Very few people would disagree that Alabama is the home of genuine Southern hospitality, delicious shrimp & grits, and many of today’s most talented college football players. Believe it or not, Alabama is also firmly entrenched as one of the world’s premier golf destinations – 12 months a year. If you question Alabama’s status on golf’s popularity poll, please visit the state – sooner than later. One of Alabama’s must-play golf destinations is Kiva Dunes, which is located in Gulf Shores, Alabama, perched along the banks of the Gulf of Mexico. While the Gulf of Mexico is not visible from the golf course, golfers will feel the winds off the nearby Gulf. Those winds are at the core of the Kiva Dunes golf experience, as they are Kiva’s greatest defense, as are many of its undulating greens.
Designed by 1976 U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate, Kiva Dunes is one of Pate’s finest creations. At Kiva Dunes, when you try it, you won’t just like it — you’ll actually love it. Since the course opened for play in 1995, Kiva Dunes has quickly established itself as one of Alabama’s finest golf courses, alongside FarmLinks at Purcell Farms in Sylacauga; Steelwood Country Club (another Pate design) in Loxley; and Ross Bridge, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail course in Hoover, located near Birmingham.
In addition to Kiva Dunes being an awesome place for golf, it also has world-class accommodations and dining options. In other words, the Kiva Dunes Golf & Beach Resort offers guests the ‘full enchilada’ of amenities – golf, salt water pool, hot tub, beach access, and the chance to eat every meal at the Kiva Grill. Believe it or not, the Kiva Dunes Golf & Beach Resort is Alabama’s only golf resort along the Gulf of Mexico. So, if you, your friends, and your family want to combine golf with beach time in Alabama, the Kiva Dunes Golf & Beach Resort is your only choice. And it’s a great choice!
In 2015, the ownership at Kiva Dunes decided it was time for a facelift. The goal was to transform a great golf course into a spectacular seaside spectacle. In order to maintain the integrity of the original design, Pate was involved in the process.
According to Mark Stillings, Director of Golf & Real Estate Sales Associate at Kiva Dunes, the renovation process had three objectives: redesign the bunkers to make them more player-friendly, level the tee boxes, and replace the greens. By November 2015, that mission had been accomplished. Since then, Kiva Dunes has been open for business – looking better than ever. And it still does!
The sand bunkers have been rebuilt, the tee boxes have been squared and flattened, and the greens now feature Tifeagle turf.
“For the first 20 years, our most negative comments were on the bunkers,” adds Stillings. “For the mid to high handicapper, the bunkers were too tough with too many plugged lies. And, we weren’t happy with the grass on the greens so they were completely replaced. But, we maintained the original contours.”
Also, the fairways were roto-tillered, where the organic matter beneath the fairways was removed in order to create a stronger turf with more consistent fairway lies. Another big change was the removal of natural vegetative growth that had accumulated at the base of the trees and shrubs that border the fairways.
“We raised the canopy by removing much of the scrub oak along the ground,” notes Stillings. “It was becoming a bottleneck issue in some parts of the course.”
This helped on holes where right-handed golfers pushed or sliced their tee shots to the right. Instead of tee shots being lost in the overgrown flora, golfers were finding their tee shots which helped with player morale and the pace of play.
“Overall, our course renovations have improved the pace of play by 20-30 minutes a round,” says Stillings.
From a strategic perspective, the five key holes to focus on are the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th holes. Within that stretch, you’ll play two par 3s, a pair of back-to-back par 5s, and a par 4 that can play short or long, depending on whether or not there’s a prevailing breeze out of the Southeast. This sequence of holes will be your best chance to secure birdies.
When playing from the white tees, the 1st, 4th, 10th, and 11th holes are short par 4s, which can be played in many different ways, adding to the appeal of the Kiva Dunes golf experience.
At Kiva Dunes, the fairways have a more generous landing space than it appears from the tee boxes. The greens are firm, fast, and true. The extended closely-mown fringes around the greens give you many pitching, chipping, and putting options. Water comes into play on seven of the holes, including the last three holes. Make sure you bring your ‘A’ game tee-shot-swing to the par-3 17th. At the 17th, a par three is an impressive score, especially when the pin is in the back part of the green.
The proximity of the 1st tee from the driving range allows golfers extra time to fine-tune their swing until the starter calls their names. And the breeze off the nearby Gulf of Mexico provides a cooling effect under the year-round sunshine.
When Kiva Dunes opened for play in 1995, Golf Digest honored the course by ranking it as one of the top two public golf courses to open that year. Now that the course has experienced a facelift, it’s an even more attractive venue. Personally, I nominate Kiva Dunes for “Best Course To Play on Your Next Trip To Alabama.” And, if you take the time to enjoy the Southern hospitality, eat the shrimp & grits, and watch some college football, all the better.
For more information, please visit kivadunes.com or 1-888-TEE-KIVA.