By Tim McDonald,
When you think of Alabama, you ordinarily think of SEC football, not pristine, sugar-white beaches. But a quick look at a map shows there is a little bit of south Alabama that caresses the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention Mobile Bay. Gulf Shores has attracted some top-notch golf architects to take advantage of the sandy terrain and seaside characteristics to develop into one of the better Gulf Coast golf destinations.
"We have felt like golf in the Gulf Shores area has been a secret, but we feel like we stack up against golf destinations anywhere," Gulf Shores Golf Association President Mark Stillings said.
• Kiva Dunes is clearly the star of this show, a nationally acclaimed course hard by the Gulf and designed by Jerry Pate. It's among the top-rated courses in Alabama, matriculating through sand dunes, lakes and natural wetlands.
At 7,092 yards, with a slope rating of 132, Kiva Dunes is "one of the most exhilarating coastal golf courses in the Southeast," Derek Duncan wrote for TravelGolf.com.
Bordered on the north by Mobile Bay and on the south by the Gulf, the course is routed with the near-constant gulf breezes in mind; few holes have crosswinds, for example. "Routing is so important in any design," Pate told Duncan. "I tried to make Kiva Dunes a golf course that not only gave you a lot of options, but one that tested all the shots."
• Cotton Creek is an Arnold Palmer design, one of three courses at Craft Farms Coastal Golf Resort. It's over-seeded wall to wall in the winter months, ensuring a lush look and feel. It has rolling fairways and large, undulating greens, as well as numerous risk/reward opportunities.
"The finishing 434-yard par-4 hole with water left and the green tucked tightly, will challenge even the best strikers in golf," TravelGolf.com's Dave Holland wrote.
• Cypress Bend, the newest course at Craft Farms, is a Palmer design that was ranked the "No. 1 most playable new course in the U.S." by Golf Digest. It's the little brother to Cotton Creek, a 6,484-yarder where lakes come into play nearly every hole. Large bunkers are prevalent.
• Timbercreek is a 27-hole complex designed by Earl Stone. Carved from a forest of dogwoods, pines and magnolia trees, it has elevation changes, wetland preserves and a lot of wildlife. At just over 7,000 yards with a slope of 130, it is a suitable course for average golfer. "Players can thank their lucky stars that there is still an architect who doesn't mind you shooting some pars on his course," Jason Scott wrote for TravelGolf.com.
• Soldiers Creek is owned and operated by the Woerner family, located at the Woerner Preserve. It's a relatively new course, opened in 2001, and designed by Scott Clark.
The Woerners are in the sports turf business, so they know their grasses. The course has spacious, rolling fairways and is surrounded by trees and wetlands - including the headwaters of Soldiers Creek - with plenty of wildlife. The greens are TifEagle, a rarity for Alabama courses.
• Lost Key Golf Club is another Palmer design, on the barrier island of Perdido Key, which straddles the Florida-Alabama border. It isn't overly long at 6,810 yards, but its slope of 144 testifies to its difficulty.
TravelGolf.com writer Holland called the course a "little bit Pensacola, a little bit Melbourne."
"Many players overlook the elegant succession of holes and cite the incessantly narrow playing corridors - some so wiry they demand iron shots off the tee - as Lost Key's most notorious attribute," Holland wrote. "What was surrendered in width was compensated for in large, convulsive greens and flashed bunkering. Even the tight holes have a strong, stylistic presence."
• Peninsula Golf Club is 27 holes on Mobile Bay, on a secluded 820 acres touched on two sides by the Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve. Designed by Earl Stone, Lakes, Marsh and Cypress courses meander through live oak, cypress and natural vegetation, with more than 30 lakes. The courses, which are part of a residential community, feature large, white-sand bunkers.
• Rock Creek is another Stone design, and sits on some of Baldwin County's highest elevations, overlooking freshwater wetlands and the Rock Creek basin. There are tall pines and hardwoods line nearly every fairway.
Stone is known for having believed that golf courses should be designed for 18-handicappers. Rock Creek goes a little beyond that, with several holes throwing intimidating water carries at you.
"Rock Creek ... has a fun, forgiving side to please the bad swing in all of us, yet the teeth to challenge anybody on their best day," TravelGolf.com's Jason Scott wrote.
• Glenlakes Golf Club is another 27-hole facility that many consider one of the better value plays in the area. The "links-style" Dunes course offers wide, rolling fairways bordered by mounds. The greens are large and undulating and is very playable at 6,938 yards with a slope of 126.
Gulf Shores has nothing if not lodging options. Depending on your desire and wallet, you gave a choice of hotels and motels, inns, resorts, bed and breakfasts, beach houses and even RV and camping facilities.
Warmed by the Gulf breezes, Gulf Shores is a year-round golf destination. It may get chilly sometimes in the winter months, but generally warms up enough during the day to play golf. Beware, fall and winter seasons can get very busy.
For more information on Gulf Shores golf packages, call 1-800-767-3574.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.