On the Road in Alabama: Coastal Dixie Golf Losing Secret Status

By David R. Holland, Contributor

GULF SHORES, AL - Southern hospitality. Thirty-two miles of sugar-white sand beaches. The Gulf of Mexico. World-class coastal golf.

Say you are from Nebraska, you know your geography and there aren't any beaches in Alabama, just a tiny notch of land touching the Gulf? Check the map again Mr. Corn Grower.

Perdido Key stretches from Pensacola in Florida almost to Orange Beach, then another sliver of ocean-front land begins in Alabama and bee-lines through Gulf Shores, Palmetto Beach and Fort Morgan. Then there's more golf on Mobile Bay in Fairhope and Daphne.

"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," said Mark Stillings, President of the Gulf Shores Golf Association and Director of Golf at Kiva Dunes. "We have nine signature golf courses with 180 holes of variety and beauty that will challenge most serious player from the championship tees, while also giving the higher handicappers fun from the upper tees.

We are also aligned with 16 hotels and resort accommodations to offer very affordable golf packages. The area has clean, safe beaches with thousands of acres of nature preserves, historic sites, deep-sea fishing great shopping and fine restaurants," he said. Take your pick of architects - Arnold Palmer, Earl Stone, Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin, Larry Nelson, or native Alabaman Jerry Pate, former U.S. Open champ.

Pate's Kiva Dunes, built among the white-sand dunes just 1,000 feet from the Gulf of Mexico is the area's top-ranked course, while turf farmers R.C. and Robert Craft, have overseen Craft Farms into a 54-hole complex that would please any golfer. Take you pick of more golf at Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club, Timber Creek, Rock Creek, Glenlakes and Lost Key.

To add to the beauty of the coastal area, the golf courses are also over-seeded in the winter months with rye grass. The temperatures stay comfortable to play golf while it is snowing back there in Nebraska.

Natural Evolution

R.C. Craft came to the area in 1960 and purchased 870 acres for a sod-farming operation. "It was almost a zero-cost purchase," said son Robert. "Our family loves golf, so the evolution began. When we started building golf courses it was financially feasible because we already had the land."

Looking out over Cotton Creek, with thick pine trees, water holes and white-sand bunkers, the younger Craft said: "This whole area was flat and treeless. When we first brought in Mr. (Arnold) Palmer he was captivated with the turf farm. In fact, he wanted to spend all his time over there, we had to remind him he was here to build a golf course. It was such a great fit because my dad and Palmer are both self-made men in the business world."

"Once we get people down here to play I think they are hooked," said Grant Brown, general manager of Craft Farms. "The first-time visitors who don't know much about Alabama are surprised that we are in such a coastal environment. Our courses are beautifully manicured, over-seeded in winter, and the great conditions are what pull people back year after year. Because of the turf farm, they developed our own strain of grass called Cotton Creek dwarf Bermuda."

Cotton Creek is considered the favorite among first-time golfers, Brown said, but with the addition of Cypress Bend and the Nelson-designed Woodlands Golf Course, purchased recently, Craft Farms has multiple choices. "Cotton Creek is considered the toughest layout, but I think the other courses are going to be just as popular once the golfers try all the courses," he said.

Here's a capsule look at the nine courses of the Gulf Shores Golf Association.

Kiva Dunes

Kiva Dunes, the No. 1-ranked daily-fee course in Alabama, might be the best on the Gulf Coast, including Florida. Perfect fairways, routing you through pristine sand dunes, lakes and natural wildlife areas, allows you to shoot at tough pin placements on slick, undulating greens. When the wind blows hard, your score will soar. Count on it, when you hit a weak shot in the wind here you will be punished.

During second stage Tour Qualifying School, the winner shot six-under one year, another windblown year the best score was one-over.

You can always take consolation in Kiva Dunes' nature. Watch a heron fishing on the edge of a cattail bog, gaze at seaside dune scenes, listen to the crashing surf, if the wind doesn't drown it out, trample through the sea oaks, spot a Pro V1 amonst the smallish dune junipers and pines that bend away from the ceaseless breezes.

"I think this is the best course in the Gulf Coast area," said John Hawkins of New Orleans. "I play it every year in January and love the overseeding. When it is overseeded I believe it is the closest thing to Augusta the average guy can play. Beware of the fast and tricky greens, but if you don't love this you don't love golf."

Golf Digest rated Kiva Dunes the second "Best New Public Course in America for 1995, and selected it 24th among the "Top 75 Upscale Courses" for 1996. In addition, Golf Digest rated it as the 3rd "Best in State" course for 1997-98.

Now you can stay at the golf course in The Kiva Lodge and condos which opened in the summer of 2000.

Kiva Dunes Golf Club
815 Plantation Drive
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Telephone: 888-TEE-KIVA.
Internet: www.kivadunes-golf.com.

Just minutes away from Kiva Dunes is The Beach Club Resort, with high-rise condos right on the beach. This is a spectacular place to base your vacation from with two-bedroom, two-bath condos with full kitchen and washer and dryer. The view of the Gulf of Mexico is unparalleled. You will also have your choice of several swimming pools, hot tubs, a bar and restaurant, and boardwalk to the beach.

Beach Club Resort
925 Beach Club Trail
Gulf Shores, Al 36542
Telephone: 888-260-SAND or 251-540-2500.
Internet: www.beachclubal.com.

Woodlands at Craft Farms

The Woodlands at Craft Farms is a neatly manicured favorite that will remind you of a coastal Carolina layout, with lakes, marshes, tree-lined fairways, wildflowers, palmettos, in addition to abundant wildlife. Nelson's design objective was to create a fun resort course, but also a shot-makers challenge, that offers experienced players a real challenge from the championship tees but gives golfers of all ages and skill levels a chance to card a good score.

Woodlands at Craft Farms
19995 Oak Road West
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Telephone: 800-327-2657.
Internet: www.craftfarms.com.

Cotton Creek at Craft Farms

The Palmer-designed Cotton Creek Golf Course features lush conditions, rolling fairways and large undulating greens. It plays at more than 7,000 yards from the tips, is a traditional gem and also provides numerous risk-reward opportunities throughout. The finishing 434-yard par-4 hole with water left and the green tucked tightly, will challenge even the best strikers in golf.

Cypress Bend at Craft Farms

The newest Palmer design on the Alabama Gulf Coast is Cypress Bend at Craft Farms was recently rated the "No. 1 most playable new course in the U.S." by Golf Digest.

Featuring staggered tee boxes, sprawling bunkers, Cypress Bend traverses a unique system of lakes that come into play on nearly every hole.

Cypress Bend at Craft Farms
104 Cotton Creek Dr
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Telephone: 800-327-2657.
Internet: www.craftfarms.com.

The Courtyard by Marriott at Craft Farms is the most convenient place to stay near the golf courses. It features spacious double queen and king rooms, Jacuzzi king room or king suite. Hotel amenities and services include the Courtyard Cafe Breakfast Restaurant, a social lodge, exercise room, guest laundry, indoor Jacuzzi and an outdoor pool.

Courtyard by Marriott
Sample Golf Packages
3750 Gulf Shores Pkwy
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Telephone: 800-360-9375 or 251-968-1113.
Internet: www.courtyard.craftfarms.com.

Glenlakes Golf Club

Many consider Glenlakes Golf Club, in Foley, "the best value on the Gulf Coast" with 27 holes of architects Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin golf. The links-style Dunes Course has wide, rolling fairways, bordered by the designers' hallmark mounds and ending with their large, undulating greens.

Glenlakes Golf Club
9530 Clubhouse Drive
Foley, AL 36535
Telephone: 251-955-1220.
Internet: www.glenlakesgolf.com.

Timber Creek Golf Club

In Daphne near Mobile Bay, Timber Creek was designed by Earl Stone. This 27-hole complex is home to rolling fairways set among dogwoods, magnolias, pines and wetland preserves with lots of elevation changes. Timber Creek's Dogwood and Pines combination measures 6,928 from the gold tees. Don't forget to play the Magnolia nine either. It measures 3,612 yards.

Timbercreek Golf Club
9650 Timbercreek Blvd
Daphne, AL 36527
Telephone: 877-621-9900.
Internet: www.golftimbercreek.com.

Lost Key Golf Club

"Lost Land" was the Spanish name for Perdido Key and it lives on at Lost Key Golf Club, designed by Palmer. It's a par 72 capturing the natural beauty of this barrier island. Lost Key features Floradwarf greens, ProShot Omni Golf Systems in carts and a signature status from Audubon International.

Ask a native golfer about Lost Key and the joke is it really means Lost Ball. Narrow fairways with unplayable rough, the sawgrass or palmettos will penalize you greatly. The first water moccasin you see will also discourage you from a trip to the rough.

Lost Key Golf Club
625 Lost Key Drive
Perdido Key, FL 32507

Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club

This Earl Stone beauty uses 820 secluded acres along Mobile Bay, and winds through live oaks, cypress, 30 lakes and white-sand bunkers. Of all the great coastal golf courses, Stone's creation at Peninsula is considered one of the most unique. This 27-hole layout includes the Marsh, Lakes and Cypress nines and is bordered on two sides by the Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve.

The Cypress-Marsh 18 is a par 72 measuring 7,100 yards. The water lover will find the wet stuff on 26 of the 27 holes.

Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club
20 Peninsula Blvd
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Telephone: 800-391-8009
Internet: www.peninsulagolfclub.com.

Rock Creek Golf Club

Rock Creek Golf Club presents the golfer with lofty elevations overlooking freshwater wetlands and the Rock Creek basin on this 27-hole Stone creation. If you've never played one of the nearly 50 courses designed by Stone, the veteran architect, Rock Creek is one of his best.

Rock Creek might surprise you with its stunning topography with some of Baldwin County's highest elevations among the tall pines and hardwoods that line nearly every fairway .

Rock Creek Golf Club
140 Clubhouse Drive
Fairhope, AL 36533
Telephone: 800-458-8815.
Internet: www.rockcreekgolf.com.

Golf Digest Alabama Rankings

1. Shoal Creek.
2. Steelwood C.C.
3. Old Overton C., Vestavia Hills.
4. Kiva Dunes G.C., Gulf Shores.
5. Grand National G.C. (Lake), Opelika.
6. Cambrian Ridge G.C. (Canyon/Shirling), Greenville.
7. Grand National G.C. (Links), Opelika.
8. C.C. of Birmingham (West).
9. Greystone G.C., Birmingham.
10. Magnolia Grove G.C. (Falls), Semmes.

Gulf Shores Golf Association
PO Box 5797
Gulf Shores, AL 36547
Telephone: 251-968-5319
Website: www.golfgulfshores.com.
Email: info@golfgulfshores.com.

The Gulf Shores Golf Association invites you to take advantage of their Stay and Play Golf Packages with 180 holes of signature golf and 32-miles of sugar-white sand beaches. "Whether it's a golf-get-away with your buddies, a romantic weekend for two or a week with the family, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach has a place for you to stay and a golf course for you to play. Our nine signature courses have joined forces with local accommodations to promote the area through very affordable golf packaging. Our lodging partners include everything from a five-star resort, to on-site golf villas, to luxury beach-front condominiums."

Where to Stay

Log on to: http://www.golfgulfshores.com/2002/stay.htm and read about the following places to stay:

Beach Club Resort, Courtyard by Marriott, Bender Realty, Kaiser Realty, Hampton Inn, Brett / Robinson Vacations, Kiva Lodge, Hilton Garden Inn, Cypress Point Condos, Meyer Real Estate, Island House Hotel, Gulf Coast Reservations, Winfield Resort Properties, White Sands Resort, Gulf Shores Plantation, Young's Realty, and Gulf Shores Rentals.

Where to Chow Down

Southern cooking. Umm...chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas and cornbread. And in these parts they like fried and steamed seafood, raw oysters, hush puppies, cole slaw and turnip greens. You live only once, might as well enjoy it on your trip to the Heart of Dixie.

Try Mikee's Seafood Restaurant, First Street East and Second Avenue in Gulf Shores. Phone 251-948-6452. King Neptune's Seafood Restaurant, 9949 Highway 180 West, Gulf Shores, 251-968-5464. Zeke's Landing Down Under, 26619 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, 251-981-4001. Gulf Bay Seafood Grill, Corner of Canal and Gulf Bay Road in Orange Beach, 334-974-5090.

Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
PO Drawer 457
Gulf Shores, AL 36547

While in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, drop by one of the Welcome Centers for more information and to pick up brochures and coupons. Telephone 800-745-SAND or email info@gulfshores.com.

If You Go: Vist the National Museum of Naval Aviation, 850-456-7037. Go fishing with Zeke's Charter Fishing Fleet, 334-981-4044.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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