GULF SHORES, Ala. - "Live for golf" is the slogan used by Craft Farms. Well, if you indeed live for golf then you must make plans to visit this 54-hole facility.
Craft Farms opened in 1987 with its first 18-hole course, Cotton Creek, designed by hall of famer Arnold Palmer. In August of 1994, the Larry Nelson designed Woodlands was added, and Palmer was called on once again for Cypress Bend which saw its flags fly just two years ago.
While this review will concentrate on the Woodlands, you can look for reviews on Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend in the weeks to come.
Just as the name implies, the Woodlands is situated amongst dense southern hardwoods. Nelson made good use of the lakes and marshes that dot this par-72 layout. The course is definitely not short on character.
Distance is not much of a problem, the reds play 5,145 yards, whites 5,972 and blues 6,484. You will need to have good placement to score well on this course. Three times you will be confronted with a 20 to 40 yard carry over marsh land. I know that 20 to 40 yards does not sound that difficult, but it's the ten-foot high vegetation that brings the intestinal fortitude into the shot.
One of those shots comes on the par-four No. 5. Although it plays only 306 yards from the whites, the marsh being located just in front of the tee box makes you somewhat hesitant to pull the driver out. A club with more loft, say a four or five iron, is the smarter play.
Nelson was sympathetic toward the recreational golfer by designing short par-threes, large bermuda greens and using a generous amount of sand traps. Of the four par-threes at the Woodlands, the longest measures 155 yards from the whites.
Number 3 is a beautiful 140 yard shot to a green with water on the front and left. Tall oaks and pines make for a scenic backdrop.
One of the most difficult tee shots is at the par-four sixth. A complete carry over water is required on this 318 yard dogleg right. However, once the water is negotiated, you must position your ball between bunkers on the left and right. Nelson allows you to catch your breath with a wedge or nine iron into the green.
If nothing else, the back nine at the Woodlands will keep you on your toes. Among the highlights are the unique 11th, 13th and 14th.
Number 11, a 484 yard par-five, features a second shot over one of the marsh areas. Then, it's no more than 130 yards to an uphill green. Another disinclining tee shot is presented at the par -five 13th. A tee ball must be delicately placed between a large tree on the right and thick trees on the left. Once past the tree, the fairway narrows to about 20 yards with a lake situated along the right side. This is one of the best holes you will ever play.
Fourteen, a 391-yard par 4, calls for a 195-yard shot just short of a marsh. From there a blind second shot into the green awaits.
In 1997 the doors of a first-class clubhouse opened, complete with name brand apparel, locker room, showers, and a full service restaurant. A well marked driving range and putting green are located within walking distance of the shop. You will also find yardage readily available on stones and sprinkler heads as you navigate your way through the course.
In the upcoming reviews of Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend I will cover the numerous accommodations and golf packages that are offered by Craft Farms. In the meantime, you can find out more about this state-of-the-art facility by logging on to www.craftfarms.com.
104 Cotton Creek Drive
Gulf Shores, AL 36542