The first thing the folks in Gulf Shores, Ala., want you to know is that Hurricane Michael missed them entirely. No worries.
The next thing is that they will let you know is that a buddies’ trip to Gulf Shores can be put together for less money than a similar one to the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area.
But the main thing they want to educate you about is that where the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail ends at its southernmost spot in Mobile, the Alabama “Beach Trail” begins. This stretch features some high-quality golf to go along with its 32 miles of pristine beachfront that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Alabama.
Gulf Shores and neighboring Orange Beach are 53 miles south of Mobile and has a combination of about 13,000 year-round residents. But more than 6 million visitors flock to the area each year, according to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.
“When you come to this part of Alabama, it’s eye-opening. It’s really a gorgeous spot,” said Chad Leonard, who is the director of club operations for three facilities in and around Gulf Shores and who moved to Alabama from the Charleston, S.C., area.
Gulf Shores, Leonard says, is a year-round resort town and winter competes for the title of busiest season. Snowbirds from Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa and hop on I-65 in Gary, Ind., and head south. Winter high temperatures average between 55 and 65, which golfers from northern climes consider shorts weather.
The best weather is in the spring, particularly in March, April and May, which Leonard says is the area’s true high seasons. Out-of-state golfers from Mississippi, Louisiana and even Texas flock to Gulf Shores.
The best-known of the Gulf Shores courses is Kiva Dunes, which is regularly ranked among the top public-access courses in the state. Created by course developer Jim Edgemon and former U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate, Kiva Dunes was renovated in 2015 and made a little friendlier to average players while maintaining the challenge for good players.
Honours Golf, who employs Leonard, boasts Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club as a facility to compete with Kiva Dunes for best of the beach. Designed by Earl Stone, Peninsula has 27 holes of championship golf. Leonard also oversees Craft Farms, at which all 36 holes – Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend – were designed by Arnold Palmer. Rock Creek, an 18-hole facility managed by Honours Golf, is located on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.
The neighbor to Craft Farms is One Club Gulf Shores, a newly renovated nine-hole course that includes Bar 45, a restaurant and bistro that overlooks the course's ninth hole. With a room full of televisions, Bar 45 is a popular spot during football season.
The area’s best-known watering hole is the Flora-Bama, officially located in Perdido Key, Fla., adjacent to the Florida-Alabama border. Voted best beach bar in the U.S. numerous times, the Flora-Bama has five stages for nightly live music and is best known for its oyster bar and a frozen concoction called the Bushwacker.
On the Alabama side, the beach bar is The Hangout, which hosted the annual Oyster Cookoff & Craft Beer Weekend in early November.
If you’re looking for a little less raucous place to dine, locals recommend Fisher’s in Orange Beach, which offers two dining options: Upstairs, which is a little more formal than Dockside. Fisher’s sister restaurant is Playa at Sportsman Marina in Orange Beach. And there is Cosmo’s in Orange Beach, which features southern and Creole cuisines.
Coastal Alabama Golf (coastalalabamagolf.com) is the primary packager and is the all-inclusive concierge in the area. They can arrange starting times, accommodations, fishing trips and make restaurant recommendations.
“We have a lot of inventory, which makes our golf packages really attractive,” Leonard said. “For those buddy trips who go to Pinehurst or Myrtle Beach, they really need to look into our packages. You can get some world-class golf in a world-class environment.”
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.