Golf Shores, Alabama – More Than Just Gulf
By E. Nolan
You see what I did there (with the title)? Yes, that was intentional. The words are almost interchangeable in Gulf Shores, Alabama. First of all, it’s on the Gulf of Mexico – closest thing to an ocean for us Midwesterners. Secondly, with courses like those at Craft Farms, Kiva Dunes, and Rock Creek – we’re talking about some of the biggest name designers and the best golf layouts in the entire state… all in one snug little beachfront community surrounded by magnet cities like Pensacola, Mobile and Biloxi. This is a hot spot – a vacation destination I’ve been privileged to experience five times in the past eight years… and a zone I’ve covered extensively as Tee Times wraps up this four part series. This is the All-Star Edition – the Gulf Shores Highlight Reel if you will – of what coastal Alabama is all about. Trust me. It’s more than just gulf… I mean golf!
Gulf Shores is “the San Diego of the South… with Iowa prices.” There’s a billion budget deals to be had in everything from dining to lodging to activities to golf. That statement can be made about several great places across our beautiful homeland – that is true. But very few of those other places have this temperate climate – this near year-round perfect beach weather – waiting for you. At least not without breaking your bank. The average high in January and February on the northern edge of the Gulf is 59 degrees… in March… 64… in April… 70. That’s the average… NOT the “once in a blue moon feels like you won the lottery” good weather we get up here in those months. That’s the “50 degrees warmer than here” average. Ask Jake Owen – that there’s beachin’ weather.
Behind only the gulf’s pristine beaches, golf is the popular draw. Eight dynamic designs pull visitors to seven special properties. Craft Farms (Golf Central) offers 36 holes of Arnold Palmer championship golf – the only Palmer courses in Alabama – each highly praised and rated by the sport’s most popular publications. Cotton Creek is the original, longer and more littered with risk/reward opportunities. Cypress Bend was Palmer’s sequel on property, acclaimed for its playability and conditioning from inception.
Six other Gulf Shores courses beckon within minutes of Craft Farms. Kiva Dunes is Alabama’s only beachside routing, with subtle undulation, buried dunes, and windswept fairways. Kiva Dunes is a nature preserve masquerading as a golf course -a Jerry Pate specialty in the south. Golf Digest has long maintained a love affair with the property, proclaiming it routinely as one of “America’s 100 Best Public Courses” and one of the country’s “Top 75 Golf Resorts.”
The course that sneaks up on everyone, likely due to its unassuming name, is Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club. Earl Stone’s masterpiece on Mobile Bay has 27 holes and is cleverly constructed on 820 stunning acres surrounded by the Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve. Earl also designed another course up the road: Rock Creek. (Arguably Alabama’s “best value round.”) Rock Creek stuns with its topographical variety – particularly the elevation changes – with panoramic views of the freshwater wetlands and the gorge-ous Rock Creek basin. And Earl has a third (Stone) pillar in the portfolio – with 27 more holes: TimberCreek Golf Club. Playing golf at TimberCreek is like playing in an arboretum or botanical garden. It’s more Augusta National… almost “Carolina” golf. Just off I10 it’s a convenient stop – into or out of Gulf Shores – for a quick, serene round.
The newest course in the Golf Gulf Shores portfolio is the Bruce Devlin / Robert Von Hagge’s Vista-Dunes and Lakes collection of 27 holes in nearby Foley – not far from my family’s favorite Alabama restaurant south of Birmingham… Lambert’s Café. Lambert’s gives you a buffet as an appetizer and then take home boxes for your entrees. Trust me, it works.
And finally… the Alabama gulf shore does factually extend into Florida, and accordingly Golf Gulf Shores has one Florida property in its back pocket: Lost Key – a recent Arnold Palmer redesign. Built on the Barrier Island of Perdido Key, Lost Key is the polar opposite of the aforementioned six courses. It has more of a private club feel to it, and is surrounded by galleries of buildings instead of trees. Lost Key was the first course in Florida to be certified as an Audubon International Sanctuary – the course itself. (Check out the aerial shots on the course website!)
The golf is memorable in southern Alabama but you still have to eat. You have to stay somewhere and the family is going to want to pursue other interests. Well guess what? You’re covered. Every coastal Alabama visitor can, and should, begin and end their travel planning through Golf Gulf Shores – Alabama’s Headquarters for Great Gulf Coast Golf Vacations. Here’s why: Gulf Shores Alabama – on any given day – has over fifty hotel options, seven hundred condos for lease, forty family attractions and nearly one hundred fifty dining establishments. Whoa! TMI! The experts at Golf Gulf Shores cut the fluff – they can narrow your options down quickly to what they consider the best among the rest… specifically eight championship golf courses, eight lodging hosts, six restaurants, and one website (gulfshores.com) for exploring ALL the thrills, sights and activities available within 32 miles of the “world’s whitest beaches.” From the Brett/Robinson, Foremost, Island House and Staybridge Suites to Spectrum Resorts and Kaiser Realty, Kiva Dunes (Home Run!) and Meyer Vacation Rentals – anything you’re looking for in lodging options – they can hook you up with it. Golf (Stay & Play) Packages are the Golf Gulf Shore’s forte, and they’ll save the golfers among you the most for the least trouble.
Golf Gulf Shores even branches out into dining, with a handful of local favorites worthy of their promotion. Cobalt’s “contemporary coastal cuisine” is as popular with boaters as it is with motorists given its waterside location under the Perdido Bay Bridge. Cosmo’s reaches out to the foodie explorer – the eclectic diner – with a creative chef inspired menu, while Live Bait and Live Bait Too! provide animated (busy) karaoke/comedic/budget friendly dining arenas. And then there’s the trio of Tacky Jack’s – Favorite Local Hangouts – in Orange Beach, Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores. The best word I can use to describe them is “indescribable” (helpful, I know) with as varied and people-pleasing a menu as you’ll find anywhere. Of added interest to some, there are many restaurants that will actually cook what YOU catch (Tacky Jack’s, Flora-Bama and a half-dozen others) and serve it “with panache!” So the “freshness” of the seafood is actually up to you! Given all of that you should be ready to go – bags packed, mail held, neighbor ready to shovel your driveway…
But wait, there’s more. Sightseeing highlights from the area include the historic Fort Morgan, the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge and Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo… and the hybrid golfer/fisherman is pampered even more with the Gulf State Park Fishing Pier and one of the world’s largest fishing boat fleets to take you out into deeper waters for Red Snapper, Grouper and Trigger Fish. (Trust me… I could go on and on!)
Golf may be the main act in Gulf Shores – and you’ll likely want to stay for an encore or seven – but don’t forget about the rest. There’s more than just something for everyone… there’s much to do for anyone. Save your money – splurge on memories instead. Golf Gulf Shores.