'Augusta-like' course is well worth the drive
EL DORADO, Arkansas – It’s a fact that serious golfers will find their way to even the most remote golf course if it is good enough.
Mystic Creek Golf Club in El Dorado, Arkansas, fits the bill as one of those courses that certainly is well worth the time and effort to play.
Although Mystic Creek hosts an Epson Tour event and has hosted numerous college tournaments, the No. 1-ranked public course in Arkansas remains one of those rare hidden gems that provides an outstanding test in a picturesque setting.
The Ken Dye-designed layout opened in 2013. After a couple of ownership changes it was purchased by Murphy USA in 2018. It has partnered with Troon Golf to operate the facility, which includes a practice area, clubhouse, and restaurant.
Just how good is this golf course that with six sets of tees can play as long as 7,518 yards (77.6/145) or a more moderate 6,251 yards (71.4,131) from the white tees?
“I was told that if Augusta and Pinehurst No. 2 had a baby, that would be this course,” general manager Cody Lack said. “Everything about it is tour quality. If we were just in a little bigger town we could have something bigger here. Easily.”
There definitely is a touch of an Augusta National vibe at Mystic Creek – from the rolling fairways weaving through the pine trees all the way through the difficult greens complexes.
Lack said numerous Tour players have teed it up at Mystic Creek and given it solid reviews.
“Sam Burns used to play here quite a bit because he is from Ruston [Louisiana]. He always would say ‘you wouldn’t have to change anything. Just put the tee in the ground and go play it.’ You don’t have to trick it up,” Lack said. “It’s a true challenge.”
While that Augusta/Pinehurst comparison might seem far-fetched at first glance, it is not without merit. Fairways are highlighted by rolling terrain with plenty of downhill and uphill characteristics. They are wide enough so that slight mishits will still end up in the short grass, but numerous water features and bunkering make for some uncomfortable tee shots. Also, there is enough slope in the fairways so that level lies are rare.
Lush Celebration Bermuda grass rough and the tree-lined fairways make it imperative to find the short grass off the tee; otherwise approach shots to Mystic Creek’s tough greens complexes become a guessing game.
Don Miller, Community relations director and corporate development ambassador for Murphy USA, said the property lends itself perfectly to a high-level golf course.
“Just the land out there – it’s kind of in tune with how Augusta moves,” he said. “There’s a lot of elevation and undulations out there. A lot of natural ups and downs, which is not typical of south Arkansas. There are some cathedral pines out there that are just amazing. The way the trees came together with some natural water, it’s just great.”
Difficult greens complexes
It’s on and around the Mystic Creek’s greens complexes where things get interesting. The majority of the course’s approximately 60 bunkers are greenside, t=ready to gobble up errant approach shots. Collection areas around the greens also catch less-than-precise approach shots, but Dye allows for a variety of recovery options – flops, pitch-and-runs and run-ups with a Texas wedge.
The Champion Bermuda greens are large and at times inviting, but difficult to navigate thanks to Dye’s creative use of slopes and undulations.
Mystic Creek opens with a 518-yard par 5 that is benign off the tee but becomes visually intimidating as a player sizes up the downhill second shot to a green that is reachable. Water on the left and a series of bunkers along the right side puts enough doubt into a player’s mind as to whether it is worth trying to reach a long, narrow green that slopes from back to front.
That first hole sets the tone for a difficult first six holes at Mystic Creek, which is superbly maintained by superintendent Jacob Vance and his crew.
The second hole is a short par 4 with a narrow fairway lined by trees on the right and a creek along the left. Water guards the green to the right, and there is a good chance that any approach shot drifting right will run off into the penalty area.
The 10th hole is one of the most demanding at Mystic Creek – a man-sized par 4 that plays 407 yards from the white tees. Water is in play along the entire length of the right side of the fairway, forcing players to aim well to the left, which leaves a long approach shot. The pond and a 25-yard-long bunker fronts an angled green.
Other course highlights include No. 12, a par 3 that is reminiscent of No. 12 at Augusta. No. 18 is a twisting dogleg left par 5 with a large, two-tiered green with a steep drop-off along the left side. The clubhouse deck overlooks the green, and it takes a precise short iron approach to set up a birdie putt when the pin is tucked on the top left shelf.
Mystic Creek’s practice area is top-notch with an expansive range, large putting green and short game area. The pro shop is fully stocked and the grill has a top-end menu to please any palette.
Oil boom town
There’s more than just Mystic Creek to attract out-of-towners to this quaint town that definitely plays up in class.
Located in southern Arkansas, El Dorado (pronounced like tornado) is just a hop, skip and a jump from Louisiana’s northern border. Texas and Mississippi also are in near proximity, and it’s an easy road trip from Tennessee and Alabama. Best known for being in the heart of the southern Arkansas oil boom in the 1920s, El Dorado was founded in 1829. It has a population of about 19,000 that serves as the county seat for Union County. It’s also the headquarters for Murphy USA, one of the largest independent retailers of gasoline products and convenience store merchandise with more than 1,700 locations in 27 states.
No lodging is available at Mystic Creek itself, but The Haywood, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton hotel, is elegant, affordable, and located in the heart of Downtown El Dorado. With 70 rooms, a full-service bar, breakfast area and pool, The Haywood is a great option when planning a stay.
There is no lack of entertainment and dining options in El Dorado, highlighted by the Murphy Arts District – known by locals simply as MAD – and consisting of an outdoor amphitheater that can accommodate up to 8,000 guests, and an indoor hall that seats up to 3,000. The venue has attracted acts such as Willie Nelson, the Avett Brothers and Styx. It’s also the centerpiece for the annual MusicFest, a weekend event each October.
Underrated culinary scene
El Dorado features a surprisingly upscale dining scene, with many establishments located along the town square bordering the courthouse. Fayrays is among the most popular landing spots for dinner. It offers a mix of Cajun and Italian dishes under the direction of Chef Michael Rice.
Have breakfast or lunch in an authentic renovated 1883 rail car at the Off the Rail Café or Johnny B’s Diner. They’re not fancy, but you won’t go away hungry. Want donuts? Spudnutte Shop has been around seemingly forever, but get there early because a long line will form in anticipation of these donuts made from potato flour.
The Mink Eye is a great place to sit at the bar and have a beer or two before or after dinner.
Come to El Dorado for the golf at Mystic Creek and stick around for the off-the-fairways entertainment and dining experience. You won’t be disappointed.
Featured image of Mystic Creek’s opening hole by Gregg Dewalt