The Other L.A.
September 23, 2009
Filed under Destinations
Although Lower Alabama holds the title “Riviera of the South” thanks to the area’s splendid beaches, fertile waters, challenging golf courses and outstanding cuisine, many visitors to this tourist-friendly region insist that golf is king here. Nationally, when the subject of golf in Alabama arises, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail may dominate some conversations, but Alabama’s Gulf Shores/Orange Beach region should soon begin to pop up on those must-play lists, since the 10 courses that belong to the Gulf Shores Golf Association feature incredible variety, countless challenges and well-maintained tracks designed by some of the biggest names in the game.
The sun-kissed sand and rippling waters of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach draw thousands of snowbirds each winter to its numerous campgrounds and RV resorts. Most of these facilities, including Bay Breeze RV on the Bay and the lovely Island Retreat RV Park, lie along State Route 180, which squiggles between the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay on a narrow peninsula that terminates on its western extreme at Fort Morgan State Park. Here, Admiral David G. Farragut shouted the phrase, “Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” during the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. History buffs and curious children will likely enjoy exploring Fort Morgan itself, since the fortifications fascinate.
The Gulf Shores/Orange Beach region also offers numerous other activities for travelers who cannot distinguish a green from a fairway. Lounging in the fine white sand, playing in the surf or going parasailing may appeal to some, while others may indulge in deep-sea fishing for red snapper (this is the “Red Snapper Capital of the World”), grouper and amberjack (book with the Necessity and Captain Ben Fairey, who has steered his anglers to 10 world records).
As popular as the beaches and the fishing are, however, the golf here distinguishes the area from other sandy retreats. Kiva Dunes, for example, has been ranked by Golf Digest as the 24th best upscale course in the country and Alabama’s No.1 course. Designed by PGA Tour player Jerry Pate, who is from the region, Kiva Dunes delivers challenging links-style golf on a course that appears to be manicured by a phalanx of detail-obsessed aestheticians.
To the east along 180 sits the 27-hole expanse of Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club. Consisting of three nines named Marsh, Cypress and Lakes – the latter of which could be called Plenty of Hidden Lakes – Peninsula is run by Honours Golf, an organization that puts a premium on quality service. A round at Peninsula begins with iced apples on the first tee and will likely end with a smile, regardless of whether the putts dropped. Honours Golf also runs Craft Farms, which consists of two Arnold Palmer-signature courses, Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend. A few of the holes on Cotton Creek are so beautiful that players may want to pull out their cameras before they pull out their drivers. Cypress Bend, though similarly attractive, is kinder to wayward drives.
Golfers who spray the ball may want to stick to hybrids on Timber Creek, since this hilly course is also extremely narrow. Rock Creek Golf Club will undoubtedly earn votes as “favorite in the region,” since its undulating terrain, forested fairways and impeccable greens combine to deliver a truly special experience.
Glen Lakes Golf Club deliciously serves up more links-style golf and a handful of memorable holes that golfers may well dream about. Soldier Creek Golf Club will soon possess a golf course-adjacent high-end RV resort to complement its lengthy par 3s. The fairways on The Golf Club of The Wharf seem to float between ribbons of water or to be suspended on the roots of giant oaks. And although locals have dubbed the course near Pensacola, Florida, “Lost Balls” because its fairways slither between abundant, Titleist-eating wetlands, Lost Key Golf Club is another Arnold Palmer design that demands accuracy but exudes artistry.
No scorecard should have a 10 on it, but these 10 courses will find their way onto many a must-play list.