(This article originally appeared in the may 2011 print issue of Flagstick Golf Magazine)
by Joe McLean
You may have heard of the Gulf Shores of Alabama. That’s where the news was focussed for the better part of 2010 as a result of an explosion on an oil rig, creating a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This past Fall I made my way down to the gulf-front cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and can happily report that the beaches are open and the gulf shore waters are crystal clear, warm and free of oil.
As for the golf courses in the region, they were never affected by the oil spill.
As most importantly I can convey that the golf, food, and beaches are just as spectacular as they have ever been.
My host for this trip was The Gulf Shores Golf Association which is dedicated to promoting Alabama’s Gulf Coast as a golf vacation destination. Signature golf courses within the Association include Cotton Creek, Cypress Bend, Glenlakes, Kiva Dunes, Lost Key, Peninsula, Rock Creek, Timbercreek and the Golf Club at the Wharf. All of these courses are located within easy driving distance of various accommodations including resort style and major hotels, on-site golf condominiums and luxury beach-front homes and condos. Customized stay & play packages can be arranged for individuals, families and groups through the Gulf Shores Golf Association.
Upon arrival at the Pensacola Airport through Washington, I joined a van loaded with an anxious group of golf writers and radio personalities ready to launch tee shots at the TimberCreek Golf Club.
Designed by Earl Stone and owned by PGA Professional Rob Bradley, TimberWood features 27 holes of generous, rolling fairways laid out in a forest of flowering Magnolias, Dogwoods and Loblolly Pines. Numerous elevation changes and the wetlands of D’Olive Creek, which are strategically located throughout the course, made us pause when we were considering both tee shots to the fairways and approach shots to their generous greens.
Lulu’s at Homeport Marina, owned by Lucy Buffet, was our supper destination and true to their advertising they offered a comforting mix of country music, margaritas and down-home cooking after seating our group on the patio beside the Intracoastal Waterway. After one margarita turned into another, my order of a bowl of seafood gumbo and a basket of shrimp and oysters was being prepared when the Restaurant decided to produce a number of samplers from the menu in the form of Fried Crab Claws, Smoked Tuna Dip, Fried Green Tomatoes and L.A. Caviar. (That’s Lower Alabama black eyed peas in a balsamic vinaigrette). What a feast and to top it off we couldn’t leave without a sampling of key lime pie.
A walk on the beach was definitely in order to move after a meal of that magnitude.
A late check-in at the Beach Club, our home away from home for the week, was quite the surprise. Our 12th floor, 4 bedroom condo was palatial to say the least. It got even better in the morning watching the sun rise to the east and a southern exposure looking out into the Gulf of Mexico. What a view.
The Kiva Dunes Golf Club awaited our arrival the next day for an early morning round of golf. My editor had hoped that I would play the course in high winds to truly experience the seaside links course designed by former U. S. Open Champion Jerry Pate. Fortunately for me, the day was spectacular and the winds calm.
Recognized as one of gulf’s best and unique challenges, the 7092 yard course was laid out on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Pate was wise to use what nature had given him to route fairways and greens through natural sand dunes, lakes and wildlife areas. From the first tee shot to the final putt on the 18th green, I could hardly wait to see what my next shot would be or what the subsequent hole would bring. I was not disappointed. Rarely has a golf course matched the hype and Kiva Dunes certainly exceeded my expectations. Alabama’s only beachfront golf resort is a must play when visiting the Gulf Shore.
The Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club was our next destination for lunch and nine holes of golf. Earl Stone’s 27-hole layout on Mobile Bay is set on 820 acres of land bounded on two sides by the Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve. Live oaks, cypress and natural vegetation as well as more than 30 lakes and large white-sand bunkers provided refuge for some of my errant shots on the Cypress layout. Although our stay was short at Peninsula, a return visit is a must to play the Lakes and Marsh nines.
A quick trip back to the condo for some leisure time was certainly welcomed by all of the trip participants. This writer took the opportunity to check out the white sands and clear blue waters of the Gulf Coast. After an hour in the water, I can report that I did not leave the beach area covered in crude. In fact, very little of the oil spill which affected the coastal areas of neighbouring states showed up on the Alabama Gulf Coast beaches.
That evening we took up with Captain Rick McDuffie and his custom sport fishing 62 foot charter boat – Sea Hunter, out of the San Roc Cay Marina. He provided an evening cruise for our group through the Intracoastal waters. Liquid refreshments and a constant supply of shrimp, tuna and onboard BBQ were appreciated by all as we looked ahead to another golf-filled day.
R.C. Craft, owner and founder of Craft Farms had a dream. He wanted Arnold Palmer to design a golf course on his 870-acre gladiola farm. Mr. Palmer made his dream come true with two top rated signature courses, Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend, featuring 36 tremendous holes of golf. The short burst of liquid sunshine that greeted us on the way to the first tee on the Cypress Bend course was quickly followed by the steady sunshine we had grown accustomed to. If the pristine wide fairways featuring generous landing areas and large undulating greens accentuated by water we found on nearly every hole are an indication of what awaits golfers on the Cotton Creek course, I’m all for a return trip. After our game we were treated to a delightful lunch in the clubhouse. Be sure to try the secret recipe onion rings.
GlenLakes Golf Club offers 27 holes of golf with the Robert Von Hagge / Bruce Devlin designed “Vista Dunes” championship layout and the adjoining “Lakes” resort-style9-hole course. Our nine holes was played on a pleasant links-style layout featuring strategic mounding on undulating fairways and greens with a few well-placed water hazards and lakes thrown in. Course knowledge is required to score the low number on this course.
After a brief break back on the beach we were off to The Original Oyster House, known for their fresh and varied seafood menu. After a sampling of fresh oysters on the half shell, my bowl of Blockhead Joe’s (how appropriate) clam chowder arrived and was followed by a plate of sea scallops. All of the dishes were cooked to perfection and apparently filling enough that I was able to avoid dessert.
After a quick morning visit to the beach, it was back to the condo to pack up and head for the Lost Key Golf Club, our final golf destination on this trip. The Arnold Palmer redesign is located on the Barrier Island of Perdido Bay in the State of Florida and requires strategic placement of the golf ball off the tee. Lost Key was the first course in Florida to be certified as an Audubon International Silver Sanctuary and the course continues to protect the natural resources of the area while providing an excellent golf experience.
Lost Key Golf Club is also a big promoter of stress relief for the troops overseas by providing them with mats, golf clubs and an abundance of golf balls donated by golfers playing their club.
After another substantial lunch and all too soon it was time to head for the Pensacola Airport for my first flight on my journey home. A perfect mix of good company, fantastic golf courses, a variety of memorable restaurant opportunities and some quality down time at the beach made my first visit to the Gulf Shores of Alabama more than memorable.
If this story has piqued your interest in the Gulf Shores / Orange Beach area of Southern Alabama, please check out the golf and stay & play opportunities available at www.golfgulfshores.com.
You won’t be disappointed.