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Test Drive Center: Gulf Shores, Ala.

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Kiva Dunes Golf CourseGULF SHORES, Ala. - Welcome to the Travel Golf Guy golf destination test drive center, where we sample some of America's hottest golf destinations.

No need for you to go off and spend thousands of dollars on a golf trip to a place you've never even seen. Heck, you don't even need to get out of your chair. Just kick back with your beverage of choice and let the TGG do the work.

Our subject this week, Gulf Shores, Alabama. Gulf Shores recently celebrated its 10th year as a bona fide golf destination. So team TGG hoped a plane bound for Pensacola, Fla. to join in the festivities. Here's how it shook out.

Day 1 - Arrive Pensacola Regional Airport, 5:45 Central Standard Time. Realize beer-o'clock is an hour earlier here, say quick prayer of thanks. Catch shuttle to Gulf Shores, but not before destroying a ½ pound burger and an 18-cent bowl of bean soup at an Irish pub/roadhouse called McGuire's. Glance at 600,000 one dollar bills hanging from ceiling and briefly envision a "Travel Golf Guy on the run with $600K" series. Quickly get over it and make way to Gulf Shores. Check into Weekend at Bernie's style beach house provided by (shameless plug) Meyer Real Estate. Make acquaintance with several rum runners. Fall asleep watching Caddyshack for the 100th time taking solace in the fact that the world needs ditch diggers, too.

Day 2 - Shower up for 8:30 a.m. tee time at Cotton Creek Course at Craft Farms. Upon arrival, greeted by no less than three outside employees and Robert Craft himself. This is the sorta place I'd join in a heartbeat. Separate clubhouse and proshop, three 18-holers and cute women walking around for undeterminable reasons. Tee off on Cotton Creek in pea soup fog. Play the remaining 17 holes in chamber of commerce weather. The course is that just - a course. Nothing fancy and really what you'd expect from a humble family with sod farming roots (no pun). Scarf down a wrap for lunch (How cool is that? Low carb at the course!). Mosey into an afternoon round on Cypress Bend. The beer cart girl comes around, like, every hole. Is she hard wired into my brain? Cypress turns out to be like Cotton, but without the trees. I could play either every day and twice on Sundays. Dinner afterwards at Nolan's, where I spend most of my time with my face in a steer butt. Tell owner it's the best piece of meat on earth, only to have a steak snob from Iowa sitting across the table say it's a rubber shoe. Back to beach house. Ibid, rum runner and Caddyshack.

Lost Key Golf ClubDay 3 - Local hosts talk up Arnold Palmer designed Lost Key Golf Club in Perdido Key like it's Angelina Jolie - great to look at, but tough as nails. Come to find out it's true. The fairways are as narrow as thongs and the greens look like pinto beans wearing tight belts. Eighteen-year-old beer cart girl gets hit on by 75 year-old-man in my foursome. Realizing I'll do the same at 75, I refrain from making smart-ass comment. Somehow, pull 83 out of my bum and win beer money for the week. Jump a three-hour booze cruise courtesy of "Antares," a 42-foot charter-yacht owned by captain Rod Koberg. Rod drinks O'Douls, which I credit for helping us dart under a bridge with a 15-foot wide opening in a five knot current. Take safe harbor at Lulu's, a hopping seafood joint owned by Jimmy Buffett's sister. Unprovoked, a coed takes her pants off and stands on the bar. Song, "If heaven ain't a lot like Dixie, I don't want to go," pops into my head. Rum runners, Caddyshack, good night.

Peninsula Golf ClubDay 4 - This is the money day. Kiva Dunes by morning. The Peninsula in the afternoon. Play front nine at Kiva in no wind. Play back nine in nothing but wind. Make insightful note in trusty reporter's notebook - this is one of the best courses in the Southeastern U.S.. Have to confirm with playing partner that the par-4 18th hole is for real. An approach shot into a 20 knot cross wind to a four-club green with water and waste bunker down the entire right side? Notice stack of empty Heineken cans in pard's side of the cart and decide to trust my own judgment. Lunch and off to Peninsula. Wanting to soak up the ambiance of the Earl Stone designed beaut on Mobile Bay but having trouble getting past the blonde outside service girl from Michigan who must appear on some calendar somewhere. Finally lock into the layout, and it's a good one. Lots of hardwoods, water and big white sandy bunkers. Win a scramble going away. Tip aforementioned outside services gal. Dinner at the Beach Club, Gulf Shores answer to upscale eating. Avoid the pinkies in the air by supping at the bar. Order the blackened chicken and andouille sausage pasta. Recommend you do the same, when in Rome. After dinner - ah, you know the drill. Day 5 and 90 holes later - I am off like a prom dress.

TGG Test Drive Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Sticker Price: range between $70 to $90 per golfer, per day, depending on the pedigree of the courses and the lavishness of the digs involved. A round at Kiva Dunes ups the ante a bit, but it says here it's worth every penny. Cart fees and taxes are included, eliminating any fine print arguments.

Comments: Sort of place I'd recommend to my golfing buds. Wait; I did recommend it to my golfing buds. We're headed back in July on our dime. Could use either: one or two more marquee courses or five or six more midlevel tracks to legitimately do battle with competitors like Myrtle Beach and Orlando. On the other hand, I'd prefer that Gulf Shores turn into neither.

Next test drive: Audubon Golf Trail, Louisiana.

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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Price range: $153