GULF SHORES, Ala. - Todd Edwards knows what it's like to get his hands dirty. He got them grimy cleaning your golf clubs - or at least the clubs of golfers like you - as a cart attendant at Craft Farms Resort.
"I started as a cart boy," Edwards said. "Doing all the typical cart boy duties, just happy to be working in golf."
Two decades later, Edwards is still happy to be working in golf. Only now he sits in the big office at Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club. Edwards is Peninsula's general manager, but it's apparent he hasn't lost his love for golf or his beloved Alabama Gulf Shores now that he's in charge.
Edwards almost bubbles over with Gulf Shores' enthusiasm, apologizing to a reporter several times for talking faster than a junior high school girl after a Hannah Montana concert. His enthusiasm appears genuine, though. This isn't the measured crafting of a salesman's pitch, it's the lilt of a golf nut who grew up here and wants everyone else to experience what he has.
"If you play Craft Farms one day with its classic Arnold Palmer design," Edwards said, "go to Rock Creek the next with its rolling hills and then play Peninsula on the third day on the Bay, you're looking at a great variety of good golf on a trip. And I haven't even mentioned Kiva Dunes, with its links play on the water.
"I think we're spoiled here, and once we get golfers to visit, I think they realize that too."
Yes, Edwards is reaping praise on several of his competitors, but that's how many of the Alabama Gulf Shores' general managers and head professionals roll. There is a real commitment to growing the whole area as a destination rather than hording little pieces of a pie for an individual course. Edwards considers himself the beneficiary of the Gulf Shores' golf coast.
When he started playing golf as a kid in the area, there was really only one barebones state park course to play on. It wasn't until Craft Farms owner Robert Craft - and his father, R.C. Craft - convinced Arnold Palmer to build a signature golf course on an Alabama sod farm that an area with 32 miles of white sand beaches made its first move on the golf map.
Craft Farms opened in 1988. Edwards' cart attendant career started that same year. He moved up into the golf shop, completed his PGA certification and eventually became assistant head professional. In 1998, Edwards left to become head professional at Rock Creek and now he oversees both Peninsula and Rock Creek's operations for Honours Golf, a course-management company based in Birmingham, Ala.
"If it wasn't for Craft Farms coming along, I might not be working in golf today," Edwards said.
Now Edwards runs a 27-hole facility in Peninsula that tries to make sure visiting golfers also fall in love with the area he never left. From the cart attendants (a few of whom might be one day following Edwards' path into the golf business) to the starters to the clubhouse personnel, Peninsula's staff seems much more eager to accommodate a golfer than to say no to something.
Anybody who's visited a lot of golf courses understands that's unfortunately far too rare.
Peninsula's staff waited out a weather delay on my visit by consulting radar and making sure they found the right window to send me out on the course. It didn't seem like a just please-the-golf-writer thing either. You got the idea they'd just as quickly do it for a regular group of golfers.
"The uniqueness of having 27 holes is really good for buddy trips," Edwards said. "They can play 18, go in have some lunch and then go out and play the extra nine. Almost all the groups seem to want to play that extra nine. And we work to accommodate them."
It helps that Peninsula's Lakes nine includes a hole right along Mobile Bay (No. 7), its Cypress nine includes holes along a wildlife preserve and its Marsh nine brings the most length and forced carries. It's an Earl Stone design where greens fees max out at $92 in high season and the third nine (whichever nine it happens to be that day) comes much cheaper than that.
For big groups, which can be as small as 20-24 guys, Peninsula frequently will set up for a private room for a cookout or similar kickback activity in the middle of the day.
"They don't want to go anywhere else," Edwards said. "They'd rather just stay at the golf course and get in the extra nine to make a whole day of it."
Edwards can relate. He never wanted to go anywhere else but the Alabama Gulf Shores either.
His story also shows that you may want to be extra nice to the cart guys you run across. You never know when one of them will be running several golf courses in the future.
March 25, 2008