Golf by the Gulf Offers a Relaxing Option
So this boy asks his daddy to send him this huntin dog. (I am enjoined from telling the whole story by the friendly but firm warning that my throat will be slit with a 5-iron if I do. Yes, that 5-iron.)
A group of golf writers and friends were sitting at a long table in the comfortable clubhouse bar at Kiva Dunes, a golf course Pate designed, watching the sunset through the big windows. The sky reddened on this narrow peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Bon Secour Bay.
Before us were glasses of beer, plates of the freshest shrimp youre likely to find, and the deepening evening. Pate, without once rolling his eyes at the request, was glad to tell the story of the 5-iron shot that won him the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club.
My caddie wanted me to hit 4, he says, eyebrows arching.
Pate, who has lived around here for more than 30 years, and his University of Alabama pal Scrappy Edgwin, played the course just before evening. They followed up the golf writers who were scraping it around in an effort to learn more about one of the Souths untapped golf destinations.
Heck, we played nine holes and then started fishin, Pate said. Edgwin laughed and regaled us with tales of the line-snapping bass that live in the courses ponds.
In a scene like this, just try to have a tense muscle.
That theme directs the development Gulf Shores, about an hour east of Mobile and the same distance west of Pensacola, Fla., as a new golf destination. The Gulf Shores Golf Association, just five years old, has lined up nine courses and a bundle of lodging partners in an effort to showcase the little beach town as a hub for golf trips and family vacations that could involve golf. The chief attractions are the simplicity and natural beauty of the place, as well as some quality golf courses.
Interstate 65 runs from Gary, Ind., down to Mobile, said Robert Craft, president of a family company that turned its turf farm into three courses. Thats our customer, right in that corridor.
Of course, Gulf Shores is ready to welcome visitors from anywhere (the local Convention and Visitors Bureau claims a lot of interest from English vacationers), but that central time zone will surely be the areas bread and butter as growth picks up speed. In that sense, Gulf Shores has worked its location to advantage: Plenty of golf, but no casinos (as in Biloxi, Miss.) or country-music theater nightlife (Myrtle Beach). There is a market, claims Craft and his colleagues, that doesnt go for that kind of glitz. And much of that market lives in the corridor Craft mentioned.
After playing some of the golf courses, its hard to disagree. Kiva Dunes, out on that sand spit by the Gulf, has a salt-air, coastal feel that excites the golf senses. Pates greens were only a little slower than concrete, and when the wind was up, there was a temptation to hit nothing but knockdown shots into them.
For the skilled player, this is an enervating test. On at least two holes, Pate set up the tee so that shots have to thread a narrow space between tall bushes or trees. Its an intimidating look, but on the other side, theres room aplenty for landing. Pate likes that kind of golf mind game; he says he learned it from architecture discussions with Pete Dye, no slouch himself in the intimidation department.
Somewhat less arduous but just as much fun is Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club, just a few minutes back toward the town and the road to Pensacola. There are 27 holes here, and exactly one of them is free of water. Once you get past that and keep your ball on dry land, youre free to enjoy the flowing route of the course, with its large greens and intelligent (read: not overdone) bunkering.
Nice touch at Peninsula: At the 1st and 10th tees, barrels of iced-down apples wait for golfers who need a boost.
For those willing to make the 45-minute drive inland to Daphne and Fairhope, there is golf with a different taste. Here the terrain begins to roll like a hurricane sea, even though its just a few miles from the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The result is courses such as Timber Creek (in Daphne) and Rock Creek (Fairhope), which feature mature pines that loom over narrow fairways and three-club elevation changes. This is the land of the railroad tie retaining wall, with pretty vistas from the tees and some heroic opportunities for approach shots. Of course, not all the rises and falls are dramatic enough to make your ears pop. But the variety compared to the coastal courses helps to make a golf trip complete.
If you want, you can grind it out on the Bermudagrass. But with the wall-to-wall Southern hospitality, its hard to be anything but relaxed between rounds. The area boasts miles of the whitest sand beaches in the world, plenty of restaurants (seafood lovers need never come ashore, menu-wise), waterslides and such for the kids, deep sea fishing, shopping and more.
Gulf Shores authorities know that part of the attraction of their location is the lack of crowds ' and of course, this puts them in a tough position. They want to invite the world, but they want the towns ' and its golf courses ' original charms to remain as they are.
Robert Craft smiles. Its a risk were willing to take.
For more information on Gulf Shores, log onto www.golfgulfshores.com or call (866) 636-3483.
Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.
Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.
Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.
''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''
It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.
''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''
Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.
''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''
After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.
''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''
He's making his first start in the event.
''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.
Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.
''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''
Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.
''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.
The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.
''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''
Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.
''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.
Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.
Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.
John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.
Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years
Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.
He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.
How rare is his missing the cut there?
The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.
The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.
The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.
Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.
Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.