By E. Nolan

A: Birmingham, Alabama is home to the Honours Golf Corporate headquarters, an elite branch of Troon Golf with a portfolio of golf properties designed by local and global legends like Arnold Palmer.

B: A hometown course from that portfolio is Highland Park – the former Country Club of Birmingham, and oldest course in Alabama (circa 1903). Honours CEO Bob Barrett and the honorable architect Bob Cupp teamed up in 1998 to restore the original design to legendary form.

C: Arnold Palmer gets twin billing in Honours’ prestigious stable of thoroughbreds down in the Gulf Shores region – at Craft Farms. His Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend courses may very well form the King’s most condensed collection of quality crafted golf holes housed anywhere in the world.

D: When Minnesota got rid of Krispy Kreme Donuts our state “health ranking” skyrocketed. But that status gain was our flavor loss, something many a street corner in Alabama is quick to remind us of. #bringthemback

E: Ever heard of Earl Stone? Didn’t think so. (No, he wasn’t Darth Vader. That’s James Earl Jones.) Fortunately for you, my ignorance can now become your intelligence. Earl Stone is a local architectural legend in southern Alabama. His masterpiece at Rock Creek and his fun factory at Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club are two feathers any management company would love to have in their cap.

F: In 1998 Bob Barrett and Rob Shults formed Honours Golf as a partnership based on “Love of the Game” (of golf). The industry veterans quickly morphed that passion into an insistence that the player’s experience at their clubs be about loving golf as “More than a Game.” They believe from their core and to the game’s core that golf is a character-building, value-teaching, Fellowship Vehicle, and partnered with Troon Golf in 2014 to expand that emphasis throughout the industry’s leadership ranks.

G: The Gulf Shores Region of Alabama is the state’s premier “hot spot” given its superb stage of fair climate and beautiful beaches. But the draw that deserves so much more credit and attention is the area golf scene, with a FAB-FIVE of Honours’ courses featured there at Craft Farms, Kiva Dunes, Rock Creek and Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club.

H: You’ve already read about Highland Park’s historical significance as a golf course. But you’d be wise not to overlook its culinary significance in the course’s proximity to one of Alabama’s best restaurants – the French-inspired Highlands Bar & Grill – only 2.8 miles away. I could eat that Hanger Steak every day – if I had a different job.

I: Alabama is the only state in the U.S. with all the natural resources to make Iron. And now you know.

J: There are plenty of sidetracks to take on your Alabama adventure (not unlike the course of this article). This state isn’t all golf, but golf and the Gulf certainly define it. Golf architect Jerry Pate took the only Gulf-side resort property in Alabama and developed Kiva Dunes – a luxurious Stay & Play resort where most of the course’s elevation is hidden. Didn’t make sense until I played it either. And speaking of genius, Jack Nicklaus is an extended member of the Honours family, by virtue of his creation at the World Golf Village Resort in Florida.

K: Beauty and the beach. Year after year, the aforementioned Kiva Dunes battles Farmlinks, Ross Bridge, and another Jerry Pate creation, Limestone Springs, for state supremacy in national publication rankings. Your best bet is to play all four and rank them for yourself.

L: Honours management logically stretches into neighboring Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, but they also have satellite properties in Ohio and North Carolina. And are ever expanding.

M: The capital city of Alabama – Montgomery – hosts a pair of municipal Honours facilities at the Gateway Golf & Learning Center – the 9-hole Gateway Golf Course and the championship Lagoon Park Golf Course.

N: Minutes from the University of Alabama, on the banks of Lake Tuscaloosa, the stunning Gary Player produced NorthRiver Yacht Club is unfortunately private – with membership by invitation only. The other half live quite well here.

O: Mere minutes from NASCAR’s fastest and biggest Oval – Talladega Superspeedway – Oxford’s community golf course, Cider Ridge snugly sneaks along the base of Mount Cheaha. Masterfully crafted by Alabama-based Bill Bergin the course is championed by the natural surrounds of Talladega National Forest.

P: Earl Stone has designed 34 courses. If you’ve learned nothing else in this article, I bet that’s new to you too. I went into my round at the Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club without knowing it was his design and had to ask four employees before one of them told me who’d built it. What a masterful blend of coastal flatness and subliminal elevation madness!

Q: I’m often asked the Question, “If you could play just one of the Honours courses, which would you choose?” As much of an Arnold Palmer fan as I am – and always have been – I must admit, that answer is Earl Stone’s Rock Creek.

R: So what is so special about Rock Creek? Let’s start with getting far more than you’d expect – out of the conditions, the scenery, the challenge… the everything. I actually didn’t play it until my third Gulf Shores visit. Total idiot! I knew the King’s Craft Farms would be spectacular, and had assumed as much of Kiva Dunes, but didn’t have a clue just how picturesque and captivating Rock Creek’s coastal slice of Mobile Bay shoreline would be.

S: The essence of Honours Golf is very much the same as the essence of Alabama. Southern Hospitality. It’s the Sum of Selfless, Service with Smiles and leaving Satisfied. Oh, and Sweet Tea.

T: You’re likely more familiar with Troon Golf than Honours Golf – given the former’s global prominence. You already know Troon sets the bar in marketing and management, and if you’ve ever golfed in Arizona you’ve probably played a Troon course. On the flip side, if you’re more familiar with Honours Golf than Troon, they’re essentially now one and the same – extensions of each other… extensions of excellence.

U: The Appalachian Mountains creep into northeast Alabama and leave in their foothills a collection of lakes, creeks and waterfalls that perfectly suit a golf architect’s eye. Sammy Dean came to Union Grove and stole 18 pages from the sensational scenery to sculpt his creation, Cherokee Ridge Country Club, around a 17-acre lake, Lynn’s Creek and an 80-foot waterfall.

V: Alabama is a worthy Vacation Destination for anyone who hates winter or loves paying half the lodging and activity rates of the East and West Coasts. The golf courses are open – on average – 361 days a year, and with Honours Golf and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail bringing in over 600,000 golfers a year… there’s still plenty of room left for you.

W: Honours Golf’s most distinguished property is in Florida at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. That facility earns that distinction because of the architects associated with the courses: King & Bear (Palmer and Nicklaus) and Slammer & Squire (Snead and Sarazen)… and the on-site World Golf Hall of Fame.

X: Here’s an Xample of why “A to Z” might not be the perfect story theme. My spellcheck says there’s supposed to be an “e” at the beginning of “xample”, but I’m ignoring it. Sometimes computers are wrong.

Y: Yes, that last “xample” reeked of desperation, but you wouldn’t believe how few things in Alabama start with the last six letters of the alphabet. Turns out, there are few of Uncle Victoria’s Wax Xylophone Yoga Zippers down here. I know it’s crazy… but it’s true.

Z: How about we end with Popeyes? They’re all over Alabama and, sure, they’re technically “Lousiana Kitchens” and yes, (I know what you’re thinking) “Popeyes doesn’t start with a ‘z’.” But phonetically “Popeyes” ends with one. Like this article. Z