Ahh … there’s nothing like heading to the beach in the summertime. Soft sand, cool breeze, cold drinks … and it’s even better with some hot golf.
But this sure isn’t Lake Michigan, and it’s pretty far south of North Avenue Beach. Nope, it’s the white, sugary sand found in Gulf Shores, Alabama, home to America’s most affordable golf getaway.
While Alabama might not offer the golf-per-square-inch spectacle of Myrtle Beach or the flat-out quantity found in Florida, there’s no shortage of big-time, big-name and reasonably priced courses canvassing the quiet countryside. From the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail stretching top to bottom of ’Bama, to FarmLinks and Limestone Springs in its heart, to the great golf in Gulf Shores, the Alabama golf scene is awash with variety, beauty and pedigree.
“Really, it’s all about the quality of the golf and the affordability,” said the Alabama Tourism Department’s Kerry Teague. “There’s just so much quality and variety to the golf here. That’s what people that come here can’t believe and that’s why we get a lot of repeat visitors.”
ROLL WITH THE TIDE
It wasn’t the mouth-watering price points that brought us to these shores; however, it was a tidal wave of great word of mouth — especially when it comes to the area’s killer course, Kiva Dunes (kivadunes.com). Kiva, a stunning, secluded golf resort closest to the area’s beautiful beaches, is the poster child for one of America’s hidden golf havens. It was recently named the No. 1 public course in Alabama by Golfweek and no wonder: Kiva’s a beauty to behold and the perfect example of the quality and affordability people can find in this corner of the country.
It’s also one of a varied collection of courses making up Golf Gulf Shores (golf.gulfshores.com) a tourism bureau with a magical menu of nine notable courses. Golf Gulf Shores offers coursesfrom such name-brand architects as Arnold Palmer, Bruce Devlin, the father-son team of Jay and Carter Morrish, Jerry Pate and Robert Von Hagge.
“There’s not a number one reason why people love coming here,” said Duncan Millar, Executive Director of Golf Gulf Shores. “There are a lot of different reasons. Value — your dollar goes further. The quality of the accommodations, quality of the golf and great hospitality, too.”
Spread over a 32-mile stretch of Gulf Coast beach on the border with Florida and across the bay from Biloxi, Mississippi, the towns of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach offer Midwesterners a great getaway that won’t break the bank, either.
Just how affordable is it? Rates start as low as $70 per golfer, per night (based on a group of four) for room and golf on any of nine golf courses. With great golf, gorgeous golf condo accommodations and no shortage of off-course attractions, it’s no wonder why Yahoo Travel named Gulf Shores a Top 10 Best Winter Retreat.
Kiva’s far from the only charming track in Gulf Shores’ stable, though. Craft Farms (craftfarms.com) features a double-dose of Arnold Palmer-designed tracks, the 7,000-yard Cotton Creek and the 6,800-yard Cypress Bend, each offering impeccable conditions, challenging golf and a 4 ½-star rated experience by Golf Digest.
One of the most enjoyable courses of the bunch is Gulf Shores Golf Club (gulfshoresgolfclub.com) a pretty, playable 6,800-yard, Jay and Carter Morrish-designed gem. With plenty of water, wide fairways and big greens, it makes a beautiful bookend to any Alabama golf trip.
“There’s a really great variety to the layouts,” Millar said. “You won’t play two of the same any day, they’re all very unique in design characteristics.”
Throw in great accommodations from beachfront condos to hotel suites, great eats (try the Royal Reds shrimp) and lively nightlife (the Flora-Bama bar is one of the best in the world) and it’s easy to see what’s so great about Gulf Shores.
GREAT GREEN ACRES
While Gulf Shores makes a great eye-opener to Alabama golf, there’s plenty more to see.
FarmLinks at Pursell Farms (farmlinks.org) a 3,500-acre retreat from the ordinary in Fayetteville, Alabama, is a plantation-turned hunting preserve and world-class golf resort. It even ranks No. 39 on Golf Digest’s 2011 ranking of the 75 Best Golf Resorts in North America. While you’re welcome to hunt for a medley of dove, duck or deer while you’re there (or even clay pigeons) you’d be better off trying for eagles and birdies at the spectacular FarmLinks Golf Club.Designed by the dynamic duo of Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, FarmLinks is a 7,444-yard rollercoaster spread out over a 600-acre theme park of a course. Hurdzan and Fry, the Midwestern-based architects who’ve only gotten better with age, painted an incredibly playable track on a palette of diverse terrain that includes prairie, parkland, woods, water and incredible elevation changes, to boot.
FarmLinks is also a testing ground for the world’s best groundskeepers and is named the world’s only “agronomic research and demonstration golf course.” Each hole features a new magical mix of experimental grasses, from Zorro to switchgrass and more, a proving ground, a research farm, an environmental monitoring station — not just a pretty face.
Loop around the north side of Birmingham metro, to the town of Oneonta, and you’ll find the lovely, leggy Limestone Springs (limestonesprings.com). It’s a highly-heralded track, ranked the No. 2 course you can play in the state by GOLF Magazine,and was designed in 1999 by Alabama’s favorite golfing son, Jerry Pate.
Carved out of the valley between Alabama’s Red Mountain and Sand Mountain, Limestone Springs serves up 7,000 yards of ridges, valleys, bluffs and streams and — you guessed it — limestone outcroppings. The 416-yard, par-4 10th is the clubs’ signature hole, featuring an elevated tee shot straight through a corridor of trees, before doglegging right with a heavily-bunkered approach to an elevated green. Limestone Springs might save its best for last. As the 456-yard, par-4 18th has been rated one of the “Best Finishing Holes in America,” by Zagat’s.
HOT ON THE ‘TRAIL’
Of course, no golf trip to Alabama would be complete without a stop along the famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (rtjgolf.com). One of the most recognizable tourism draws to the state and one of the most ambitious projects in golf history.
How ambitious was it? The Trail is an amazing collection of 468 holes of championship golf on 11 different sites across Alabama, built all at once. You want diversity? The Trail features courses playing everything from 4,700 yards (the par-3 Short Course at Grand National) to the 8,200 yards of the gargantuan Ross Bridge Resort (rossbridgeresort.com), which is the No. 56-ranked resort in North America by Golf Digest.
The best of the best is the fantastic Capitol Hill complex in Prattville (rtjgolf.com/capitolhill) a 54-hole facility home to the heralded Judge Course, ranked the No. 4 best course in all of Alabama by Golf Digest.
But maybe more amazing than the golf, might just be the price. Summer golf specials for the Trail start at just $50 per day for unlimited play on a variety of the courses. Visit rtjgolf.com/reservations or call 800.949.4444 for more information. Flight, car and hotel reservations can found at playrtj.com.
Whether you want mountains, valleys, streams, sun or sand, it’s clear that Alabama’s golf scene has it all and more — and for a lot less. So if you’re looking to forget the Chicago crowds, umbrellas and beach balls this summer, you’ll be better off in ‘Bama.
For information visit www.alabama.travel.