TimberCreek is perfect for the average golfer

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

MOBILE, Ala. - When players talk about good golf in Alabama, they're usually referring to the Robert Trent Jones Alabama Golf Trail and its incredibly difficult courses spread throughout the state.

Well, if you're tired of getting your ego bashed in by Mr. Jones, we've found a great alternative for you. Try the 27 holes at TimberCreek Golf Club in Daphne, a tiny stop on the Mobile Bay just minutes west of Mobile and less than a half-hour north of courses near Gulf Shores.

There are almost no forced carries. There are few bodacious bunkers guarding the front of every green. Forget blind shots. Most holes play out in front of you with no frills, no gimmicks. Some might think that sounds like boring golf. Not so.

It's still good golf, just a little less penal than most places. Players can thank their lucky stars that there is still an architect who doesn't mind you shoot some pars on his courses. Meet Earl Stone, whose reputation is staked on building enjoyable courses.

"His philosophy is to build playable courses. He designs his courses for the mid-handicappers," said Andy Ray, director of golf at TimberCreek. "They are not intended to host major PGA championships. They are built for the average golfer to enjoy and have a good time. If you want to make it hard, go to the back tees. He uses mounding to help keep the ball in play. The bunkers aren't too penal. Golf is supposed to be fun."

TimberCreek won't ever gain national acclaim as the courses of the RTJ Golf Trail, or be considered one of Stone's best designs. Most locals claim Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club in Gulf Shores and Rock Creek in Fairhope win those honors, but for the price ($55 in high season) and quality, TimberCreek is a great option.

But the word "playable" doesn't mean TimberCreek, which opened in 1993, is easy. The course is good enough, and tough enough, to host the 2003 Alabama State Open, the state's premier tournament, which attracts top amateurs, club professionals and even some aspiring pros from the Nationwide and Hooters tours.

Ray said the course played tough enough to keep the average score about 77 per round. Former Nationwide Tour player Todd Bailey, who plays out of TimberCreek, won the tournament with 9-under.

"They have the ability to grow some rough and make the greens fast out there," Bailey said. "The course is in really good shape. There are not a lot of bare spots. The greens are pretty undulating. They can have some tough hole locations. On a normal day, it is pretty enjoyable (for average players). But when they want to, the hole locations, the deeper rough and the fast greens can make it tough."

A massive green renovation, which closed the course for three months from June to September in 2002, has really improved the putting surfaces, so much so that Bailey calls TimberCreek's greens the best in Baldwin County (ahead of Rock Creek and Peninsula). Ray credits the owners, the Miller family from Brewton and Mitchell family from Bay Minette, for the course's improvements.

"I feel like the golf course has matured. It has improved to the point it is the best shape it has been in ever," Ray said. "We've done drainage work through the years. That has helped. We have a very generous maintenance budget. We are lucky to have local ownership who treats the course like a private club."

Stone said the course took a lot of planning because it had to be intertwined with the existing subdivision. He said he really enjoyed working the unique terrain of TimberCreek.

"We had some undulating land to work with and that is unusual in this part of the country," Stone said.

The Magnolia nine, at 3,612 yards, is the longest, and arguably the toughest. It has the most hazards and wetlands. Its unpredictable terrain hands out some tough lies, too.

No. 3, a 189-yard par-3, has given up more aces than any holes on the property. Take dead aim. The fourth hole, a 592-yard par-5, has been redesigned, so a long drive won't roll out of bounds to the left of the fairway.

No. 6, a 434-yard par-4, has a two-tiered green 52 yards deep. Stone calls the 375-yard seventh a "rest hole." "If you don't make a par, you should be arrested," he said.

The Pines nine is flatter than the Dogwood nine, but probably has more personality, with fun doglegs and par-5s that can pump out birdies, especially the 481-yard sixth. The Pines No. 7, a 426-yard par-4, is TimberCreek's best challenge. A harrowing approach over one of the course's four ponds is the day's toughest shot.

Ray said the course sees many traveling players, either Floridians on their way to Mississippi's casinos or New Orleans or families from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi on their way to the beaches of Gulf Shores or the Florida Panhandle.

"Our location is getting better every year because the population.

Other information

For information on lodging, where to eat and what to do while you're not golfing in Mobile, visit gulfcoastgolf.com/travel-feature/alabama/mobile-alabama-golf.htm.


From Mobile: Take the I-10 WEST/I-10 EAST ramp toward PASCAGOULA/PENSACOLA. Merge onto I-10 E. Take the AL-181 exit, exit number 38, toward MALBIS. Turn LEFT onto AL-181 N. Club entrance on left. Total distance is 14.2 miles.

From Gulf Shores: Take onto AL-59 N. Turn LEFT onto I-10 WEST. Take the AL-181 exit, exit number 38, towards MALBIS. Merge onto AL-181 N. Club entrance on left. Total distance is 37.0 miles.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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