BILOXI, Miss. -- Let’s face it: not all early wake-up calls are created equal. For instance -- a 3:30 a.m. wake-call for an early -- morning ride to the airport is no fun. A 5:30 a.m. wake-up call to play a spectacular golf course?
Well, I can’t think of many early wake-up calls better than that.
Luckily for me, the first full day of this fantastic trip called for the latter.
ABOUT THE SERIES
PGA.com’s T.J. Auclair took a destination golf trip to the Biloxi area on Mississippi’s beautiful Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina devastated the area eight years ago. As Auclair saw firsthand, while there are still eerie reminders of the destruction left by Mother Nature, Biloxi and its surrounding cities and towns have bounced back in a big way. In this five-part travel series, Auclair opens up his personal journal from his 3 ½-day trip that included magnificent hotel accommodations, spectacular food and incredible golf. This is the second installment.
PART I: Biloxi, Mississippi golf trip introduction 
PART III: Playing The Shell Landing Golf Club 
PART IV: Playing The Preserve Golf Club 
PART V: What it’s like to play Fallen Oak Golf Club with Rocco Mediate 
Our group met down in the IP Casino Resort Spa  lobby, shuffled into an SUV and took a pleasant 35-minute ride to a place called Grand Bear Golf Course  in nearby Saucier. The last six miles of this drive were special, as the road to the course weaves through the DeSoto National Forrest.
Our driver noted all the tall pine trees that, “grow like weeds,” in the forest and, as a result, require frequent, “controlled burns.”
Among the accolades for this stunning Jack Nicklaus signature course, which opened for play in 1999: Golf Digest Four and 1/2 Stars; Golf Digest Magazine's America's 100 Greatest Public-Access Golf Courses; Golf Digest Magazine's Top Rated Golf Courses for Mississippi; Golfweek Magazine's Best 21 Casino Golf Courses; Golfweek Magazine's Best Courses You Can Play; Golfweek Magazine's Top Resort Courses; and Golfweek Magazine's America's Best Public-Access Courses for Mississippi.
As is usually expected when you pull up to a great golf course, the staff was top notch and attentive. They unloaded the bags from the car and put them on carts before I even had my golf shoes tied, then directed us to an immaculate driving range, complete with those lovely pyramid-stacks of range balls.
Following a brutal New England weather, this marked the first time since November that my snow-shovel calloused hands had been wrapped around a golf club.
We teed off from the “Golden Bear” tees (one set ahead of the back “Grizzly Bear” tees) and played the par-72 course from a shade over 6,700 yards.
One noticeable aspect of Grand Bear that made it so enjoyable for me is that no two holes were alike. That might sound silly, but I can’t even list the number of resort courses I’ve played over the years and then left shaking my head saying to myself, “That course was perfectly manicured, but I couldn’t play there every day. It would get boring. All the holes are the same!”
This wasn’t the case at Grand Bear at all. No. 1 -- a par-4 just shy of 400 yards -- was a splendid opening hole for golfers of every level of ability. The fairway was wide and inviting – even if no one in our group RSVP’ed.
There wasn’t a whole lot of trouble. It was as if Nicklaus was begging players to get off to a good start.
The entire front nine of The Grand Bear skirts the Little Biloxi River, offering spectacular views.
Two of my favorite holes happened to each be intimidating par 3s. First there was the 192-yard third hole. Teeing off high on a hill, your target is an elevated green protected by a monster white sand bunker. I thought I struck a perfect 3-iron, but it fell just short into that daunting bunker. Somehow, I got up and down to save par.
Then there was the 195-yard, par-4 14th hole -- all carry over water. This time my 3-iron tee shot came up just short and left, but I managed to get up and down for the par.
Notice the theme there? If holes render pars, they’re my favorite.
Truth is, you can’t go wrong at Grand Bear. The rolling hills, the white-sand in the bunkers and the beautiful views from the weaving rivers made it for a delightful day.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair .