Kiva Dunes Golf Course is a seaside course you'll never forget in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Kiva Dunes Golf Course is the best in Alabama. It's also a challenging play with a reputation for tricky winds. But, despite the damage to your scorecard, it's more beauty than beast.
GULF SHORES, Ala. - The breeze ruffles polo shirts, making anyone who bothered to iron before their round quickly realize they just wasted time. It's a water breeze, though technically not an ocean one, though you can't tell the difference.
It's just nice, cooling and apparently more fickle than most stock markets.
For if you tell an experienced golfer on the Alabama Gulf Shores that you're going to play Kiva Dunes Golf Course, you'll be quickly warned to be ready for the wind. It surely never gets described as a breeze in these cautionary tales. Just like Moby Dick would never be described as just a whale.
It's a killer whale and a killer wind at Kiva Dunes.
"Bring extra golf balls," Haymes Snedeker, older brother to last year's PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker and a former star SEC golfer at Ole Miss himself, gravely intones. "When the wind's kicking up at Kiva Dunes, that course can kick anyone's butt."
If Haymes Snedeker sounds like a preacher warning his flock of a seductive devil, he's not alone. "Your ball goes flying all over the place at Kiva," cautions Johnny Fisher, general manager of the most talked-about night spot on the Gulf Coast (Lulu's) and a pretty good athlete himself back in the day on a South Alabama baseball team that included Major League Baseball standout Luis Gonzalez. "That's not the course, you want to be trying anything crazy on."
The best golf course in Alabama - and one you'll remember no matter where in the world you've played - deserves a little legend. Even if some of it might be a tad ... well, overblown.
Kiva Dunes General Manager Mark Stillings laughs when a golf writer mentions that he managed to get spared from the course's fierce gusts. "That wasn't that light a wind day for us," Stillings said. "That's about average for what we get in the spring and the fall. You can typically play your usual game in our winds.
"But people tend to remember the one or two shots where the wind got them."
Or where they want to tell themselves the wind got them.
Kiva Dunes comes across as more beauty than beast, and some golfers seem a little taken aback when the pretty course with nary a tree blocking their path delivers swift scorecard damage.
The Kiva Dunes resort is such a relaxing place, and course designer Jerry Pate came up with such a meandering journey of 7,092 yards of Gulf of Mexico real estate, that the trouble can seem as out-of-nowhere as that killer from "No Country For Old Men."
When you're swinging from a tee in the shadow of a few idyllic beach homes that look like the kind of beach houses you'd find in a John Irving novel, down a fairway where the green pops out in the sun and the white sand bunkers look like gleaming postcards, you tend to forget all the possible trouble in your path.
"It's pretty enough that you can get just sort of lulled in," Birmingham golfer Jim Walker said.
If you play Kiva Dunes first thing in the morning when the air's still nippy and the tees are wide open, you may think you're still in one of your golf dreams. Golf is supposed to be a breathe-slower break from our harried lives. Of course, that actually happens about as often as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan both stay home on the same night.
Only it happens at Kiva Dunes.
For a course that starts with a forced carry par 4 that has its tee tucked back on a ridge below the clubhouse - and ends with a dramatic 458-yard par 4 that wraps around a lake and the longest greenside approach bunker you may ever see while the resort looms ahead - it's surprisingly hard to define what sets Kiva Dunes so clearly apart.
Pate put together a great finishing stretch with the dramatics starting with the par-3 13th and its wickedly plunging pot bunker, including a 540-yard par 5 (No. 15) that plays longer than that (the fiercest skeptic might believe in the wind legends after this one) and reaching a crescendo with another par 3 that has you shooting right across a striking blue lake (No. 17). Kiva also brings fast greens that get the locals yapping.
"People probably talk about the speed of our greens more than anything," Chris Wilkinson, Kiva Dunes director of golf, said.
None of this really gets to the heart of what makes Kiva Dunes one of those rare golf courses you'll never forget, though. Some golf courses hit you with unforgettable holes. Kiva Dunes produces more of an unforgettable feel, a seaside golf play in a setting that soothes frayed senses.
Go ahead and breathe.
The Verdict on Kiva Dunes Golf Club
Kiva Dunes is the type of course you travel to play, the kind of showpiece that is a great impetus to come to the Alabama Gulf Shores and discover the other outstanding golf courses and 32 miles of beaches with white sand that looks like its special ordered from a postcard.
Best of all, while Kiva's a special play, it's not a splurge one. Lose any thoughts of the $200-plus price tags you'll find at other top golf resorts around the world. Kiva Dunes' green fee maxes out at $98. This for a course nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, one where nature's very much in play.
The wide-open, links-style design lets you run your ball up to the green and avoid the wind on a number of holes. But you don't have to play bump-and-run links golf to enjoy Kiva Dunes. You can bomb away gung ho American style and still enjoy the day.
One of the best thing about Pate's design is he doesn't try to force golfers to play holes one way. You have options at Kiva Dunes.
Including the likely decision that you'll want to play the course again.
Gulf Shores Alabama hotels
Kiva Dunes is a resort with a wide range of accommodation choices. You can rent a beach house right on the Gulf that really gives you the sense of being on a private, secluded vacation. Still, the best option for the golf-obsessed might just be getting one of the large units in the lodge building that also houses the clubhouse.
Here you can get a great multi-bedroom condo that puts the course a very quick elevator ride away. It adds to the sense of relaxation and the feeling of never having to hurry.
April 1, 2008