Maybe you’ve been to all the other golf meccas in the United States, or maybe you’re looking to extend your golf season this fall or get a jump on it next spring or maybe the golf buddy trip isn’t working out this year and it’s time for a family vacation. No matter which way you slice it, Gulf Shores will fit the bill nicely.
Located along the Gulf of Mexico between Florida’s Panhandle and Mobile Bay is Alabama’s modest 32 mile coastline. The Gulf Shores area maybe be short in distance but more than makes up for it in quality amenities, golf and otherwise.
Maybe more importantly, the amenities are served up with a full dose of true Southern Hospitality, not the manufactured kind that was beaten into the help at corporate seminars, but the real and genuine kind that comes from the heart and from true Southern culture. Almost as importantly is the value in the many hospitality and golf offerings. The Gulf Coast of Alabama is a seriously good deal.
The convenience of one stop shopping is provided by Golf Gulf Shores. Contact them by email or phone; discuss your preferences for accommodations and golf, and they will provide a customized itinerary and price quote. (golfgulfshores.com 888-815-1902).
Accommodations can be oceanfront houses to condos to hotel rooms. The two firms with the greatest number of options are Kaiser Realty, Inc (kaiserealty.com, 800-225-4853) and Meyer Real Estate, (meyerRE.com, 800-859-8948). Anything from a modest room to eight bedroom oceanfront houses is available.
Oh, the ocean…..for those who have never experienced the Gulf of Mexico beaches, then you’re in for a treat. The sand is nearly pure sugar white and the warm Gulf water is an azure blue. It is great for swimming and for children since the waves rarely get big and it is gradually shallow a long way out. The Gulf beaches and waters are very mellow and calming.
Golf in the Gulf Shores area offers everything from scenic coast lines to wetland preserves, to rolling hills, to links-style golf creatively designed and strategically placed by some of the greatest names in golf course design, including Arnold Palmer, Bruce Devlin, Jerry Pate, Earl Stone, Robert Von Hagge and Jay Morrish.
A great place to start would be Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, (peninsulagolfclub.com, 800-391-8009). Earl Stone’s creation set on beautiful Mobile Bay is nothing short of spectacular as it boasts over 7,000 yards from the championship tees and has been consistently rated 4 stars by Golf Digest. It’s 27 holes are situated on 820 secluded acres touched on two sides by the Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve. This masterful design winds through live oaks, cypress and natural vegetation with more than 30 lakes and some of the area’s largest white-sand bunkers and waste areas.
The three distinctive nine-hole courses at Peninsula offer golfers a dramatically different playing experience time after time and numerous tee boxes are available to accommodate every golfer’s skill level. Only enhancing the enjoyment is a state of the art GPS system that gives players clear visuals of the holes and accurate yardage.
A tradition at Honours Golf facilities, Peninsula features chilled apples on the 1st tee on each of its 3-nines, and iced-cold towels delivered to you on sweltering days.
Another must play is 36 hole Craft Farms in Gulf Shores, (CraftFarms.com, 800-327-2657). Both the Cypress Bend and Cotton Creek courses were designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer in the classic close-to-the ground style. Both courses are a pleasure to play and the conditions and professional service are second to none.
Further up Mobile Bay are a couple of delights built on surprisingly varied terrain. TimberCreek Golf Club, (gotimbercreek.com 877-621-9900) in Daphne and Rock Creek Golf Club in Fairhope (rockcreekgolf.com 800-458-8815). Another Earl Stone design, TimberCreek rises and falls over numerous elevation changes through forests of Dogwoods, Magnolias and Pines. Rock Creek, also an Earl Stone layout is a superb semi-private 18 hole club that gives the impression of being in the Carolinas or even New England with it’s rolling countryside.
A couple of somewhat more modest courses worth playing are Glenlakes Golf Club in Foley,( glenlakesgolf.com, 251-955-1220) and The Golf Club of The Wharf in Gulf Shores( theWharfAL.com, 251-968-7366).
Glenlakes is a very manageable Robert Von Hagge/Bruce Devlin design routed through a residential community that features links style design elements including lots of mounding and many pot bunkers. It is considered the best value in the area.
The Golf Club at The Wharf was formerly known as The Gulf Shores Golf Club until being purchased recently by the owners of The Wharf entertainment/residential complex and renovated by the father-son team of Jay and Carter Morrish. The renovation lengthened the par 71 course by 300 yards and added numerous water features, enhanced fairways, and additional bunkers. The goals to beautify and enhance the course, and to make play more challenging, have been achieved. The Golf Club at The Wharf now gives the appearance of an old time plantation course with giant pines and dogwoods. Stop in and see Ernie Smith the General Manager, the former Mayor of Greenville, Alabama. He is worth the price of admission alone.
The pick of the litter for golf is easily Kiva Dunes Golf and Beach Resort located at the end of the peninsula in Fort Morgan.( kivadunes.com, 888-TEE-KIVA). A lot of golf courses profess to be “links” courses and some purists insist that the only true links are in the United Kingdom, but if there ever was a piece of ground in the US that qualified then Kiva Dunes is it. The land is rolling dunesland punctuated by ponds, scrub pines and sandy waste areas. Former US Open champion and Alabama native Jerry Pate was given the opportunity to design over noted architects like Dye, Nicklaus and Fazio and he created a masterpiece. He said upon first viewing the site “Golf course architects would kill to work this piece of property.” Kiva Dunes has rightfully been named as the #1 golf course in Alabama by some publications and is easily inside the Top 100 courses in America. New grass (Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass) was planted on the greens this summer so conditions should be superb for fall golf in 2009. If you only get to play one golf course in Gulf Shores, play Kiva Dunes.
Aside from the beach, the Gulf waters, the varied golf options, the Gulf Shores area offers dining that will knock your socks off, especially if you like seafood. Cobalt, located next to the Caribe resort just opened in December of 2008 but has already taken it’s place near the top of the dining options in the area. Located in Orange Beach between the Gulf and Perdido Bay, Cobalt serves up fresh regional dishes creatively prepared by some of the top chef’s in the South.
For a real hoot head over to Lulu’s at Homeport Marina (lulubuffett.com 251-967-lulu) on the Intracoastal Waterway owned and operated by Jimmy Buffett’s sister Lucy. Featuring, of course, the Cheeseburger in Paradise (they served over 100,000 of them last year) the atmosphere is totally casual and completely fun for the whole family.
If you are a serious seafood chowhound, then you must eat at the Tin Top Restaurant in Bon Secour (firstname.lastname@example.org 251-949-5086). The owners, Bob and Patty Hallmark, proudly preside over this landmark eatery. Don’t let the somewhat casual atmosphere deter you from enjoying the freshest shrimp, oysters and tuna as well as Southern delicacies like fried green tomatoes, gumbo and West Indies, a crab dish. Wednesday nights offers all-you-can-eat Mullet with grits, collard greens and hush puppies if you feel like going way down South.
If sitting and staring out at the Gulf makes you yearn to get out on the water try Sea Hunter Charters (orangebeachfishing.com 251-981-9686) at the San Roc Cay Marina, Captain Ricky McDuffie at the helm. The Sea Hunter is the number one charter boat fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. This fully equipped offshore sport fishing boat offers bottom fishing, offshore fishing, half day trips, and overnighters. On the two day charters they fish for marlin, wahoo, dolphin, swordfish and tuna. The Sea Hunter has no problem reaching the oil rigs and other offshore areas that produce the best catches of red snapper, king mackerel, cobia, amberjack and grouper.
Last, but far from least, is the one-and-only Flora Bama Lounge and Package Store (florbama.com 850-292-0611), one of the world’s last and greatest honky tonks. Located beach front on the Florida-Alabama state line, The Flora Bama stands defiantly between the swanky hotels and fancy condo complexes like some crazy aunt who doesn’t care what you think. Seemingly cobbled together out of assorted hurricane produced drift wood and flotsam and jetsam by drunken sailors, the place rises and turns with little rhyme nor reason. Raucous bands crank out Lynyrd Skynyrd at ear splitting volumes in the main performance area where the ceiling is adorned by over 500 brassieres that were somehow misplaced by their owners in the course of an evening’s frivolity.
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