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Florida, Alabama offer Gulf Coast's top island golf courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

There are plenty of top golf clubs by the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some of our favorite island courses, including Kiva Dunes, Craft Farms Coastal Golf Resort and Isle Dauphin in Alabama, and Florida's Lost Key Golf Club and Santa Rosa Golf and Beach Club.

Kiva Dunes Golf Course
Alabama's Kiva Dunes was praised by a TravelGolf.com critic as "pure coastal golf."
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Kiva Dunes Golf CourseCraft Farms - Cotton Creek Course
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MOBILE, Ala. - The redneck Riviera. Cajun cooking. More casinos than your bank account can stand. These are the hallmarks of that great sweep of the Southern U.S. known as the Gulf Coast.

You can add one more item to that list: great island golf courses.

From the Florida Panhandle to southern Texas, golf courses pop up here like po' boy stands and barbecue joints.

The Gulf Coast isn't blessed with as many "island golf courses" as Georgia or the Carolinas, but it has its share. Here are our top picks.

Kiva Dunes Golf Course in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Gulf Shores isn't technically an island - it's a thin peninsula that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico at the southern tip of Alabama. But you'll get more island feel here than in, say, Florida, in which some "islands" are islands for marketing purposes only.

Widely praised by major golf magazines, Kiva Dunes Golf Course is home to "pure coastal golf," according to a recent GulfCoastGolf.com review that further praised the track as "one of the most exhilarating golf courses in the Southeast."

The Jerry Pate layout, lying within 100 yards of the yawning Gulf of Mexico (though dunes and development block the view), was routed through existing dune and coastal vegetation. The near-constant wind gives the course much of its character, as the designer intended.

Wind isn't the only hazard. There are also large waste areas, off-limits wetlands, white sand bunkers and internal water hazards. The wide fairways help compensate for the wind, and the large, richly contoured greens are mostly open in front.

Lost Key Golf Club in Pensacola, Fla.

Located near the Alabama border on Perdido Key, which became in island in 1933 when a ditch was widened to create the Intracoastal Waterway, Lost Key Golf Club winds around and among protected wetlands, creating narrow and often penal playing corridors.

"The low, wispy sand ridges that occur at intervals throughout sections of the second nine, similar to those near the Gulf of Mexico only a quarter-mile to the south, help to give the course its coastal distinction," Derek Duncan wrote for GolfFlorida.com.

Designed by Arnold Palmer and his associate Ed Seay, the 6,801-yard golf course opened in 1997. Palmer directed a 2006 redesign. The course uses drought- and cold-tolerant Sea Dwarf paspalum grass, which holds its deep green color through the winter months.

Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club's 27 holes sit on 820 acres bordered on two sides by Bon Secour Wildlife preserve. Chilled apples and cold towels - a trademark of course manager Honours Golf - are a treat during the dog days of summer.

Any combination of the Cypress, Lakes and Marsh nines can be played from the tips at more than 7,000 yards through live oaks and cypress trees. This is a full-service facility with a clubhouse, restaurant and grill, an 8,000-square-foot tennis center and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

Craft Farms Golf Resort in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Arnold Palmer is the guiding hand behind two of Craft Farms' three 18-hole tracks, with his Cotton Creek considered the toughest of the lot.

Known for its risk-reward options, Cotton Creek meanders through hick pine trees with rolling fairways, white-sand bunkers and large, undulating greens.

Craft Farms' Cypress Bend course, also a Palmer design, was voted the country's most playable new course by Golf Digest in 1999. It features staggered tee boxes and sprawling bunkers.

Isle Dauphin Golf Club in Dauphin Island, Ala.

Semi-private Isle Dauphin G.C. offers unobstructed views of the gulf from the shores of Dauphin Island south of Mobile.

Opened in 1962, the 6,620-yard Charles Mattox layout is flat and easy to walk, with narrow fairways, water hazards on five holes and well-protected greens. It has a benign slope rating of 123 from the tips.

Santa Rosa Golf and Beach Club in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

Golf Magazine called this semi-private course midway between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City the "purest golf in the Panhandle."

The 6,466-yard track takes in white sands, ponds and lush vegetation and features TifEagle greens. There's a driving range and practice green, the Beach Club restaurant on-site and two nearby tennis courts.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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