To escape the cold weather in January and February, we started planning a golfing vacation. Last year was California so this year we decided on the "Sunshine State" and it's warm temperate winters! Our plan included a golf vacation in Gulf Shores for a little over a week and then on to Florida to see some good friends, play some golf, and explore the west coast of Florida. We loaded the motor home and new Jeep Wrangler with shorts, suntan lotion, groceries, golf clubs, bikes, and plenty of Lone Star and Shiner Beer and started heading east to escape the cold. Bad news was when we left it was sunny and 70 degrees and the price of diesel was $3.69!
We didn't get too far when we decided "why not stop in Shreveport and see if we can win a few green fees!" We arrived at Horseshoe Casino in the rain and 40 degrees (so much for escaping the cold), stuffed the wallet with some money and eagerly headed through the front door to the blackjack and craps tables with big smiles on our faces and confidence that if we didn't win the Austin Martin they were giving away we would for sure win enough to pay for gas, food, and golf! A few hours later we met at the bar - no smiles, much lighter wallets, and hopes of a new fortune gone! At least the beer was cold and they had a good band playing and they let us camp in the parking lot for free.
Rain and cold weather followed us all the way to Gulf Shores and we were a little jealous of the Texas weather of 70's and sunny. Shortly after arriving in Gulf Shores the sun and golf clubs came out, it warmed up to 65, and the beach was stunning with pure white sand! And it was starting to cool off in Texas and Austin actually got snow! Our decision to leave was looking better. The farther south east we went the warmer it got and the higher the price of diesel - at $4.07 a gallon and 6 miles a gallon I started to wish I hadn't lost all that money on the craps table.
Over the next eight and a half days we played 171 holes of golf, found some great beach bars and good restaurants, stayed in three different stay and play accommodations, went to Wal Mart twice for more golf balls, consumed a half bottle of Advil and way too many beers, Bloody Marys, Pina Coladas, and Margaritas - and had a blast!
Golf Shores is a hidden gem for a golf vacation and a fantastic place for a family beach vacation. Within 45 minutes of Gulf Shores there are over 30 courses ranging from upscale resort courses to a course owned and operated by the Gulf Shores State Park. And you'll find great variety in design and look and feel with styles from scenic coast line layouts to wetland and wildlife preserves to rolling hills and links style course which have been designed by the likes of Arnold Palmer, Earl Stone, Jay Morrish, and Jerry Pate. All of the courses we played had reasonable rates ($30 to $85), excellent conditions (particularly compared to the brown drought starved fairways in Texas), and were unique and a blast to play.
There are hundreds of choices for golf lodging with stay and play packages or vacation rentals ranging from hotel rooms or fully furnished condos or one to six bedroom homes with views of the ocean to condos and town homes on the individual golf courses or camping on the bays or beach. The problem is with so many choices it's time consuming to do the research and decide on courses and lodging with so many excellent choices. For Golf Stay & Play Packages the best option is to get in touch with Golf Gulf Shores and let them plan the trip including room and tee time reservations. They did an excellent job for us booking us on seven different courses and setting up accommodations at three different places - and it only took one phone call.
Gulf Shores and some of the surrounding towns like Foley or Orange Beach or Predido Bay have hundreds of restaurants, souvenir to upscale to outlet mall shopping plus fun beach bars and nightlife with karaoke or live music. In addition there are other attractions some of which include: a huge waterpark, kayak/canoe/boat/jet ski rentals, a zoo, deep sea fishing, parasailing, horseback riding, and lots more. And if you like sand and surf, the miles of beaches are unbelievable - snow white fluffy sand that is stunning and the sunsets are magnificent particularly with a margarita in hand! And it's not near as crowded as Destin and some of the other well known beach areas! Doesn't get much better.
What an impressive bunch of golf courses that Duncan at Golf Gulf Shores set us up to play - 8 courses in 8 days. So our first stop was at Wal Mart for some Advil, sunscreen, a new golf glove, some tees, and two boxes of Bridgestone golf balls.
First up was Rock Creek Golf Club, about 35 minutes north of Gulf Shores and close to the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The #1 tee box got our first "Wow" - a 525 yard par 5 with a dramatically elevated tee box, 6 bunkers along a fairly tight tree lined fairway that takes a turn left to an odd shaped 2 tier green with 3 big bunkers guarding it - my first of many double bogies plus one lost Bridgestone, but it sure was a fun hole to play! And it only got better - the course, but not my game. Rock Creek plays through natural rolling terrain with unexpected and impressive elevation changes, several wetlands, tall pines and hardwood forests, and the Rock Creek basin - this mountain-style feel is definitely unique to the southern Alabama region. Read our review of Rock Creek Golf Club which we rated 9.2 out of 10.
Monday we were scheduled to play two of the three nines at Peninsula Golf Club. We started on the Lakes Nine which is the shortest of the nines and true to its name has water on all nine holes that can come into play plus plenty of dog legs left and right and it requires some precise target shots if you want to turn in a good score. Needless to say, I couldn't score well and wished I had floating golf balls that drifted back to shore instead of Bridgestones that went straight to the bottom of the lake - another sleeve of brand new balls is gone. Check out the review of the Lakes nine at Peninsula Golf Club.
If you're going to play Peninsula Golf Club than you should consider staying at The Links & Racquet Club Condominiums at The Peninsula. Wow, very impressive condominiums that overlook the golf course and are within a three wood shot to the pro shop, tennis courts, and swimming pool. We stayed in a very well appointed three bedroom condo with a large well equipted kitchen, dinning room, cozy living area, great balcony, and three bathrooms. We stayed in a condo managed by Foremost Property Mangement and they also offer an excellent Stay & Play Package which can include 18 holes of golf and cart per each nights stay, full breakfast each morning at the Clubhouse, daily maid and linen service, club storage and cleaning - all at a very reasonable rate. Read our review of The Links & Racquet Club Condominiums at The Peninsula to learn more about why we loved staying here.
The Cypress nine at Peninsula is regarded as the easiest nine and it plays along the nature preserve with oak and cypress tree lined fairways and has a true resort course feel to it with more traditional and straightforward holes with ample fairways and flatter more friendly greens. Finally, I played well and didn't loose a single ball - amazing. Read our review of Cypress at Peninsula Golf Club to see why we loved this course.
We were staying at Kiva Dunes and from our balcony on the 7th floor we could see several holes and we couldn't wait to tee off on Tuesday. All I'll say Kiva Dunes is it's lots of fun with demanding holes, coastal landscaping (natural sand bunkers, gulf coast brush and fauna, and palm trees swaying in the breeze), sprawling white sand bunkers, wide flowing lush fairways, and near perfect green complexes - get the picture? Plus a 6 foot alligator sunning himself on the bank next to one of the greens. I seemed to find most of the 56 pure white sand bunkers and took a lot of that sand home in my ears, nose, shoes, pockets, and hair - the Jeep got it's first sprinkling of sand. It's no surprise that this course won a number of accolades some of which included: #2 Best New Public Course, Top 10 You Can Play #60 in Golf Digest's Top 75 Golf Resorts, and #58 in America's Top 100 Public Courses! Our rating of 9.3 stars now joins that prestigious award list (in my dreams) - read the review of Kiva Dunes.
Next up was one of the original Gulf Shores courses The Golf Club of the Wharf. - formally known as Gulf Shores Golf Club. This course was built in the 60's and underwent a $5 million renovation which added water features (one more Bridgestone takes a dip), enhanced fairways, new cart paths, and 40 Jay and Carter Morrish (the designers) devilish bunkers which are steep and deep and now missing a lot of sand which somehow ended up in the Jeep. A fairly traditional and straightforward course offering some, but not me, an opportunity to have a relaxing round and turn in a good score. Here is a link to the review of The Golf Club of the Wharf, which we rated 8.5 stars.
Turns out that The Golf Club of the Wharf was a warm up round for a course widely recognized as one of the toughest in Alabama - Lost Key Golf Club in Perdido Key, Florida which is about 15 minutes east along the coast. Wow, every hole on this Arnold Palmer designed course is different and unique and will through something at you that makes golf fun and memorable, challenging and frustrating (several of what I though was a perfect shot rolled down a sloping fairway to a bunker, wetland, or lake), and expensive (this course ate a record 6 new Bridgestones). There are treacherous bunkers, sloping and undulating greens, narrow undulating fairways lined by wetlands that love to eat golf balls, forced carries, dog legs, blind shots, and more. We rated this bear 9.3 stars (a 10 on variety and 9.75 on difficulty) - review of Lost Key Golf Club.
After all those extra swings at Lost Key, I immediately headed for a soak in the jacuzzi tub and a few extra Advils to try an loosen up for Craft Farms on Friday. After the jacuzzi I was refreshed and ready for a fun beach bar and some margaritas to help me forget about my poor round at Lost Key. Unfortunately, I forgot we had an 8 AM tee time and were going to play 36 holes at Craft Farms, which meant that the first couple tee boxes on Craft Farms' Cypress Bend on Friday morning were a little fuzzy and I think I completely missed the ball at least 4 times (does that count as a stroke?) plus dribbled it just past the forward tees 3 times! But on hole four I could actually see the ball as well as the pin and really started to enjoy Cypress Bend. It has a resort links style look and feel with wide fairways, vast landing areas, sprawling bunkers, and large undulating greens - as such it is more player friendly but also has more sand and water to keep you focused - just what I needed after a late night and a few margaritas. I've now collected enough sand to fill a new sandbox for my grandsons. Check out the review of Craft Farm's Club's Cypress Bend.
A Bloody Mary and a greasy good burger at the turn helped me prepare for Cotton Creek at Crafts Farms. I was pumped and raring to go when I was told that this is the harder of the two courses with tight tree lined fairways, dog legs, smaller greens, risk reward opportunities, and a coastal feel as it traverses a unique system of cord-grass accented lakes which come into play on nearly every hole. Hmmm. I didn't do well but I enjoyed the scenery, the fun holes, and excellent conditions. Here is a link to the review of Cotton Creek at Craft Farms which we rated 8.9 stars. By the way Craft Farms has won a number of awards some of which include:
Saturday we had an early morning tee time at Glenlakes Golf Club and when we stepped outside the condo, my breath froze - it was windy and 32! I though we came east to escape the cold! A detour to Target got us long johns, gloves, sweatshirts, and ear muffs. I had 4 layers on and looked like the Michelin Man - how was I going to swing the ball, much less hit it? The good news is that the lakes at Glenlakes might be frozen and I wouldn't loose any more golf balls - wishful thinking.
We stayed in the warm proshop sipping hot coffee for as long as we could before teeing off at Glenlakes Golf Club, which is home to three very different nines:
Saturday afternoon it was back to Wal-Mart to restock on golf balls, a new ball retriever, and see it they had anything else that might help my game. Nope, nothing, nada - guess I'll just continue to struggle. So, I took a long soaking in the jacuzzi to get me ready for the final 27 holes.
We teed off on Sunday at TimberCreek Golf Club on the Dogwood Course - what a fantastic nine holes that has elevation changes, several memorable holes, plenty of stuff to test your game, excellent conditions, and lots of variety. We rated it as one of the best in the area at 9.2 stars - read the review of Dogwood to see why we loved this course.
That fantastic nine was followed by an equally impressive nine holes on Magnolia. Wow, this nine has the dramatic elevation changes and wetland areas with little residential development and it's the toughest thanks to the hilly terrain and tight fairways. In fact some of the holes are like a roller coaster ride - on one I actually took my hands off the steering wheel and threw them in the air and went ahhhhhh! Outstanding nine and one of the best we played - read the review of Magnolia at TimberCreek Golf Club.
As mentioned earlier, during our planning we got in touch with Duncan at Gulf Golf Shores, gave him an idea of what we wanted, and within three days we had lodging at three different places (our choice) and tee times at 8 quality courses - doesn't get much easier than that! If you're planning a trip to Gulf Shores, go to the Gulf Golf Shores website and complete a convenient custom quote request form on the website that will get you up to 11 competitive package quotes in one step. You can choose from quality accommodations with an assortment of lodging options including gulf front condos, beach homes, resort hotels, national chain hotels and onsite golf villas and condos. We decided on Kiva Lodge which overlooks the Kiva Dunes golf course, Island House Hotel to get us on white sand beaches and an opportunity to easily explore Orange Beach, and Cypress Point Condominiums to be close to Craft Farms, Foley restaurants, and quicker access to the freeway to Tallahassee.
First stop was Kiva Lodge just about sunset. When we opened the door to the condo on the 7th floor we couldn't believe the size of the living and dining room, the nice appointments, and the full kitchen. But it got even better when we opened the sliding glass door on the large balcony overlooking the 18th hole of Kiva Dunes and a stunning sunset. We immediately ran to the cooler, grabbed a cold beer and some appetizers, and enjoyed the rest of the sunset - what a way to start the week.
Oh, and in addition to a stunning view of the swaying palm trees, the pool, the bay, and the golf course, out condo had four bedrooms each with it's own full bathroom. We should have invited our daughters and our five grandkids - with over 1900 square feet there was enough room for them plus my brother and his bride-to-be. As it was we were a little lonely in our four bedroom condo and we were tempted to sleep in a different room each night just so we could say we used all the space! Next time we're coming back with a full crew. Read our review of Kiva Lodge to learn more.
From our spacious four bedroom condo we checked into Island House Hotel in Orange Beach which adjoins Gulf Shores and sits right on those prefect white sand beaches. Island House Hotel has standard hotel type rooms (we felt a little cramped after Kiva Dunes) and hotel amenities like a pool and hot tub, restaurant, fitness center, and 30 second walk to the beach! Island House is close to a couple courses we played, our favorite restaurant in the area, and lots to do from parasailing to jumping the waves on jet ski to deep sea fishing and more. Here is a link to our review of Island House Hotel.
Next up was Cypress Point Condominiums which overlooks a small lake and one of the 36 holes at Craft Farms. We stayed in a very well appointed three bedroom two bathroom condo on the second floor. The kitchen had everything we needed to cook a good meal, the jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom was wonderful and loosened up the stiff back enough for me to play both courses at Craft Farms. And I should have, but didn't spend time on the three hole putting green in back of the condo. We did enjoy sitting on the balcony playing dominos, sipping a cold one, and watching some of the golfers spray the ball into the lake and completely miss the fairway and green - made me feel good that I wasn't the only one to loose a ball in that lake! A comfortable, affordable, and convenient place to stay for a golfing vacation. Click on the link to learn more about what we thought about Cypress Point Condominiums.
We decided to stay a couple extra days and checked into Ft Morgan RV Park. This RV park is located a couple miles from Kiva Dunes on the west and Peninsula Golf Club if you head east. And within 5 minutes you can be walking on the beach or riding bikes or hiking on miles of trails or exploring the historic Ft Morgan. It is a pretty park with Spanish Moss hanging from the trees and some sites site right on a bank overlooking the bay. Ft Morgan RV Park is a small, quiet, secluded, laid back, and very friendly RV park with 30 full hook-up sites, a bathhouse, laundry, and a 200' lit fishing pier and dock with crab pots for guests to use. We watched as a young girl pulled up a crab pot with two crab her mom was going to cook for dinner. The dock is perfect for a cold drink and watching a stunning sunset!
If you like to fish, the park management has 2 boats (27' fishing boat and a 20' Proline) for fishing in the Bay or Gulf for king fish, snapper, bull reds, shark, jack, bonita, and more. For parties of 5 or 6 there is a 33' Grady with a bathroom and air conditioning for fishing, day cruises, and site seeing trips.
Gulf Shores Fun Things To Do
You shouldn't get bored in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach even if you don't golf - there is lots to see and do, some of which includes:
We didn't have much time to do anything but golf (which was by choice) but we did enjoy the Original Oyster House for seafood and oysters; Cobalts (excellent food overlooking the bay) and Sunset Grill for lunch (the blackened Tuna Po boy was a highlight) and a stunning sunset on the bay; Bahama Bobs, Pink Pony Pub, the Hangout, Boomerang Billy's, and Flora Bama for fun beach bars; Tacky Jacks 2 for some tasty food, a lively crowd, and karaoke overlooking the bay; LuLus for live music, ok food, a ropes challenge course, sandy beach, and more; Aji Sai Asian for good Thai food; the extremely popular Lamberts the home of Throwed Rolls and more food (somewhat mediocre) than even I can eat at one sitting; and Ft Morgan for some interesting history.
Great trip. We reloaded the motorhome, hooked up the jeep, and headed to Florida for a few more weeks of stuffing my face, beach bar hoping, loosing golf balls, visiting long lost friends, and some other fun adventures - stay tuned!