Dear Joe, I’m going to Gulf Shores, Alabama, playing six days, in early April. I’m staying at Kiva Dunes and playing there and Peninsula. What other courses in that area would you recommend? Terry Holleman Champaign, Ill. You wouldn’t suffer with multiple plays at Kiva Dunes, a linksy Jerry Pate design draped over a sandy plot between the Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico—and Peninsula (pictured) stacks up as second best in the region.
However, if you’re a course collector like me, here are three more to try. Best of the trio is Rock Creek ($55-$69; 251-928-4223, rockcreekgolf.com), which rolls through handsome pines, hardwoods and wetlands and is replete with strong par-4s and several risk/reward par-5s.
Next up is TimberCreek ($49-$59; 251-621-9900, golftimbercreek.com), a hilly, forested, 27-holer on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, where the Dogwood/Magnolia combo offers the sternest challenge.
Cotton Creek at Craft Farms ($69-$89; 251-968-7500, craftfarms.com) is one of two Arnold Palmer designs on site. You won’t confuse either one with Bay Hill, but Cotton Creek in particular will entertain with its undulating fairways and numerous bunkers and water hazards. Dear Joe, I need your expertise and recommendations for an upcoming golf trip to Orlando. I previously read your Orlando review from March 2009 on Golf.com, but I’m curious if the last several years have altered your must-play list. Greg Moore Alexandria, Va. Hindsight is always 20-20, but fortunately, there’s no need to renew my prescription. Things stand pretty much as they were in 2009. Bay Hill remains king, thanks to the double-barreled aura of Arnie and Tiger, though you still have to stay there to play there.
Grand Cypress continues to impress, with its remarkable variety of golf offerings, from its now vintage Nicklaus “moundy” (80’s-style) original course, to its St. Andrews replica New course to the superior instruction facilities.
I’ll amplify on two surprises: First is Reunion Resort, which has dropped the Ginn name, but is bursting with new vitality, thanks to some TLC (and cash) infused from new owner Salamander Resorts, the same folks who have Innisbrook.
I have to admit I’m a huge fan of the Watson course, formerly known as the Independence, which inspires with intriguing angles and interesting greens, but which is the least dramatic of the three. I’ve picked on Reunion’s Jack Nicklaus design (formerly the Tradition course) for slapping mid- and high-handicappers with too much trouble, but unquestionably, if you’re a good stick, you’ll warm to it.
Finally, Rees Jones’ Waldorf-Astoria layout is a treat. Tranquil, with fewer bells and whistles than many modern designs, it’s simply a wonderful, playable spread graced with massive bunkers and multiple lakes throughout the back nine that offers plenty of golf when the breeze is up. The Waldorf service, conditions and facilities live up to the famous name. Dear Joe, I’m going to be in the Phoenix/Mesa area for business and am going to squeeze in one round. I much prefer to walk so I was wondering if there are any nice courses (up to $125 green fee) that allow walking? Chris Manning Via email Right on the money is Longbow ($60-$135; 480-807-5400, longbowgolf.com) in Mesa, a 1997 Ken Kavanaugh design that’s free of housing, but chock full of strategically placed bunkers. A small, if ripple-filled parcel makes for pleasurable walking—just ask Hunter Mahan and Paula Creamer, who have strolled to victories here in the AJGA Heather Farr Classic. It’s $125 to play Monday through Thursday through March, and $90 all week starting April 2.