extremely playable 6,989-yard Hale Irwin creation that features a watery closing stretch and a solid quartet of par-3s. Afterwards, Harrahs Tunica and the Sheraton Tunica offer riverboat gambling at its finest.

Roughly 80 miles east of Memphis is one of the state's best values, the Bear Trace at Chickasaw (731-989-4700,; $25-$35), a 7,118-yard Jack Nicklaus state park design, but budget cuts may force this one to close after March 31, so if you're thinking about making the journey, call ahead.

Dear Joe,
A friend and I are going to Palm Springs with our families at the end of March. We need some reasonably priced but compelling courses. Also, my kids (12 and 14) will play with us at least once -- they are good for their ages. Any suggestions for family golf?

Rob Ball
Via email

Late March is hopping once again in the desert, as Palm Springs has lifted its 20-year moratorium on college spring break partying. The cone of silence remains in place, however, in the tonier suburbs, so don't fret.

Trilogy Golf Club at La Quinta
(760-771-0707,; $60-$109) should be a lot of fun for your brood. There's enough golf from the tips at 7,174 yards to have tested the pros for four Skins Games (2003-2006), including the memorable 2005 edition with Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Fred Couples and Fred Funk. So, with this Gary Panks design, you get famous footsteps, a fair price, plus wide fairways and a plethora of flowers, water hazards and mountain vistas. The similar looking homes framing fairways are a drawback, but mostly this is a treat for all.

If you and your kids want to try a more ambitious layout, shoot for SilverRock Resort (760-777-8884,; $165) also in La Quinta. This stunning Arnold Palmer track co-hosts the PGA Tour's Bob Hope tourney and its design sports hazards and mountains galore -- but its six sets of tees make it playable for nearly everybody. Also, play after 1:00 p.m. and it's $95 through April 30.         

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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