Explore the Shore: Play the best golf courses of Gulf Shores, Alabama

Go to the Gulf for golf.

It's as simple as that. Alabama's Gulf Shores along the Gulf of Mexico is one of America's best bargain golf destinations. This solid collection of courses stretches from Mobile to Pensacola, Fla., just across the state line. There's a top 100-caliber course at Kiva Dunes to anchor the trip, along with several other high quality resort-style layouts.

The BP oil spill of 2010 scared away tourists for a while, but the sugary white beaches have rebounded nicely. The warm breezes off the Gulf of Mexico keep the climate mild and golfer friendly year round. Any golfer staying in Gulf Shores could easily head north toward Mobile or cross into Florida to find more golf, but for the sake of convenience, here are the five best places to play right in Gulf Shores:

Kiva Dunes Golf Course

This 7,092-yard layout by Jerry Pate, at one time ranked among the top 100 public courses in the country by Golf Digest, combines scenery with strategic shot-making. Because Kiva Dunes Golf Course is closer to the shore than the other area courses, it tends to be more affected by the wind.

The best six holes hug a canal, including a rousing two-hole finish. No. 17, a long par 3, tends to play into the wind with the canal up the left side. The tough par-4 finishing hole reverses directions to play downwind with the canal up the right side.

The West Indian-themed resort offers guests multiple pools, a restaurant and vacation rentals, some right on the pristine beach.

Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club

Right behind Kiva Dunes on the must-play list sits this 27-hole facility owned and operated by Honours Golf. Chilled apples are available on the first tee, a sign of Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club's commitment to service.

The nearby Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve serves up the natural setting. Peninsula's Marsh-Lakes combination plays the toughest, although architect Earl Stone is known for designing playable courses.

Stone considers Peninsula his finest work (his Rock Creek Golf Club and TimberCreek Golf Club closer to Mobile are good, too).

Cotton Creek at Craft Farms Golf Club

The 7,127-yard Cotton Creek Course is the longer of Craft Farm's two Arnold Palmer designs, the only Palmer courses in the entire state.

Honours Golf always provides top conditioning and service. Water frames 12 holes. Mounding along the fairways gives a flat site some definition.

Cypress Bend at Craft Farms Golf Club

Cypress Bend , which has been rated four and a half stars by Golf Digest, is shorter than its sister course (6,848 yards) but requires more precision with water on at least 16 holes. It trends more toward target golf than resort golf.

The Golf Club of the Wharf

Formerly known as Gulf Shores Golf Club, The Golf Club of the Wharf was the area's first course. Opened it 1960, it was redesigned by Jay and Carter Morrish in 2005.

The renovation by the father-and-son duo lengthened the par 71 by 300 yards to 6,812 yards and added numerous water features, enhanced fairways and added bunkers.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Explore the Shore: Play the best golf courses of Gulf Shores, Alabama
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