We just got back from seven days in Gulf Shores, Alabama and if you're looking for a new vacation destination, we can highly recommend Gulf Shores as the place to go for a fun filled vacation. Not only is the weather great but Gulf Shores has something for everyone from the beach sitter to the avid adventurer. You'll find miles of pure white sandy beach, lots of lodging options from single family vacation homes to campsites to condos on the 15th floor with stunning sunsets over the beach, fantastic golf courses at reasonable rates, a ton of outdoor activities, excellent options for dining, shopping, and nightlife.
In October, we were asked to join a group of eight other golf travel writers from Utah, Tennessee, Canada, Minnesota, and Ohio to experience what a golfing vacation to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is all about. Took us a nano second to accept! What a fantastic time we had.
It's hard to beat a vacation that starts with drinks and appetizers and a fantastic view on a nice warm day!. We flew into Pensacola, Florida airport - what a great airport, it's small, not busy, and easy to get to baggage claim and rental cars and it's only a 40 minute drive to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Shortly after piling all our clubs and bags into a tiny rental car which felt more like a go cart (we're used to a big SUV), we were sitting on the second story of a cool bar and restaurant sipping a margarita, munching on some fresh fried calamari, and watching the boats traverse up and down the intra coastal waterway on a very pleasant warm afternoon - I'm on vacation!!! I wanted to start singing my favorite song - "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" watching the sailboats and tide roll in and wastin' time away!
From there it was a ten minute drive to meet our group of travel writers at a cool beach bar and restaurant in Orange Beach. The Gulf is a casual, yet chic place to hang out with a beautiful white sand beach, comfy beach furniture, stunning views of the ocean and sunset, tasty coastal food, cold drinks, and good times. The buildings are formed from shipping containers and reclaimed and salvaged building materials which help make this a funky, fun, and unique setting. Great place to start a Gulf Shores and Orange beach vacation.
For the first three days we stayed in a fantastic four bedroom condo at Kiva Dunes that overlooked the 18th green, a lake with a water feature plus the resident alligator that loved to sun itself by the green and several large turtles that love Cheetos! The condo was perfect - 4 big bedrooms including a huge upstairs bedroom with a view to the ocean, 4 bathrooms, a well equipped kitchen, a living and dining room, and a balcony that was perfect for coffee in the morning and our resident bird.
We could walk to the pro shop and restaurant and swimming pool and just down the road from our condo Kiva Dunes is building a new Beach Pavilion with a beautiful pool fronting the beach and 3000 feet of Kiva Dunes beach front property. Kiva Dunes also has:
During the first three days of our visit we played nine holes at Gulf Shores Golf Course and eighteen holes at Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, Craft Farms, and Kiva Dunes. First up (with sleep in my eyes and a tad fuzzy head when we departed in the dark at 7:00 AM - but I was loaded with golf balls and Advil and excited) was nine holes at Gulf Shores Golf Course. Gulf Shores Golf Course was Gulf Shores' first course and it was designed and built in the 1960's by the renowned team of Jay and Carter Morrish. At 7:30 in the morning it was peaceful and quiet (is it always like that this early?) and the fairways still had mist on them - very pretty with the mist, towering trees, sparkling lakes, lush green fairways, and glistening white sand bunkers and the sun coming up over the trees. Gulf Shores Golf Course is fairly traditional and straightforward and if you miss the devilish bunkers, the layout offers a great opportunity to have a relaxing and fun round. I finally woke up on the fifth hole, just in time to spot the cart lady and to see the alligator sunning itself on the bank of a pond. I decided not to try and retrieve any of my wet golf balls on this trip - the gators can have them. A tasty Bloody Mary helped me score a couple pars - drinking always helps but I'm not sure if it's the alcohol or forgetting too write down a couple strokes. Here is a link to our review of Gulf Shores Golf Course.
After an enjoyable round at Gulf Shores Golf Course, we all piled into the van for a short drive to play Craft Farms Golf Resort which is home to two outstanding 18 hole Arnold Palmer designed courses - Cypress Bend and Cotton Creek. We were greeted with a box lunch which immediately perked me up for the first tee box where I swung way too fast and dribbled the ball to the ladies tee box. And it didn't get much better. It was a shame to destroy this beautiful Arnold Palmer course with sprawling white sand bunkers, lush fairways, quality putting surfaces, massive live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, towering pine forests, and clear lakes that came into play on just about every hole, and are now home to several of my golf balls. To learn more about Craft Farms Cypress Bend Course click on the link to our review.
After 27 holes of golf starting at 7:30, I was ready for a nap, a long soak in the hot tub, and a couple cold beers. Instead I got a short shower, a handful of peanuts, and a cold beer before we were back in the van and heading to Nolan's for dinner. I'm glad I didn't eat a lot prior to Nolan's because this fine dining restaurant serves huge portions of the freshest seafood, USDA Choice Beef, and authentic Greek style dishes. The Mayor of Gulf Shores, Robert Craft, whose family was the previous owner of Craft Farms which was a gladiolus and sod farm, joined us for dinner. We were all mesmerized as Robert told us the story of how two sod and soybean farmers secured several million dollars and got Arnold Palmer to design his first Alabama golf course. A fun evening but way too much good food - I think I fell asleep on the way to the condo, don't remember waddling to my bedroom, and was peacefully snoring (from my perspective not my wife's) two minutes after entering the condo.
Tuesday we got to sleep in until 8:00 and then walked over to the pro shop at Kiva Dunes for 18 holes on Alabama's Top Ranked Golf Course, as well as, one of the top courses in the US. Kiva Dunes Golf Course was designed by Jerry Pate, winner of the 1976 US Open as a PGA Tour rookie, and 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. He also added some treacherous bunkers with steep faces, huge greens, and lots of water and natural areas that can consume golf balls - I think I left at least nine on the course. In 2015, a million and a half was spent on softening the bunkers (steep sand faces were softened and converted to grass), clearing lots of scrub brush, and other improvements. That made it a little easier but I still spent way too much time in the bunkers - I should have ordered a beach umbrella, a beach chair, and a pina colada and chilled for the rest of the day. The Kiva Dunes greens are huge (average 7500 square feet) which made it easier to get on the green which then resulted in a lot of three putts. But a fantastic course and a must play if you're in the area. Here's a link to our review of Kiva Dunes.
After a good lunch with Kiva Dune's Director of Golf, Mark Stillings, we set off for a tour and samples of beer at Gulf Shores only brewery - and it's a good one! Big Beach Brewing started as a pipe dream to turn a passion for craft beer and limited experience with a Mr Beer home brew kit into a really cool brew pub that serves four to six locally brewed beers. I could have stayed here for hours! I tried the sample flight of the lightest beers and loved all of them, so I went back for another flight since I couldn't decide which one I liked best. A good setting, an informative tour, and a really friendly staff and owners helped make for a good time.
It was a short shuttle ride (thank gosh because I know we all had to go to the bathroom after all that beer) to Flora-Bama's Ole River Bar - another really cool sports bar and restaurant on the bay with over 40 TV’s, 16 craft draft beers, an amazing chef inspired menu, and a 2500 square foot deck with a perfect sunset viewing area and sandy beach and live music. Shortly after we were seated and we all had a drink the executive chef, Matthew Brown who is a very enthusiastic and friendly guy, came out and introduced himself and said "you can order off the menu or I can create some fun stuff for you." A resounding "Fun Stuff" was the choice. And for the next couple hours we feasted on a wide variety of excellent cuisine. I should have written down what we had but here is some of what I remember: a very unique and tasty salad, a couple different coastal appetizers, uniquely prepared Grouper, a beef dish, and an unbelievable veal cheek that melted in my mouth. I was stuffed but couldn't resist the best bread pudding I've ever had! Wow, what a fun and unique dinner.
After dinner we all waddled across the street to check out the well known Flora-Bama - a multi level funky honky tonk, oyster house, and beach bar with live music 365 days a year and 5 different music stages, over 10 different bar stations, several hundred feet of beach front, and always a fun and lively crowd. Flora-Bama has been named the #1 Beach Bar in the U.S. or the World and listed as one of the top bars by Playboy Magazine, Maxim Magazine, Delta Sky Magazine, Men's Journal, USA Today, CNN, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Travel, and Fox News - just to name a few. Great place to hang out for some drinks, music, dancing, or enjoying some food, a fun crowd, and the beach. I'm sure glad we had a shuttle to get us home although I'm pretty sure I snoozed all the way home and dreamt of bread pudding that night!
I was still stuffed the next morning when we had to get up for a 7:00 tee time at Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club. On the first tee box, I nearly fell face first onto the tee and when I was finally ready to hit the ball I wasn't sure which one to hit and both of them were very fuzzy! So I took a big swing, hoped for the best, missed both golf balls, did a 360, and just about fell down. A second attempt went about 50 yards and hit a tree scaring the heck out of a squirrel! The round did get a little better after finding the cart lady and a Bloody Mary and three Advil.
Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club, which has been selected as one of the "most memorable and enjoyable" courses in the southeast, is home to three excellent nine hole courses, each of which has it's own unique personality and characteristics. We teed off on the Lakes which has water on every hole (and now has nine of my golf balls), 21 bunkers, and 7 dog legs and then we played the Cypress which is a little easier and more straightforward (I needed that) but still has water on every hole and lots of bunkers. Here is a link to our review of Peninsula's Lakes Course and the Cypress Course. Does anybody know where I can buy some golf balls cheap?
It was sad to say goodbye to our fellow travel writers - we all had a great time, loved Gulf Shores, and promised to stay in touch. To a tee we all agreed that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are a perfect place for a destination golf outing or vacation - the locals are really friendly, the weather is great, the golf courses are excellent, the beach bars and restaurants are superb, the beach is unbelievable, and there is lots of other fun stuff for everyone to see and do.
Our thanks go out to: all of the head pros and directors of golf for letting us play their courses which are some of the best in Alabama; the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism Bureau and specifically Kay Maghan and her staff (thanks Kay for everything and particularly for shuttling us everywhere); the chefs at Nolans, Flora-Bama Ole River Bar, and The Gulf; and the owners and staff of Big Beach Brewing. It was a pleasure meeting Mayor Robert Craft and all the friendly locals in his city. If you're thinking of booking a golf outing to Gulf Shores, visit the golf section of the Gulf Shore & Orange Beach Website or send an email to [email protected]
As a follow up to this fun trip the wife and I were invited to spend a few extra days in Gulf Shores to experience some adventures and other fun stuff before heading home - here is a link to that Gulf Shores Vacation Article.
Thanks to Dave Finn, a fellow travel writer from Canada for some of the pictures. Follow Dave on http://golftravelandleisure.com/.