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Kiva Dunes Golf Course Review

Texas Outside Rating: 9.3

Golf - Public Course · 18 Holes · Par 72
Gulf Shores, AL
Date Last Played: February 07, 2012

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Kiva Dunes Golf Course Review

Wow, what a fantastic track and Kiva Dunes is well deserving of all the awards and accolades, some of which include:  

  • #2 Best New Public Course in the US according to Golf Digest (1995)
  • Golf Magazines's "Top 10 You Can Play"
  • #60 in Gulf Digest's Top 75 Golf Resorts
  • #58 in America's Top 100 Public Courses

Kiva Dunes was designed by Jerry Pate, winner of the 1976 US Open as a PGA Tour rookie, and opened in 1995.  He designed a wide-open, links-style course that meanders through sand and trees and environmentally protected areas on a stunning and secluded piece of property between the Gulf of Mexico and Bon Secour Bay.  What we think makes Kiva Dunes a fun and demanding course includes:

  • excellent conditions from tee box to the pin - the course is very well maintained and manicured
  • lots of variety with each hole being a little different from the previous holes
  • a little bite of everything that will test your game including forced carries, dog legs, hidden hazards, water and sand, wetlands and natural areas, wind,  and contoured fairways
  • pot to monster sized bunkers that are steep and deep
  • challenging green complexes and heavily contoured and rolling fairway
  • holes that require good club selection as well as course management skills and precise approach shots

Kiva Dunes is a bear from the tips at 7092 yards so make sure you don't try to bite off more than you can chew.  Wind will typically come into play and it can have a significant impact on your score.  Generally speaking the fairways are ample off the tee box but if you spray it you're wet, lost in a natural area, under some trees, or in one of those treacherous bunkers. 

There are some outstanding holes at Kiva Dunes, some of which include:

  • #2, a 541 yard par 5, with an intimidating forced carry over a wetland and huge natural sand area from the tee box followed by a fairway that twists and turns along a lake and past 6 bunkers to a guarded green
  • #5 has a challenging shot off the tee to a landing zone with sand, water, and trees that can easily come into play
  • #6 offers an excellent risk reward shot to try and shorten the hole by carrying a long natural sand area
  • #13, a 175 yard par 3 with a dramatically raised green complex with 5 big steep and deep bunkers surrounding it
  • the dramatic 458-yard par 4 18th that wraps around a lake and the longest green side approach bunker and the biggest green I've experienced

If you've come to Gulf Shores to enjoy the 32 miles of beaches with white sand that looks like its specially ordered from a postcard then you'll love the bunkers at Kiva Dunes which are large and deep and filled with enough of that same fine white sand to add another 5 miles to the beach.  In fact, it's tempting to get an umbrella, a beach chair, and a Pina Colada and spend time in some of the bunkers alongside a crystal clear lake.  Some of the bunkers are so steep and deep you need a ladder to get out of them - take some food with you if you land in one of these monsters.  Rumor has it that over the years, three golfers starved to death trying to get out of one of the five treacherous bunkers surrounding the 13th green.  I personally took home over a pound of sand in the shoes, pockets, hair, and other body openings!  The good news is that they are in perfect condition and the sand is soft and thick.  The grass surrounding the bunkers can be equally as challenging since it will stop your ball on the edge of the bunker! 

The greens at Kiva Dunes are equally as treacherous as the bunkers - plenty of slope and undulation plus tiers and ridges.  Three putts were common for us.  They were in perfect condition, held the ball well, and ran true.  They were a tad slow, around an 8 when we played but they normally run around a 10.  The greens range in shape and most are well above average size and 18 is huge!

The Kiva Dunes fairways were also perfect.  Most are ample and there is room for some error.  Several have plenty of contour. 

Bottom line - Kiva Dunes can be demanding but it's fair and if you pick the right set of tee boxes and avoid the bunkers you'll have a good round and even if you don't score well, you'll still enjoy this fantastic course. Oh, and don't hit the alligator sunning himself on the bank and close to the green or try to retrieve your ball just in front of his jaws!  

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Course Slope & Ratings

Tee Box Yardage Rating Slope
Gold 7,092 73.9 132
Blue 6,464 70.8 129
White 5,849 67.8 119
Red 5,006 68.5 115

Course Information

Course Architect:
Jerry Pate
Greens Type:
Champion Bermuda
Greens Condition
Greens Difficulty
Fairway Condition
Bunker Condition
Course Map
Beware of water on 12 holes and the 56 sand traps.

Texas Outside Rating

Overall Rating:
9.3 out of 10
Fun to Play:
Front Nine Rating:
Back Nine Rating:


Approximate Weekend
$45.00 to $93.00

Service is very good (friendly, helpful, and fun), the pro shop is well stocked, and the practice facilities are very good. The restaurant is home to a tasty breakfast and several options for lunch plus a full bar and a fantastic patio with Tiki Bar over looking the 18th hole.



Here's How Texas Outside Determines the Scorecard Rating

The Texas Outside rating scale ranges from 1 to 10 – a perfect 10 course would be something like this:  links along a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean and bordered by tall trees; lush fairways on rolling hills with lots of natural hazards; water (which is crystal clear) on most of the holes; immaculate greens (but they are undulating and tough); lots of variety and character (each hole is completely different and includes blind shots, elevation changes, doglegs, and significant challenges); perfectly manicured traps with the whitest and prettiest sand you’ve ever seen; a nice club house with great food and a 19th hole; a GPS; plenty of beverage carts or your own cooler and ice; and it only costs $40 bucks! What this means is that you probably won’t find any 10s in Texas – try Cabo San Lucas, Pebble Beach, or some of the Hawaii courses! 
Texas Outside rates courses on the following:

  • Beauty – tall trees, rolling hills, beautiful houses, waterfalls, and similar stuff would score high; a 1 would be flat, bushes or cactus instead of trees, and some grass but mostly weeds
  • Difficulty – a straight, 300 yard par 4 with no traps or hazards, no out of bounds or water would probably get a 1; if it is a 460 yard par 4 over two ravines, with water along one side, natural hazards on the other, strategically placed traps or that dreaded tree right in the middle of the fairway, we are talking a 10. 
  • Variety – what would you give a course where all the holes looked and played exactly the same (“I thought we just played that hole!”); were side-by-side, which is good for finding or dodging other people’s balls, but not much fun; and you can see the flag from every tee box?  That’s right, it gets a 1.
  • Fun Scale – a 10 is where you walk off the course and say “now that was fun” and you can’t wait to get back, or you immediately turn around and play another 18 holes
  • Value – a 5 is $50 to $60, a 10 is $20 to $30, and 1 is $200 or so – of course all of this is dependent upon how you liked the course.  For example, if a run down, boring municipal course, with six players on each hole was only $10; it would still get a value rating of 1.
  • Condition – this one’s pretty easy – what condition are the fairways. A 10 commands very lush perfectly manicured fairways, compared to a 1, which has fire ants, weeds, and more dirt than grass!
  • Condition of Greens and Difficulty – very hard to read greens with lots of undulation and tough pin placement, rate very high on the difficulty scale.  Condition is self-explanatory.  

All of the above determines the overall score for the golf course.  In other words, we like courses that are pretty, fun, very challenging with a lot of variety, and fairways and greens in excellent condition – all for $40.  We also tend to play the courses that are affordable for the masses, which means in the $30 to $80 range. We rate hard and we haven’t found a 10 in Texas yet – don’t worry we haven’t given up and we’re still looking.