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Gulf Coast shines, Kiawah Island beckons, Vegas in the sights

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

GULF SHORES, Ala. - The balmy, salt-soaked air wafting up to the balcony of the Flora-Bama Lounge and Package served as a pleasant reminder: it's golf season on the Gulf Coast.

This rowdy little roadhouse on the Florida-Alabama stateline is the kind of place where khaki-clad 9-to-5ers share the bar with tattooed bikers while verses of the blues, country or rockabilly bounce off the rafters.

No pretense, no posturing, and no bull; in many ways, a microcosm of the area's golf scene.

An extended weekend golf trek to the Gulf Coast regions of Alabama and Mississippi makes for a prime late October/early November getaway. This bastion of southern fried golf offers a hard-to-find balance between high-end product from name designers and value plays from regional architects.

Accommodations range from high-rise luxury condos and two and three bedroom golf villas to roadside chain motels. All this great golf, fresh seafood (oh, the seafood) and sugar sand beaches are rubber tire distance from some of the Midwest and Southeast's largest population centers.

Travel Golf Guy says play at all costs:

Kiva Dunes, Gulf Shores, Ala. - Play Kiva Dunes, and then try referring to Gulf Shores as the Redneck Riviera. Go on - dare ya. The (almost) seaside Jerry Pate designed course has that special something; a harmonic convergence of setting, scenery and strength of design all punctuated by a first-class resort hotel and clubhouse.

Grand Bear, Saucier, Miss. - Grand Bear is a Jack Nicklaus signature course carved through the cypress wetlands and pine trees of the Biloxi and Little Biloxi rivers. "Augusta meets Pinehurst" is how the course's purveyors describe it, and the blurb's not totally hyperbolic. Play is limited to Grand Casino Gulfport guests.

Shell Landing, Gautier, Miss. - Huge swaths of playing surface, 3-club deep greens that are slicker than a bathtub and deep penal bunkers - this is what we've come to expect from Davis Love III's design team and this is what you'll find at Shell Landing. The course is also the beneficiary of a tasty piece of terra forma just mullet flinging distance from the Gulf.

Travel Golf Guy's solid seconds: Peninsula (Gulf Shores), Bridges (Gulfport), Lost Key (Perdido Key), Great Southern (Gulfport).

Deal Finder: Check out Gulf Coast Golf Tours for value-packed stay and play deals, 800-767-3574 or log on to gulfcoastgolftours.com.

Travel Golf Gusy gear report

If you are a frequent golf traveler via the airlines, you know the dilemma: hard shell bag or soft shell bag. If you really care about your clubs, it's the former. If size and weight are the principle concern, it's the later. What if you didn't have to choose?

Satisfying both sides of the equation is the M.O. behind Sun Mountain's new Atlas travel cover. The Atlas features a hard shell cover that protects valuable club heads and a soft shell mid and lower section that is light and roomy. Once you've arrived at your golf destination of choice, the soft shell portion of the Atlas folds into the hard shell for easy story (it also bears an uncanny resemblance to R2-D2).

Equipped with in-line skate wheels and a sturdy pull handle, Atlas is surprisingly easy to tote for its size. While it could stand a few more exterior storage pockets, there's more than ample room on the inside for stashing extra golf shirts, pants, liquor and hats. For more information on Sun Mountain golf products, log on to sunmountain.com.

Travel Golf Guy resort report

Gone are the mosquitoes and the 90-degree, 90 percent humidity dog days of summer. Here are the cool, crisp fall mornings and sun splashed afternoons that climb into the mid-70s. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort - one of the Southeast's most complete golf playgrounds - sets up nicely for a late Oct., early Nov. golf gorge. The resort is home to five courses, including the famed Ocean Course designed by Pete Dye. The "OC" plays host to the World Cup Nov. 11-16 and the resort is offering two stay and play packages that include golf, lodging, tix and even some gear. Check it out at proshop.kiawahresort.com.

On Deck: Vegas, baby

Just because the Las Vegas Invitational might flee Sin City for greener monetary pastures doesn't mean the Travel Golf Guy is bailing on Glitter Gulch's golf offerings this fall season. Check in next month for reports from in and around the Vegas golf scene.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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Dates: March 1, 2018 - May 19, 2018
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