GULF SHORES, Alabama – The Gulf Shores, Alabama area is a beachgoer’s dream: pristine white sand beaches, all kinds of beach bars, shopping and OWA, an entertainment park with a downtown area, restaurants, and an amusement park.
Gulf Shores is also known for its fantastic golf courses which are some of the nicest in the country. Honours Golf, which is part of Troon Golf, the largest and for my money, the best golf course management company in the country, has two facilities here, the 27-hole Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club and the 36-hole Craft Farms. Each course has its own distinctive coastal feel; both are must plays if you’re in the area.
Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club is located on the beautiful Fort Morgan peninsula between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The course has received 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest as one of the “most memorable and enjoyable” courses in the southeast. Peninsula was designed by Earl Stone and encompasses 27 holes that wind through 800 acres of beautiful live oaks, cypress trees, lakes, and natural vegetation. Each nine-hole layout is unique in its own respect with holes on each that stand out. Don’t be surprised if you encounter some official gulf coast wildlife such as alligators, sandhill cranes, and eagles.
Rumor has it that Peninsula Golf Course is built on about 14 feet of sand, so it drains well. This is evident when you look at the back yards of some of the homes behind the tee box on Number 7 of the Cypress Course. Cypress finishes with a nice one-two punch on holes 8 and 9. At 569 yards from Tee #2, Number 8 is the longest hole on the entire property and the #1 handicap. Trees line both sides of the fairway and create a narrow landing area off the tee. Keeping your layup shot right of the 150-yard marker will take the water on the left out of play and set up the best angle into the green. Don’t be too long with your approach shot or you’re likely to find one of the bunkers back there.
Number 9 is a par four with a slight dogleg left and plays 402 yards from Tee #2. Longball hitters that can play their tee shot down the left side will leave a downhill approach shot with a short iron into the green. It’s another challenging finishing hole.
The Lakes Course features back-to-back par 5s at Numbers 6 and 7, with beautiful Mobile Bay in the background as you play the latter. A good drive on the 486-yard 6th hole will create an opportunity to go for the green in two. Once you hit the corner of the dogleg, you’ll find the fairway flanked on either side with bunkers, so accuracy on both your layup and approach shot is essential. Number 7 plays 500 yards and features a large landing area off the tee. Big hitters can try and get home in two but need to beware of the hazard to the left and out of bounds to the right. There’ a great view of Mobile Bay just beyond the green. The green is wide and not real deep, so selecting the correct club is essential.
The greens on the March Course were recently renovated and roll pure. Most memorable is Number 9, a 514-yard par 5 that is a three-shot hole for just about every level of player. The wetlands that need to be carried off the tee will require a shot of about 170 yards from Tee 2 to a narrow landing area with trees down the right side. Standing over your next shot, you may wonder where the fairway went. With wetlands on the left, favor the right side and you’ll have no problem. That will leave a short chip shot into a large, well-protected green.
Craft Farms is home to the only two Arnold Palmer golf courses in Alabama that are accessible to the public: Cypress Bend and Cotton Creek. Both courses challenge golfers every step of the way with the natural beauty of Baldwin County serving as a backdrop. You’ll play down Bermuda fairways, around massive live oaks draped with Spanish moss and towering pine forests. You’ll also find plenty of water hazards in the form of numerous lakes, creeks and wetland areas that give way to Tifdwarf Bermuda greens.
Cypress Bend has received a 4-1/2 star rating by Golf Digest. As you play your way around the course, you’ll find plush conditions from tee to green, sprawling bunkers and undulating greens that can leave you scratching your head. The course has a coastal feel to it with water coming into play on every hole. Wide fairways and generous landing areas make this Palmer masterpiece a joy for players of all levels.
There were a few holes that I won’t soon forget. Number 4 is a 372-yards par 4 that is a challenging golf hole! You’ll need a long accurate tee shot that avoids the bunkers on either side followed by a pinpoint approach shot into a T-shaped green with bunkers on either side. A back-right pin placement can be especially trying.
Number 13 is my favorite hole on the course. It’s a risk/reward par 5 that plays 517 yards from the Blue tees. The hole doglegs sharply to the right with water down the right side and a long bunker at the turn. If you can carry the bunker on to the elevated fairway or hit your tee shot just right of it over the water and you can have a go at the green. More water guards each side of the elevated green and three bunkers protect the front. Par is a good score here.
Cotton Creek seems to be the favorite course and features tree-lined and rolling fairways as well as large undulating greens. The course is extremely playable for all golfers, whether you’re playing the forward tees or are the tips at over 7,000 yards; it’s all about challenge and playability. Golf Digest has rated Cotton Creek 4 stars.
Cotton Creek’s 6th hole is a par 4 that plays 382-yards. It is not only a beautiful golf hole, but it’s also ranked the toughest on the course. You need to play your tee shot down the waterline and over a lake to the fairway; hit through the fairway and you may very well find the bunker. A well-placed tee shot will leave an approach shot back over the same body of water to a small green protected by sand on all sides. Par or birdie on this hole is quite an accomplishment!
If I were naming holes, the par 4, 372-yard Number 11 would be called “What Creek.” There’s a sign on the tee box that says “230 yards to the water,” however standing on the tee box, you can’t see it. Hit a good drive past the 150-yard marker and your likely to say “Oh, that creek!” But not just any creek, Cotton Creek! A good drive will leave a mid-iron into an angled green with a deep bunker on the left and a lot of undulation in the green.
With 27 holes of golf at Peninsula and another 36 holes at Craft Farms, either one is the perfect venue for your next outing or tournament. The staff at either course will help with everything from pre-planning and setup, to food and beverage and the awarding of prizes. The tournament staff will see to it you and your guests are well taken care of while the culinary team will create a menu that tempts your palettes.
Speaking of palettes, Chef Kurtis Krum heads up the culinary staff at both courses and uses his creative expertise to create delicious dishes from scratch. After all, how many golf courses bake their own bread? It makes the fresh sandwiches taste that much better!
I had the opportunity to speak with Jamey Davis the Superintendent at Peninsula Club about what makes his property so special. Jamey said that the course being built on a sand dune is both a blessing and a curse, the blessing being they could get 8 inches of rain in the morning and because it drains so well, be able to have carts out in the afternoon. He also talked about how unique the property is with the Bon Secours wildlife preserve abutting the property to the east, historic Ft. Morgan to the West, Bon Secours Bay to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south.
This is just an overview of what’s in store for you and your group at either facility.